Not according to investors in Melbourne-based Norwood Abbey Limited, a small biotechnology company that’s more than doubled its shareholder base since it first listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in August 2000.

Norwood Abbey’s laser device, known commercially as the Laser Assisted Delivery (LAD) device, not only takes the pain out of injections, intravenous insertions and blood sampling, it also enables the delivery of a far broader range of drugs than current needle technology allows.

The device works by painlessly removing a tiny area of the primary skin barrier (the stratum corneum), allowing drugs to be introduced directly to the epidermal layers where they are absorbed faster and more effectively.

While the initial project has focused on delivering local anaesthetics, the LAD has much broader potential application in the delivery of vaccines, anti-inflammatory drugs and pain management. 

With all the LAD’s expected clinical advantages, Norwood Abbey’s Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Bell, says it’s the painless aspect of the LAD in particular, that has proved a major selling point. In fact one main investor specifically stated his reason for investing as the opportunity to alleviate children’s fear of injections.

According to Bell, the history of Norwood Abbey, which was established in 1998, is a little different to that of the average Australian company.

First, in what Bell proudly calls a reversal of the brain-drain, the company imported the LAD technology from the United States, and with it, two of the inventors to assist in the early development.

It then acquired two United States corporations, Electrospect Inc (formerly Transmedica International Inc), and Spectral BioSystems Inc. Now Norwood Abbey is undertaking commercialisation of the LAD at its recently established United States operations base
in Chicago, under the stewardship of a US career healthcare executive.

Bell said the decision to base commercialisation in the United States with a US national at the helm was simply sound business sense.

“We recognised that a major part of Norwood’s drug delivery device operations, research and development partners, manufacturing partners, marketing partners, and of course major product markets, are in North America,” Bell said.

“It’s the tyranny of distance factor – Australia is still seen as geographically and commercially isolated in the biotech industry and forging solid partnerships needs the face – to face contact.”

Bell cites strong management and a team approach to building up strategic relationships as one of the strengths of the company. “It’s this approach that ultimately led Norwood Abbey to choose the United States specialist pharmaceutical company Ferndale Laboratories over a larger multi-national as a strategic partner,” he said.

“It was the perfect fit with Norwood Abbey – a smaller company but highly focused and product-driven. Ferndale, one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in dermatology in North America, will use the LAD in conjunction with their topical anaesthetic.”

While Norwood Abbey is yet to feel the full benefit of the Commonwealth Government’s R&D Tax Concession, Bell has no doubt that the scheme has already had an impact on the company’s strategic planning.

The R&D Tax Concession is administered jointly by the Government’s business unit AusIndustry in the Department of Industry Tourism and Resources, and the Australian Taxation Office.

“The benefits of the Commonwealth support come later, rather than earlier, but knowing that they’re coming helps mitigate the risk,” Bell said.

“They’ll offset future costs and give us the opportunity and the financial confidence to undertake further research, to invest more in research and development and to broaden the scope – go beyond anaesthetics to vaccines and other applications.”

The LAD is just one of five major technology platforms in the company’s research and development portfolio, the others include two drug delivery devices, the microneedle and the needleless injection system; gene transfer technology for use in cellular drug delivery; and an immunology project focusing on rejuvenating the thymus.

The LAD is the first product that the company has chosen to take from basic research through full development to marketing.

With United States commercialisation of the LAD well under way and ongoing discussions with potential partners in Europe and Australasia, Norwood Abbey’s future looks assured. After all, who could resist the offer of a painless injection?

Recently, the European Patent Office granted a patent, which has been validated in Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden for Norwood Abbey’s laser perforator.

The patent provides for a device and method for perforating skin for the purpose of drawing blood or administering pharmaceuticals. It incorporates a laser beam at an appropriate wavelength which is specifically focused to perforate the skin.

For further information on the R&D Tax Concession and other AusIndustry products, visit the AusIndustry website at www.ausindustry.gov.au or call the AusIndustry Hotline 13 28 46.

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