Biotech Ferronova secures $11m to tackle early-stage cancer detection

Biotech Ferronova secures $11m to tackle early-stage cancer detection

The Ferronova team with CEO Stewart Barlett centre.

An Adelaide-based biotech company using magnetic and nanoparticle technology to help surgeons detect and remove early-stage cancer cells during the treatment of gastrointestinal and brain tumours has closed an $11 million funding round led by Renew Pharmaceuticals.

Ferronova’s capital raise also saw participation from existing shareholders Uniseed and Artesian Venture Partners - which backed the company’s $3.5 million Series A raise two years ago – in addition to receiving a $3 million boost via the Australian government’s Co-operative Research Centres Project (CRC-P) grant.

The biotech's diagnostic system is used to improve the detection of cancer metastases, which are cancer cells that break away from where they first formed and travel through the blood or lymph system, forming new tumours in other parts of the body.

The company’s intellectual property (IP) is based on research done by the University of South Australia and Victoria University of Wellington, and has the backing of ASX-listed investment group Powerhouse Ventures (ASX: PVL), PAN Ventures, UniSA Ventures and Wellington UniVentures

Ferronova’s hybrid smart magnetic and florescent nanoparticle technology targets a weakness in existing medical imaging techniques such as CT, PET or MRI scans – all tools that can help detect the presence and spread of various cancers, but can only identify metastases that have grown to a size of 2 to 3 millimeters or more.

According to Ferronova, approximately 25 per cent of patients have cancer cells in lymph nodes that are left undetected.

Ferronova CEO Stewart Bartlett said raising capital in a challenging environment and winning a CRC-P grant was a credit to the strength of the company's technology.

"Surgery continues to be the only curative therapy for most solid tumour cancers, with the best outcomes when they are confined to a primary tumour and nearby lymph nodes,” Bartlett said.

“However, even in these early-stage patients, identifying and removing high-risk lymph nodes is a challenge, especially in upper gastrointestinal cancers which have high rates of cancer recurrence and poor survival."

"Ferronova's proprietary iron-oxide nanoparticle platform and Renew's Verdye (Indocyanine Green) infrared dye were successfully tested in first human trials at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, Australia. The new funding will be applied to expanding the trial program to brain and gastric-esophageal cancers, which have among the poorest outcomes of all solid tumors.”

Founded in 2014, Ireland-based Renew Pharmaceuticals sells fluorescence medical products under the Diagnostic Green name both in the US and abroad.

The company’s key products include Verdye/Indocyanine Green (ICG) – a medical dye typically used in tests to determine liver function, cardiac output, and blood flow in the liver - and the IC-Flow Imaging System, which is used as a medical infrared camera to view fluorescent images of ICG dye in a patient's body.

Renew managing director Declan Cassells says Ferronova's novel approach to addressing the most challenging gastrointestinal and brain cancers was one of the elements that attracted Renew to invest in the company.

"Ferronova and Renew have a common mission to improve patient outcomes through image-guided surgery,” Cassells says.

“We believe that through this investment we will accelerate the clinical programs and approvals of Renew's fluorescence dye combined with Ferronova's magnetic nanoparticles for surgical use in the treatment of cancers which have some of the worst survival rates, so that we can make this unique solution available to patients through our global distribution network."

Ferronova chair Dr John Parker adds that the international investment from Renew Pharmaceuticals and existing investors, in addition to the CRC-P grant has created a strong platform to accelerate trials in gastrointestinal and brain cancers.

"Research now shows one in two people will develop cancer in their lifetime and thanks to new technology, awareness and screening programs cancers are being detected earlier,” Dr Parker says.

“Improvement in precision imaging, surgery, and therapy are now essential to improving long-term outcomes. Australia has a strong track record in developing ground-breaking medical solutions and I believe Ferronova has the capability to be a game-changer in this field.

"We are delighted to welcome Renew Pharmaceuticals as a shareholder. They are a world leader in the provision of dye-based contrast agents for image-guided cancer surgery, and this collaboration will help us to progress our trial program and ultimately deliver our products to the 80-plus countries that Renew's distribution network supports."

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