Benitec Biopharma talks technology pipeline and US listing


Transcription of Finance News Network with Benitec Biopharma Limited (ASX:BLT) Chief Business Officer, Carl Stubbings
Carolyn Herbert: Benitec Biopharma Limited (ASX:BLT) in-house programs target chronic and life threatening conditions, through its gene silencing technology. The company holds the dominant global patent position for expressed RNAi interference, placing it in a commanding position for human therapies associated with specific genes and genetic disorders.
I’m Carolyn Herbert and joining me at the CEO Sessions in Sydney is the company’s Chief Business Officer, Carl Stubbings. Carl, welcome back.
Carl Stubbings: Thanks very much Carolyn.
Carolyn Herbert: Can you start by giving us an introduction to Benitec Biopharma?
Carl Stubbings: Thank you I’d be delighted to do that. Benitec Biopharma has actually been around for quite a few years. It initially started commercialising the technology that came out of the CSIRO, which as you described it’s called expressed RNAi, or sometimes ddRNAi. However, the company had some issues in the early days around its patent position, whether or not the patent was granted.
What we like to think, it was actually reborn in 2010, when Dr Peter French took over as CEO. Since then, the company’s raised a considerable amount of money and we’ve got programs in the clinic in the United States, and a very strong pipeline of in-house programs.
Carolyn Herbert: Can you tell us a bit more about the company’s in-house and licenced programs?
Carl Stubbings: Our lead program is a treatment for a disease called Hepatitis C. That program is actually in the clinic at the moment in four trial sites in the United States. It’s in what’s called a Phase I/IIa clinical trial, which means we’re actually testing it for safety. But also, we’re using it to treat potentially patients with the disease. We have a program for Hepatitis B, which is still pre-clinical, but with leverage all of the work we’re doing with the Hepatitis C program. Hepatitis B is a huge indication and there currently is no cure for that worldwide.
And then to go in a completely different direction, just I guess enhancing the flexibility of the program, of the technology I should say, we have a program for a wet age-related macular degeneration. If you think about the current standard of care for that disease, it usually involves a monthly or bi-monthly injection into the eyeball of a product called Lucentis, or something similar to that. Using our ddRNAi approach for AMD, we’d be able to give a patient perhaps one injection that would last for years and years. So you can see it’s obviously a significant benefit.
And then finally to sort of wrap up, we have an indication for an orphan disease called Oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy. Just call it OPMD for short. And that program we’re currently collaborating with the Royal Holloway University of London and the Institute de Myology in France. That’s a disease for which there’s currently no cure and patients ultimately die choking to death.
Carolyn Herbert: Can you tell us a bit more about your agreement with Swiss company, Lonza Group (LONN:VTX)?
Carl Stubbings: The whole premise of what we’re doing relies on the fact that you can manufacture the drug, at the end of the day. So Benitec is essentially a development company. We’re taking these programs into the clinic and hopefully through to commercialisation. But to get them commercial, you need to be able to manufacture enough material to treat the patients. Something like 170 million people worldwide have Hepatitis C and 260/250 million have Hepatitis B.
So if what we’re doing works, we’re going to need to be able to make or someone’s going to need to be able to make, significant quantities of those drugs. So Lonza is working with us to help develop programs and pathways to manufacture that product, in a commercially viable and economically sensible way.
Carolyn Herbert: Benitec recently listed on the NASDAQ. Can you tell us about why you decided to list in the US and the net proceeds from that listing?
Carl Stubbings: Good question and sort of working backwards, we raised about $US18 million in that particular listing. The principal purpose behind it was to kind of create more shareholder value, for the company’s stakeholders. The United States capability to recognise technology, their analysts and the folk that invest in these sorts of businesses, have a very deep understanding of the technology. Our plan is to stay dual listed.
We think that as we start to generate positive clinical data from the Hepatitis C program and ultimately from Hepatitis B, AMD and the other programs, they’ll be significant value inflection points. Being listed on the biggest capital market in the world we think, will provide the Australian stakeholders with significant advantage.
Carolyn Herbert: Finally Carl. What’s your outlook for FY2016, and what are you hoping to achieve in the next 12 months?
Carl Stubbings: That’s a great question. 2016 is just looking like a watershed year for Benitec. We’ve announced that we’ve got milestones set for the Hepatitis C program, where we expect to see efficacy data towards the end of this year. We expect to complete the Phase I/IIa clinical trial for TT-034, that’s the Hepatitis C program, towards the latter part of 2016.
We believe that we will have an in vitro, an in vivo animal data for our Hepatitis B program, during the course of that year. And importantly, our AMD program we’d expect to have developed a vector for that program, and to have moved that forward as well. So we think 2016 is going to be a really exciting year.
Carolyn Herbert: Carl, thank you for the update on Benitec Biopharma.
Carl Stubbings: Thanks very much Carolyn.

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