Phylogica Limited (ASX:PYC) CEO Stephanie Unwin discusses the company’s drug delivery platform technology and opportunity to deliver therapeutics to previously undruggable targets within cells.
Jessica Amir: Hello I’m Jessica Amir for the Finance News Network. Joining me from Phylogica (ASX:PYC) is CEO, Stephanie Unwin. Stephanie, welcome to the Finance News Network.
Stephanie Unwin: Thanks Jessica.
Jessica Amir: First up for those new to the company, can you give us an introduction?
Stephanie Unwin: Sure, we’re all about commercialising our functional penetrating peptides, it’s a drug delivery platform. And in essence, its job is to get inside a cell, which has previously been an undrugable target and to tow in with it, a functioning payload that can attack a disease target. And lead to a great therapeutic outcome.
Jessica Amir: Now to your IP and drug development, you talked about your drug delivery platform, which is called Functional Penetrating Peptides. Can you tell us about it?
Stephanie Unwin: They’re a bit like a Trojan horse. If you think about something that can get inside a cell environment and tow in with its soldiers, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. And our Functional Penetrating Peptides can get into what was previously undrugable, and that’s where 80 per cent of disease targets reside. What we’re then looking to do is to establish a range of those targets. So what sort of cargo should we go after? And we look at going after, not just say oncology so cancer target, but also things like enzymes for enzyme replacement therapy and peptides, which can then address issues such as Alzheimer’s. So it’s a really exciting domain that’s, as I’ve said, previously undrugable and this new technology enables us to reach into those cells and to tow in the drugs or the payloads, that go after those disease targets.
Jessica Amir: Speaking about the new technology, where is it then used?
Stephanie Unwin: At the moment it’s being tested in a range of animal studies. So we’re in what is called the pre-clinical, which means before you get to human trials and we’re advancing quite far down that path. So at the moment, we’re testing one of our lead cargoes, which is a cancer target in animals to see whether it works. And that’s not just towing-ins, so using our Trojan horse to tow into the cell, but also our own cargo to go after one of the super controllers of cancer.
Jessica Amir: What are the key focus areas for the commercialisation of the platform?
Stephanie Unwin: So firstly on the Trojan horse itself, which is the carrier; we’re working on finding more of them. So quite simply, we go back into our libraries and find more of the carriers that have those really good attributes, get into a cell and escape the endosome. So they work within the cell itself, so that’s the first thing. And we just recently released our results, to show that we found 13 additional families that have those characteristics. And five of those are better than our current lead. So that’s been a great piece of work from our research team.
The second thing that we’re working on is the actual cargoes themselves. So in the oncology space, so in cancer, we have our own lead program and we’re trying to do things. The first is to get it to bind to the target better. So that’s a bit like we have a target that you need to wrap around and stop it working, it’s pretty simple like that. We called it IMIC or a MIC Inhibitor. So we’re trying to get it to bind more tightly, so therefore, it works better.
And the second thing we’re trying to do is to get our drug conjugate, the two things put together to stay where we want in the body for longer. And that’s all about extending what is called, a half-life and making sure that it then goes to where you want to in the body. So those are the three things we’re working on over the next 12 months. And they really then functionally validate that our platform is as good as we think it is. And it does deliver a functioning payload into a cell.
Jessica Amir: Changing pace now into financials and strategy. Can you tell us about your highlights from your FY17 results?
Stephanie Unwin: For us FY17 was all about, there’re probably five key things. The first one was that we injected additional funds into the company. So we did a $5 million capital raising and that was done at market. The second was that we got a milestone payment from one of our major pharma collaborators, called Genentech. And that was a $2 million capital injection into the company. All of that really places us well to deliver our program across, to the end of next year.
The third thing is we revitalised our executive. So I was appointed as CEO in that period and then really importantly, Dr Robert Hayes joined us. And he’s an ex Amgen biologics lead and has a really successful track record in developing biotech start-ups. And the last part, there’re two parts to it. We not only identified additional FPPs or these Trojan horses, but we also have got five leads that we’re going to narrow down to two, for our oncology program that we’ll deliver further towards the clinic.
Jessica Amir: Now can you tell us about the long-term ambition for Phylogica?
Stephanie Unwin: The long-term ambition is really all about commercialising this platform. It’s just so exciting and what I see for the company is the ability to do it at scale, where we’ve got a large number of pharma clients. And we’re trying to make sure that their drugs are delivered into a better cellular environment, and they work for the patients. So at the end of the day, this is all about getting to the patients who are waiting. And if we can commercialise that platform at scale, so it’s replicable and go back into our libraries and find better functioning Trojan horses and soldiers, then I think we’re onto something pretty special with this company.
Jessica Amir: Last question now Stephanie. Can you tell us a little bit about your background since you’ve just been appointed as CEO, and what value you bring to Phylogica?
Stephanie Unwin: I come from, I guess, a non-industry specific background. I’m highly commercial by trade; I come from commercial and strategy background and in industries that are nothing to do with biotech. So the value I bring is I have a huge operational focus. My background is in executing complex deals and pulling together really difficult transactions. I’m also all about operational efficiency. And I think the things that I can bring to this company are really replicating this platform at scale. So it’s operationally as efficient as it can be, tapping into automation and advanced analytics. But also just ruthlessly executing the corporate mandate. So that’s I think what I can bring to the company.
Jessica Amir: Stephanie Unwin, thank you so much for the update.
Stephanie Unwin: My pleasure, thank you Jessica.