How TIA is helping infectious disease researchers build translational skills

Associate Professor Anthony Kicic leads a team at the Telethon Kids Institute towards a new way of fighting antimicrobial resistance (AMR). While he employs his expertise in molecular and cell biology, tissue engineering and stem cell research in the laboratory, Dr Kicic is also gaining insights into the important needs of industry and government. TIA has opened the door to tailored advice to ensure his team’s research is well-placed for translation and impact.

Anthony Kicic with Daniel Laucirica and Renee Ng. Source: Telethon Kids

Dr Kicic’s team is looking to nature to fight AMR, a growing challenge as more bacteria evolve, build protective mechanisms and survive against medicines for treating infection, such as antibiotics.

The researchers use specialised viruses that only kill bacteria, called bacteriophages. They are found everywhere bacteria exist, including in soil, water, plants and even animals.

Dr Kicic aims to establish a Phage Therapy Platform, using a curated bacteriophage library of more than 4000 phages.

In cases where very limited or no treatment options exist, doctors can apply for approval to treat people with AMR on compassionate grounds through the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s Special Access Scheme. This has been made possible through a nationally ethics-approved standardised protocol.

In a bid to better understand the process of taking the research out of the laboratory, Dr Kicic applied to TIA’s pilot Technical Feasibility Assessment (TFA) scheme.

The scheme provided access to TIA-supported Cell and Tissue Therapies WA (CTTWA), the state’s only public Therapeutic Goods Administration-licensed manufacturer of clinical grade cellular therapies.

Meeting regularly with CTTWA experts has given Dr Kicic a clearer understanding of industry and regulatory requirements, processes and costs – and helped clarify the important next steps for his team.

“The engagement has really clarified and visualised the process,” Dr Kicic says.

“Using the expertise at CTTWA helped with talking through regulatory considerations – such as if phages are classified as a biologic or a medicine – and what the processes look like from both perspectives.

“It has really taken our project to the next level and helped with an understanding of what’s possible within the space.”

TIA introduced TFAs in recognition of Australia’s excellence in medical research, but challenges in transforming discoveries into innovative medical products and treatments.

The scheme aligns with Federal Government strategies that identify the critical role of research infrastructure in realising the massive potential of Australia’s medical research sector to create impact via commercial pathways.

Three of the research teams successful in securing TFA support in the pilot scheme were provided access to CTTWA, based at Royal Perth Hospital.

CTTWA Facility Director Dr Zlatibor Velickovic says the teams were conducting research in areas as diverse as autoimmune disease and eye disorders.

“All were very different projects at different stages of development – very interesting and each with unique needs,” Dr Velickovic says. “For one project in particular, it was definitely the right time for them to reach out.

“Importantly, it raised the profile of CTTWA among institutes in WA – and it means we now have a relationship with the Lions Eye Institute.”

TIA Cell and Gene Therapies Capability Scientific Engagement Manager Dr Heather Donaghy says the TFA scheme attracted significant interest.

“That tells us there’s a need in the research community for tailored advice to ensure projects are well-placed for translation and impact,” she says.

“The aim of the scheme has been to reduce unnecessary experiments, focus the research plan and expedite progress of cell and gene therapies to clinical trials.”

Dr Kicic says the next step is to take what has been learnt and start the process required for implementing Phage Therapy in Western Australia.