The 2013 Comvita Science Symposium
“Comvita on the Move – The Science of Exercise and Nutrition” was the theme of the 5th Comvita Science Symposium. Held at The University of Auckland, the symposium showcased the broad research topics the Comvita Science Network is covering. Comvita co-founder and Director Alan Bougen opened the event with a strong emphasis on Comvita’s founding values.The symposium had three sessions:
• Nutrition and Exercise Science
• New Frontiers of Natural Products
• Through the Eyes of Consumers
In the first session’s speakers presented on how nutrition and exercise influences our health. Comvita Move Project Manager Vazishta Antia ( a graduate from The University of Auckland’s Master of Bioscience Enterprise program), shared the results from the first Comvita Move trial where 30 participants were given Olive Leaf Extract (OLE) and a smart pedometer to exercise. Some participants have reported a dramatically positive life change. This trial was recently featured in Pharmacy Today.
The second session had a series of short, punchy research presentations, ranging from Propolis, honey, Olive Leaf Extract and natural skin care to medical honey research. The presentations informed the audience about the current research advances made in the natural products industry.
In the third session, speakers discussed the use of new tools such as Gamification concepts and the Stanford University Design Thinking Process which can facilitate positive changes to people’s lifestyles.
One of the speakers in this session was the founder of Metia Interactive, Maru Nihoniho , who talked about SPARX. SPARX is a game designed at The University of Auckland to treat adolescent depression and has produced very successful outcomes. A clinical trial on SPARX was published in the British Medical Journal in a paper titled, “The effectiveness of SPARX, a computerised self help intervention for adolescents seeking help for depression: randomised controlled non-inferiority trial”.
Comvita is actively researching how to use novel methods to positively influence people’s lifestyles for a healthier society.
This year’s symposium was very different from previous symposiums due to the way a broad spectrum of topics were tied together under the umbrella of innovation in preventative healthcare.
The presentation topics were not only about the science, but also about the integration of expert knowledge in multiple areas such as nutrition and exercise research and behavioural psychology, as well as natural products science in a way that creates meaningful outcomes for consumers.
Heidi Darcy giving her presentation
Deeply engaged audience
Nature publishes ground breaking research from IIB co-located AgResearch Structural Biology Laboratory
The research from the co-located AgResearch Structural Biology Laboratory at the IIB represents ground-breaking work of highest academic quality and has immense commercial potential. Already covered by a provisional patent, this work could transform future pest management in agriculture. The research uses state-of-the-art protein structure determination technologies and describes the discovery of a novel protein encapsulation device from a bacterial ‘ABC’ toxin. Published in the world’s leading science magazine Nature (published on-line 4 August 2013), this research shows how nature has evolved a shell-like device that can universally encapsulate, protect and deliver a protein of a certain size into cells. This striking discovery reveals how the so-called ‘ABC’ toxins work, and how they might be used as biopesticides. The concept of a biological Trojan horse that delivers a biological control agent right into the core of a target pest species is at the heart of the patent that AgResearch has secured around this discovery.
Much of the work was carried out by PhD student Jason Busby and supervised by Dr Shaun Lott who has a joint position as a Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, and is the leader of the AgResearch Structural Biology Laboratory in the IIB. This research project has been funded by a FRST (now MBIE) programme directed by Dr Mark Hurst at AgResearch in Lincoln.
The AgResearch Structural Biology Laboratory has been the first industry co-locator in the IIB and a resident in the Thomas Building research complex for over ten years. Its staff and graduate students enjoy full access to the research infrastructure and services, including the specialist hi-tech equipment and facilities that were essential for the ground breaking discovery described above.
IIB features on front cover
The UniServices Evolve magazine featured the IIB on the front cover of its July issue. A full page article highlighted the IIB’s contributions in support of the growth of New Zealand’s life sciences industry. A second article featured the IIB’s co-location model using Comvita Innovation Ltd as a case study. The company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Comvita Ltd, is co-located in the IIB thereby gaining full access to the hi-tech research infrastructure of the School of Biological Sciences. Comvita Innovation also supervises a large number of postgraduate students and engages in collaborations with several academic groups university-wide. The IIB currently has 8 co-located companies. A steady-state of 12 co-located companies is envisaged at full capacity – laboratory and office space is currently available for start-ups as well as R&D teams of mature companies. Please contact us for an individual briefing and tour to learn more about the benefits of co-location.
IIB releases report on strategic academic-industry partnerships
The IIB undertakes research projects on international best practice of developing closer linkages between academia and industry. The most recent report entitled “Models for university partnerships with large multinational companies” features seven case studies providing insights into the mechanics of establishing and operating strategic long-term partnerships with multinational companies. The report is a direct sequel to last year’s report on foreign company attraction strategies which made the case that academia can play an important role in bringing new companies into the region. Together these reports make a compelling case for universities to examine opportunities for such strategic long-term partnerships and to work jointly with regional economic development agencies to attract foreign companies to establish joint R&D centres. More on the series of IIB reports can be found on this website under “International Consulting” and “Reports”.
DairyNZ becomes a co-locator in the IIB
DairyNZ is the industry good organisation representing New Zealand’s dairy farmers. Funded through levies and government investment, DairyNZ’s work includes R&D to create practical on-farm tools, leading on-farm adoption of best practice farming, and advocacy for policy, legislative and investment decisions by central and regional government. With an annual budget of over NZD70M, Dairy NZ adds considerable support to projects or programmes that have a clear benefit to NZ’s dairy farmers.
The co-location of several staff in the DairyNZ laboratory in the IIB primarily focuses on three areas: lactation, nutrition and fertility. Co-location in an academic research building with cutting edge expertise and facilities for molecular technologies was attractive to DairyNZ. ViaLactia, LIC and AgResearch also operate laboratories in the IIB thereby establishing an emerging agbio-science cluster at the University of Auckland. A partnership between these organisations has further established the recently announced joint Graduate School in Dairy Research and Innovation which aims to produce increasing numbers of highly qualified graduates for this economically important sector.
IIB brings international perspective to Knowledge City project in Mexico
The IIB is engaged as international advisor to a major new innovation precinct development in Pachuca – about 100km northeast from Mexico City. Planning for a novel Knowledge City concept in Pachuca, State of Hidalgo is well advanced. The 180ha development at the periphery of Pachuca aims to attract universities and technology companies to have a presence around three priority themes: agricultural biotechnology, engineering and ICT. Central to this development are shared facilities of world-class quality for academic and company staff to collaborate and share knowledge. Novel postgraduate programmes that train science/engineering graduates in business and commercialisation skills will attract students from across the country and internationally. Together with residential and commercial buildings, a new school and culture centre, the Knowledge City will be well integrated with the community in the wider region. The result will be the expansion and increased productivity of the regional agriculture and industry. The Knowledge City will be at the international cutting edge and a leading innovation centre in Mexico.
The IIB is pleased to be actively engaged in this ambitious and visionary project. The Director IIB, Joerg Kistler spent the first week of April working with consulting firm Cal y Mayor y Asociados in Mexico City followed by formal presentations to the Governor and Government officials of the State of Hidalgo in Pachuca. He advised on international best practice models for academic-industry partnerships and the design of shared buildings and specialised facilities for academic-industry collaboration.
Bioscience Enterprise programme achieves 100 Master theses milestone
The two-year post-graduate programme provides science graduates with the necessary business and commercialisation skills to find employment across a wide spectrum of the life sciences industry. The programme was launched in 2006 and is attracting top graduates from across New Zealand and overseas. At the recent Bioscience Enterprise Forum on 7 December 2012, a special celebration marked the achievement of a major milestone – the submission of the 100th MBioEnt thesis. The traditional sabring of two Veuve Cliquot Champagne bottles was a highlight and watched by a wide industry audience (see photos). The programme continues to be strongly supported by the life sciences sector through the provision of guest lecturers and 6-month internships for the Masters thesis research. A total of 102 internships have been completed: 61 in companies, 30 in CRIs and public organisations in New Zealand; 11 in companies overseas. A partnership and student exchange programme with the Bioentrepreneurship programme at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, was signed in January 2012 and two Auckland students did their internships in Swedish companies. Employment data of MBioEnt graduates indicate 72% and 28% employment in New Zealand and overseas, respectively, providing further evidence of the internationalization of the MBioEnt qualification.
The 2012 Comvita Science Symposium draws large audience
Comvita’s fourth annual Science Symposium and Science Challenge Prize Giving ceremony successfully took place at The University of Auckland on Thursday 6th September. About 170 delegates attended Comvita’s annual flagship event. The delegates were a diverse mix of representatives from academia, Crown Research Institutes, the natural products, health care and cosmetics industry and government agencies such as New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
The day began with Professor Grant Guilford’s (Dean of Science, The University of Auckland) opening address. Prof. Guilford is one of the strong supporters of the Institute for Innovation in Biotechnology’s (IIB) model of joining industry and academia’s resources to accelerate innovation. The symposium was an excellent occasion to demonstrate the value of Comvita Innovation’s co-location at IIB.
The symposium content was both professional and varied and appealed to a wide spectrum of delegates with different interests. The delegates were presented with results from the most up-to-date research outcomes. The research topics covered natural products such as honey, Olive Leaf Extract and berries. Comvita’s recent ground-breaking research outcome from the clinical trial with The Liggins Institute on Olive Leaf Extract was also presented at this event In addition to the research presentations, the symposium also had inspirational speeches from IIB Director Joerg Kistler and Jon Hooper from Ernst & Young’s Life Sciences Centre as well as a thought-provoking panel session discussing “Wellness beyond pharmaceutical model”
The day ended on a humorous note with attendees watching the final five student (tertiary and secondary) videos from this year’s Comvita Science Video Challenge. The Challenge is a ‘science made simple’ competition where students make under-3 minute movies to explain the benefits of healthy food ingredients in an entertaining, consumer friendly way.
For the previous two years the Comvita Science Video Challenge has been open to tertiary students and this year it was also extended to Year 9 and 10 secondary school students. Their enthusiasm was reflected in the record 12 entries for the tertiary section and 34 entries for the secondary students. The finalists were flown in from various parts of the country (Wanaka, Dunedin, Palmerston North, Wanganui and Christchurch) to attend the prize giving ceremony. To see the winning videos created by these young, enthusiastic scientists, please visit www.comvitasciencechallenge.co.nz.
Comvita announces positive clinical trial results
Global natural health and beauty products company Comvita has a major presence at The University of Auckland through the co-location of its research company Comvita Innovation in the IIB and collaborations with a number of departments. At its annual flagship event, the Comvita Science Symposium held on 6th September, the company announced a clinical trial by The Liggins Institute at The University of Auckland has shown fresh olive leaf extract prepared by Comvita, improves the way insulin is secreted and works in overweight men. Insulin that does not work effectively can lead to diabetes.
The randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled cross-over trial was undertaken by 47 middle-aged and overweight men at risk of developing type-2 diabetes, a disorder characterised by insulin resistance and deficiency.
The Liggins Institute Director and Principal Investigator Professor Wayne Cutfield and Clinical Research Fellow Dr Martin de Bock assessed a range of complex health outcomes including insulin responses among those trial participants who took fresh olive leaf extract for 12 weeks.
Comvita CEO Brett Hewlett said Comvita is very pleased with the results, which have been submitted by The Liggins Institute for peer review and publication, to a highly prestigious, international medical journal.
“Due to restrictions around the submission process to the medical journal, further details from the trial can only be discussed after the results have been published.”
“However, we expect there will be increased interest in Comvita products as a result of the trial. We’re also scoping the possibility of building on this science, with additional clinical trials.”
“The study underscores the potential for efficacious, proven natural products to play an integral role in improving health outcomes.”
This important piece of research was made possible through collaboration with The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) Science + Innovation Group.
CoDa Therapeutics Completes $49 Million Fund Raising
CoDa Therapeutics, Inc. announced that it raised an additional NZ$24.5M from Russian investment firm RusnanoMedInvest (“RMI”). This brings the company’s total Series B Round to nearly NZ$49 million following a first close late last year.
All current investors, including Auckland-based BioPacific Ventures, participated in the round. RMI is a Russian government company which invests in medicine and pharmaceuticals.
The RMI investment is accompanied by a licensing of CoDa intellectual property rights in Russia, potentially accelerating the availability its drug Nexagon® on the Russian market. CoDa will receive an upfront license fee and royalties based on sales.
The financing will be partly used to expand late stage clinical trials of Nexagon® as a treatment for diabetic foot ulcers. CoDa recently initiated a 160 patient Phase 2 diabetic foot ulcer trial in the United States and will include additional clinical sites in Russia over coming months.
CoDa is also currently conducting a 300 patient Phase 2b trial of Nexagon® for the treatment of people with venous leg ulcers in New Zealand, the United States and South Africa.
Results from an earlier trial showed Nexagon® to be highly effective as a novel wound therapy for venous leg ulcers. In that trial, nearly one third of patients’ wounds were completely healed after just four weeks following only three applications of Nexagon® (compared to only 6% healing in a control group).
Bradford J. Duft, co-founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of CoDa Therapeutics said, “This investment by RMI – which brings the total funds raised by CoDa to over $90 million – is a significant validation of the New Zealand originated science co-invented by Professor Colin Green at the University of Auckland. CoDa is privileged to have a strong clinical and research team based in our Auckland office, led by Chief Operating Officer Tracey Sunderland, along with the support of local investor BioPacificVentures and, importantly during our continuing growth, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).”
CoDa has 70% of its staff in New Zealand including five scientists based in the Institute for Innovation in Biotechnology at the University of Auckland.