CALPAIN Therapeutics has won the University of Queensland’s business school $100,000 Enterprize competition for commercialising a world-first drug to delay the formation and growth of cataracts.

Calpain Therapeutics co-founders Dr Tim Lovell and professor Andrew Abell with team member Dr Victoria Kopetz, accepted the winner’s cheque last night after giving an uplifting presentation to Enterprize judges at Pitch Day in the Brisbane Powerhouse.

Dr Lovell says the Adelaide-based Calpain Therapeutics team was especially thrilled to win on the October 13 World Sight Day.

“The $100,000 Enterprize money will enable us to complete key human lens experiments, the next step before clinical trials. We will be able to start those very soon and complete them in three to six months,” he says.

“Going through the Enterprize competition judging process has also been invaluable for us. It forced us to focus on and refine our business plan to hone an engaging, informative business pitch to put to investors.”

Dr Lovell says the Calpain Therapeutics drug could be either drops or a cream ‘that you put in your eyes each night before you go to sleep’.

“Through a routine eye examination, optometrists and ophthalmologists can see the early stages of a cataract forming. Once it’s detected, then you could start to use the drug to slow its progress,” he says.

“Because we know that if you have a cataract in one eye you will most likely get one in the other eye, you could start to apply the drug to both eyes, delaying the onset of a cataract in one while slowing the growth of the cataract that has been diagnosed.

“We see it as akin to brushing your teeth each day. You do that to prevent cavities. This would be a drop each day to prevent cataracts.”

Academic dean and head of UQ Business School Iain Watson congratulated the Calpain Therapeutics team on winning.

“Calpain Therapeutics is pioneering a novel drug with application to the eye health of people around the world,’’ he says.

“The proposition of the drug is to significantly slow down cataracts on their path to causing blindness.

“With severe cataracts the leading cause of blindness around the world, the Business School is proud to support such a visionary innovation.”

Calpain Therapeutics’ drug targets a protein in the eye’s tissue. This protein, when activated by various triggers, causes the cataract clouding of the eye’s lens.

Although most cataracts develop as people get older, they can also be caused by diabetes, eye injury, exposure to ultraviolet sun light, long-term use of steroid medication, smoking and heavy drinking.

Currently, the only treatment for severe cataracts is to have the cloudy lens surgically removed and replaced with a synthetic replacement. More than 200,000 cataract surgeries are performed in Australia each year and there are often long waiting lists in public hospitals for the procedure.

The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness estimates that almost 18 million people are blind from cataracts. Many of those are in the world’s poorer regions.

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