The inability to get further funding has led to the shareholders of hepatitis B, cancer and Covid-19 vaccine business Avalia Immunotherapies liquidating the venture.

It is the second New Zealand vaccine development venture to wrap up for funding reasons this year.

Avalia was originally interested in cancer therapies, but also worked on developing preventative vaccines for malaria, Covid-19 and influenza, and primarily a treatment for people with chronic hepatitis B.

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Its work, which ultimately began in 2007, was developing immune system modulators that activate and direct the most powerful immune cells in the body for targeted responses to disease.

Spun out of Victoria University’s commercialisation arm UniVentures and the Malaghan Institute, Avalia raised more than $4 million from investors towards commercialising its intellectual property.

It also received millions in loans from the likes of Government research and development agency Callaghan Innovation, and more recently a smaller MBIE grant for work on Covid-19.

When funding dried up, Avalia’s shareholders appointed liquidators from Baker Tilly Staples Rodway near the end of September.

The first liquidator’s report, released yesterday, said the vaccine and immunotherapy company was put into liquidation because of its inability to raise further funding for clinical development.

It had just over $324,000 in its bank account when liquidated.

Wellington UniVentures’ acting chief executive Pierre Malou acknowledged the passion of the Avalia team, who he said had worked hard to develop their innovative approach to treating Hepatitis B.

“Getting a product to market is incredibly challenging, especially in the human health space, and Wellington UniVentures wishes to thank the team for their dedication throughout the commercialisation journey.”

Avalia’s investors included investment firm Booster, who picked up a 20.48 percent share of the business as part of a $10m deal with UniVentures and Otago University.

It also attracted a 9.1 percent investment from Cure Kids in 2018 and had previously attracted a 9.5 percent investment from ASX-listed deep tech investor Powerhouse Ventures.

According to the liquidator’s report, it owes Government research and development agency Callaghan Innovation $978,406 and has shareholder loans of $542,120 to repay.

How much it might owe Inland Revenue is unknown, but considering what it has remaining in its bank account and with the value of its intellectual property unknown, there could be a significant shortfall on the more than $1.5m it owes creditors.

Research funding

Auckland-based firm Covid-19 Vaccine Corporation shut down at the beginning of May because a funding shortfall meant it couldn’t afford human trials.

Using technology out of Massey University, Covid-19 Vaccine Corporation raised $5m from investors and secured almost $1m in government grants.

It had hoped to cover every variant of the Covid-19 virus but wound down after it couldn’t secure a further $12m for clinical trials.

It’s understandable why investors could be more hesitant to pump money into a Covid-19 vaccine in 2023 than they were in the early days of the pandemic when a solution was yet to be rolled out en masse, but science funding is chronically difficult to access in Aotearoa regardless.

Despite political promises, New Zealand invests less than the average developed country in research and development.

According to Stats NZ, total R&D expenditure as a proportion of gross domestic product was 1.47 percent in 2022, compared with the OECD average of 2.7 percent.

Andrew Bevin is an Auckland-based business reporter who covers major industries, markets, regulation, aged care and fisheries.

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