Brisbane-based biotech company Zucero Therapeutics has received national funding to progress its drug Pixatimod towards clinical trials after a study indicated that Pixatimod can inhibit the virus that causes COVID-19.

A recent international study showed Pixatimod – a drug originally developed to fight cancer – had antiviral potential, inhibiting the infectivity of the SARS-CoV-2 virus by binding to the spike protein on the virus surface.

The funding from Therapeutic Innovation Australia’s Pipeline Accelerator COVID-19 will support bioanalytical and pharmacokinetic studies, the next critical aspects of drug development, in the laboratories of TetraQ at The University of Queensland.

Additional studies are being designed to test Pixatimod in animal models of COVID-19.

Zucero Executive Chairman Chris Burrell said the results from the study – which involved researchers from several universities, including 2 in Queensland – validated the company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘In this rapidly changing environment, Zucero has responded quickly and is applying its internally designed, proprietary innovative technology to address this global public health challenge with very encouraging results,’ Mr Burrell said.

‘On the back of this new COVID-19 data and the emerging data from our Phase 1b oncology trial, we are seeking to accelerate our antiviral and oncology development programs with the aim of initiating Phase 2 clinical trials in late 2020 or early 2021.’

TIQ has helped Zucero Therapeutics to scope multiple markets for partnership and investment opportunities, with the company one of the Queensland biotech start-ups included in last year’s TIQ-California Life Sciences Institute (CLSI) FAST Program.

Zucero joins other Queensland-based institutions currently working on developing COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, including The University of Queensland, which moved its COVID-19 vaccine into human trials in June 2020.

The biotech sector is identified as an emerging export strength for Queensland in the Queensland Trade and Investment Strategy 2017–2022.