Arovella Therapeutics (ASX:ALA) developing therapies for oncologyCraig Foley
Arovella Therapeutics Limited (ASX:ALA) CEO & Managing Director Dr Michael Baker provides an update on the company's invariant Natural Killer T (iNKT) cell platform and its oral spray delivery technology to treat cancer and conditions that affect the central nervous system.
Lauren Evans: Hi, this is Lauren Evans for the Finance News Network. Joining me from Arovella Therapeutics is CEO and Managing Director, Dr. Michael Baker, Michael. Welcome back. And it's nice to see you again.
Dr Michael Baker: Hi Lauren. It's good to be back and thank you for having me on the program.
Lauren Evans: So when we last spoke, the company was called SUDA Pharmaceuticals. What was behind this name change?
Dr Michael Baker: Yeah, it's a good question. And what we know from the history of the company is that it had undergone a number of transformations over it's 22 year history. And so we felt ready to realise our potential. We did need to revitalise the name and the brand, and to really send a clear message to our key stakeholders. And so we were quite pleased that when it went to vote that more than 98% of our shareholders did vote in favour of the name change, so that was quite pleasing. And in terms of derivation, we recently In-licensed a novel invariant natural killer T-cell therapy platform from Imperial College. And so we wanted a name that better reflected where we are moving strategically, which is really to target disease with newer novel technologies. And that's the derivation of the name.
So the Aro, comes from targeting, so to target disease and Novella was the inspiration for the Vella, which is derived from new or novel. And so together, Arovella is our way of saying that we're targeting disease with new technologies. And so we're very excited because that fits really nicely with our overall strategy, which is to help people live longer and also healthier lives.
Lauren Evans: Thanks, Michael. Now, can you provide an update on your recent activities starting with how your iNKT cell therapy platform is going?
Dr Michael Baker: Absolutely. And just to recap on the therapy itself. So we acquired in the middle of the year from Imperial College London, which is a top 10 university, and why we are quite excited by it is it does sit at the leading edge of cancer treatments today. And so we are quite excited by the promise that the technology has for working in cancer patients, but also the… One of the nice things about it is we can use it at what's called off-the-shelf, which is unique to this particular therapy. And so we're quite excited by the platform. And since we've acquired the license, we've added new people to the team, which again, I think behind the technology is one of the most important aspects. And we've done that on a few fronts. So we've assembled and built out a scientific advisory board.
The professor that invented the technology, he chairs that advisory board, but we've also appointed two really a world-class immuno oncologists, firstly, Dr Reuben Benjamin, he led the first off-the-shelf clinical trial for these types of therapies. He's got great experience in that domain and Dr John Maher, who actually pioneered some of the early stage technologies that go into these types of therapies. And now he's the chief scientific officer of another biotech called Lucid Bio, and a little bit closer to home. We appointed two new directors, firstly Dr Debora Barton, she's a medical doctor by background that focused on oncology, but moved quickly into large pharma and then into some well known cell therapy companies. And now she's the chief medical officer of a cell therapy company called Carisma Therapeutics.
And only last week, actually we appointed a Dr Liz Stoner, again, a phenomenal individual. And she's formerly an assistant professor at Cornell University, a well-known US university again, before moving into large pharma and biotech. And now is an executive partner at a well-known life-science venture capital fund MPM Capital in the US. So again, very, very happy that they're both joined. And again, we just said that is a really important part of the strategy moving forward is to build out the team.
Lauren Evans: And can you tell us about the ZolpiMist what's taking place there?
Dr Michael Baker: Yeah, absolutely. We've had some good developments, but just to recap on the product itself, it is the oral spray version or our oral spray version of the drug called Ambien or Stilnox. And it's being developed for the treatment of short term insomnia. So it's quite a prevalent condition. It affects about nine and half percent of the US population. But what we've seen over the course of the COVID 19 pandemic is with the sharp rise in mental health challenges, of course, sleep is a natural by-product or lack of sleep is a natural by-product of that situation. So we do see that this has an important role to play and we're pleased that we have TGA approval.
And we recently signed up an Australian partner who will commercialise the product in Australia, and also we're continuing to work with Teva and recently they received approval for the products in Chile again. So, which is another exciting development because it means the product is… We're hoping to get that on the shelves in calendar year 2022 in both of those territories. And so in total, now we have Teva and starter covering populations of about 375 million people, but we're continuing to look to add additional territories to license the product tool as well.
Lauren Evans: And last question from me, Michael, with so much going on at the moment, can you provide a summary for investors?
Dr Michael Baker: Absolutely. So it has been a busy year, but we're certainly looking forward to continuing a pace in 2022, which hopefully is a less restrictive year, but certainly the key focus will be on developing our iNKT cell therapy platform selecting our manufacturer, which we're expecting in Q4 this year, and then developing that towards clinical trials. Of course, a big focus for us is always to find new technologies that either fit with our iNKT cell therapy platform or alternative platforms as well. So we'll continue to do that. And of course, work with our partners already for ZolpiMist, to get that product onto the shelves, hopefully in calendar year 2022.
Lauren Evans: Well, Dr. Michael Baker, nice to hear from you again and congratulations on the progress.
Dr Michael Baker: Thank you very much, Lauren. Thank you for having me appreciate it.
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