Brisbane biotech secures $14M for drug discovery

11 Jul 2013

The University of Queensland-based Protagonist Therapeutics, Inc. has announced the completion of a $14 million Series B venture financing.

The financing, led by new investor Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation (JJDC), also included the participation of Series A investors Lilly Ventures and Starfish Ventures (Melbourne, Australia).

Protagonist Therapeutics Inc., was established in 2001 based on research carried out at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience and has now raised more than $23 million towards its goal of developing new drugs for a range of diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease.

It is headquartered at Menlo Park, California and has discovery operations at IMB in the Queensland Bioscience Precinct in Brisbane and at Menlo Park. 

The venture funding will support the discovery and development of Protagonist's pipeline of oral disulfide rich peptide (DRP) therapeutics that combine the best properties of small molecule drugs and large molecule biologics in a single chemical entity.

Protagonist founder, IMB Associate Professor Mark Smythe, said this was a boost for the research team and their efforts to progress discoveries to market for the benefit of patients whose medical needs can't be met by current drugs.

“This investment brings our goal closer to reality and reaffirms the global relevance and strength of the pioneering research happening in Queensland and at IMB,” Associate Professor Smythe said.

“Our research teams, which are based both here in Brisbane and in California in the US, are one of the leaders in the field of peptide therapeutics.

“This additional funding will help us progress our internal peptide drug discovery and development programs into improved treatments for patients.

“It also complements our existing commercial partnerships with Massachusetts-based Ironwood Pharmaceuticals and Denmark-based Zealand Pharma,” he said.

The Queensland Government is a long-term supporter of IMB, and in 2013-14 will contribute $10M towards its world class medical and bioscience discovery research.

IMB Director Professor Brandon Wainwright said the government's support and leadership had been an important investment in the future health of Queensland.

“Discovery research is essential in furthering our understanding of disease and developing better treatments to help improve quality of life and survival rates for those affected.

“In 2012, the Queensland Government's investment in IMB helped the institute to leverage an additional $46.5M in revenue, create high skilled jobs and generate new opportunities for collaboration between research and industry.

Minister for Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts Ian Walker congratulated Protagonist Therapeutics Inc. on its recent success.

“Queensland has established a critical mass of globally recognised scientists and researchers and now has an impressive research cluster in life sciences.

“The support of industry partners like Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation, Lilly Ventures and Starfish Ventures is vital in ensuring that this research is translated into tangible health and economic outcomes for Queenslanders.

“This investment is a great sign of the relevance and strength of Queensland's discovery research around the world.

“Protagonist Therapeutics Inc.'s research builds on our state's globally competitive capacity to meet the international challenge of finding innovative ways to treat unmet medical needs and creating economic value,” Minister Walker said.

For more information on Protagonist Therapeutics Inc. visit

Make a difference today by donating to IMB's drug discovery research here or call (07) 3346 2132.

The Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) is a research institute of The University of Queensland that aims to improve quality of life by advancing personalised medicine, drug discovery and biotechnology.

Media contact: Gemma Ward, IMB Acting Communications Officer on (07) 3346 2155 or 0439 651 107.