Potent peptide shows promise in trial

A powerful new antifungal treatment developed at Melbourne’s La Trobe University is a step closer to becoming available to patients following the first human trial.

Hexima, a biotechnology company embedded in the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science, has announced promising results for its potent plant defensin peptide, HXP124.

Hexima CEO, Dr Nicole van der Weerden, said the clinical trial involved a group of Australians with onychomycosis or fungal nail infections and found HXP124 to be safe, effective and far superior to existing therapies for the condition.

“Around 12 per cent of the global population suffers from fungal nail infections, and unfortunately many of these are not treated because current available drugs work poorly and are expensive,” Dr van der Weerden said.

“Onychomycosis affects a range of people – from runners and surfers to the elderly and diabetics. Left untreated, patients can suffer pain and discomfort and can have difficulty walking.

“We have shown that HXP124 can substantially reduce the area of infection and can do so up to four times as fast as other available treatments. Our treatment penetrates the nail and kills the fungus that causes the infection.

“Although regulatory requirements mean we could only test a small group of patients, the results are very encouraging.”

Hexima’s antifungal plant defensin platform has developed from research started by Professor Marilyn Anderson in the late 1990s when she was searching for molecules that protect flowers from fungal disease.

Since then, Professor Anderson – who is now Hexima’s Chief Science Officer – and her team have identified hundreds of plant-derived antifungal molecules that are effective against a wide range of fungal diseases.

“These molecules are exciting because they kill fungus via a novel mechanism and are active against fungal pathogens that are resistant to current drugs,” Professor Anderson said.

“The HXP124 peptide was first isolated from a shrub called Bitterbush which grows in warm climates.

“It’s personally very rewarding to see our years of research being translated into a potential new treatment for fungal infections in humans.”

The second stage of the trial – testing the drug in a larger cohort of patients – is currently underway with results expected early in 2019.

Read more about the trial and Hexima here

Media Contact – Anastasia Salamastrakis – 0428 195 464