Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation is partly financing a new $32 million funding round for a nasal spray start-up that says it can help the fight against COVID-19.
Ena Respiratory also secured backing from biotech investors Brandon Capital and Uniseed for the round. The capital will help develop its INNA-051 spray, which is due to start human studies in Australia soon. Co-founder Christophe Demaison hopes it will aid in the global battle against COVID-19.
“It can be used against any respiratory virus – we’ve shown it works against the common cold, the flu and COVID-19. It’s a real broad spectrum,” Dr Demaison said.
The spray works by boosting the immune reaction against infections, prompting immune cells to respond faster and release signals that prompt others to eliminate infected cells.
A peer-reviewed animal study in The Lancet’s EBioMedicine journal – which was funded by Ena and published late last year – showed the spray reduced the viral replication of COVID-19 cells by up to 96 per cent.
While boasting that the spray is easier to use and roll out than vaccines, Dr Demaison said it would work best when used in combination with vaccines.
“We’re not looking to replace the vaccine because the vaccine is the long-term solution. Ours is more like a short-term solution – it can be used over a season if required … This is really complementary to the vaccine approach.”
“So when I say over a season, that could be over the winter. People have [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease], get the common cold and incredibly long triggering diseases in winter – that is what we are trying to prevent,” Dr Demaison said.
He said the proper application of the spray to COVID-19 was likely preparing the population for future outbreaks.
Explaining its involvement, Minderoo family office adviser Petra Andrén said it was a company with real value beyond the pandemic as opposed to others that had “jumped on the COVID-19 bandwagon”.
“In terms of the data that we saw around this product, we got really excited,” she said. “If this could translate what we see in animal models into humans, we just think its worth putting money into this and really accelerating the development because it can play a really key role.”
The Melbourne-based Ena is currently manufacturing the spray in the US. However, it is assessing its options on whether to bring some of these functions to Australia.
Dr Demaison was unsure whether the company’s existing patents would be eligible for the government’s new “patent box” initiative, which aims to keep biotech development onshore by halving the tax rate on profits derived from patents and intellectual property held in Australia from next July.
“We’ve already worked on this for a few years and we’ve got quite a lot of patents. We might file some patents after July 1  but most of our IP has been done. I’m not sure whether we’d be applicable,” he said.
Australian Financial Review
21 June, 2021