New Monash biotech company receives funding to tackle cognitive disorders

A new Monash biotech company called Phrenix Therapeutics has received funding to advance research to develop new therapeutics for cognitive disorders, particularly in schizophrenia.

Researchers from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) are spearheading the company in collaboration with the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health with funding from CUREator, a national biomedical incubator managed by life science collaboration Brandon BioCatalyst.

Phrenix Therapeutics was identified by CUREator as an early-stage biomedical innovation with long-term potential, due to the group's use of a unique platform encompassing medicinal chemistry, structural biology, analytical pharmacology and clinically-relevant preclinical testing to identify new approaches to improve cognition. 

Phrenix Therapeutics Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Gregory Stewart, said there are currently no effective treatments for impaired cognition in patients living with schizophrenia and an urgent unmet medical need remains.

“Approximately 85 per cent of patients with schizophrenia have impaired cognition, and its severity remains the best predictor of their prognosis, however the development of new safe and effective treatments has remained stagnant,” said Dr Stewart.

“This funding will help to enable our team to bring together the knowledge and skill-set of MIPS researchers across the drug development pipeline to identify new drug approaches to improve cognition, particularly for those living with schizophrenia.”

Phrenix is a spin-out from the Neuromedicines Discovery Centre (NDC), which was launched by Monash late last year to drive novel psychiatric drug discovery for the treatment of mental health disorders. The research driven by Phrenix will continue to be embedded in the NDC.

Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Director for the NDC, Professor Arthur Christopoulos , said that supporting the research capacity and capability of universities has never been more crucial. 

“Early-stage research is a vital step in progressing the next generation of medical therapies and innovations that could make a true impact when it comes to improving health and saving lives. This funding will help the team to maximise their chances of success toward making a real difference in the lives of patients and their families,” said Professor Christopoulos.

“Phrenix will take a multi-disciplinary approach to addressing the unmet clinical need for new treatments for cognitive disorders in a carefully coordinated and scientifically rigorous manner, drawing upon the resources of the world-leading researchers at MIPS.” 

CUREator is backed by the Commonwealth Government’s $80 million Medical Research Commercialisation Initiative, which aims to assist businesses to develop projects that support medical innovation in Australia and propel them through the research pipeline toward potential commercialisation opportunities. 

Phrenix was one of five successful Monash grant recipients to receive funding from CUREator, resulting in the formation of four new Monash-led biotech companies, with the fifth grant going to an existing Monash spin-out, RAGE Biotech.

The research teams were guided by Monash Innovation together with faculty business development professionals to support the investment cases and build the new ventures, with the end-to-end process led by Monash's Director of Commercialisation and Business Development (Life Sciences), Dr Kathy Nielsen. 

The Phrenix Therapeutics MIPS team also includes Chief Executive Officer, Professor Chris Langmead, Professor Jonathan Baell, Associate Professor Denise Wootten; Dr David Shackleford, as well as Associate Professor Jess Nithianantharajah from the Florey.

Phrenix Therapeutics is also supported by Monash University, who will invest approximately $200k to cover additional costs and provide support to help the companies to grow and attract further investment. Therapeutic Innovation Australia has also provided ongoing support, along with the MIPS Commercialisation Incubator Fund, designed to kickstart commercialisation projects.

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About Phrenix Therapeutics

A spin-out of the Neuromedicines Discovery Centre which sits within the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences), Phrenix Therapeutics was established to develop new therapeutics for cognitive disorders, particularly in schizophrenia. The multi-disciplinary team will harness a unique platform encompassing medicinal chemistry, structural biology, analytical pharmacology, and clinically-relevant animal testing to identify new drug approaches to improve cognition. Monash University ranked number one globally in the 2022 QS World University Rankings by Subject for Pharmacy and Pharmacology.

About CUREator

Delivered by Brandon BioCatalyst, CUREator is backed by the Australian Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund. The MRFF’s $80 million Early Stage Translation and Commercialisation Support Grant (ESTAC) aims to assist businesses to develop projects that support medical innovation in Australia through to proof-of-concept and beyond, providing opportunities for commercialisation. CUREator is responsible for managing $40m of this fund, dedicated to supporting commercialisation of both preclinical medical innovations and early clinical development of therapeutics.

For more information about CUREator visit: https://brandonbiocatalyst.com/cureator/

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