As pharmaceutical company AdAlta prepares to take its first product to trial, co-location at La Trobe University provides crucial support along the way.

It may be small, but pharmaceutical company AdAlta is certainly on the brink of big things.

The AdAlta team have worked out how to apply a unique class of antibodies to fight against fibrotic diseases: debilitating and potentially fatal conditions caused by internal organ scarring.

Their first target is lung fibrosis, which has an average survival time of just four years after diagnosis. Now, after almost 15 years, AdAlta is preparing to take their first product to clinical trials.

‘It's a huge coming of age for any biotech,’ says CEO Tim Oldham. And it couldn’t come fast enough. ‘I get a phone call every month, if not every week, from a lung fibrosis patient trying to get onto our trials, unmet need is that high.’

Strong foundations

For AdAlta, co-location at La Trobe University was initially a decision of convenience: the University was a member of the Co-operative Research Centre for Diagnostics that developed the original intellectual property, so setting up a base at Bundoora and a research agreement with La Trobe made good sense.

However, over time, Tim says the partnership has become a crucial support for the company.

‘As part of the co-location deal, La Trobe ended up with equity in AdAlta – they’re actually one of our top 10 shareholders.’

When Tim lists the clearest benefits of the co-location deal, it’s plain to see why this relationship works.

‘We’re essentially paying for lab space, but what we've got access to is a whole range of other things,’ says Tim.

‘We've got office space close to the lab; access to specialist scientific services such as next generation sequencing capabilities, and mass spectrometry facilities; ancillary and shared services such as fridges and freezers plugged into the building management system so they're monitored at all times; the tissue culture room that’s shared between multiple labs and another big advantage: access to the library.’

As AdAlta grows into its next phase, another enormous benefit lies in the University’s talent pipeline. ‘Through the recruiting pool there's ready access to certain skills and capabilities … and if you need to do it quickly, you can.’

Into the future

As the company heads towards finding development partners and investors, Tim says co-location will be a big selling point. ‘We've had some discussions with potential partners, and they actually love the fact we're embedded in the university.’

There could also be benefit in what lies ahead for La Trobe: with more co-location partners on the horizon, the Bundoora campus is set to morph into a decentralised hub of open education, scientific innovation and a place for like minds to meet.

Tim sees potential in the concept of La Trobe as a University City of the Future. ‘The Nirvana down the track would be like what happens in Boston: you wander down to any coffee shop in Cambridge Square, and all you can hear is people from all the different institutes discussing their research projects.’

It’s more than a pipe dream: as AdAlta knows, big things can grow from small beginnings.