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By NOEL MURPHY

FORD’S North Geelong plant could be converted to a multi-million dollar pharmaceutical manufacturing site if a Sydney cell biologist has his way.
Managing director of Benitec Biopharma
Limited, Dr Peter French, said he was keen to utilise Ford’s plant when it is decommissioned from car-making, to manufacture drugs.
He hopes the operation could become a giant global enterprise based at Geelong.
Benitec Biopharma operates out of Sydney but Dr French, who earned his doctorate at Deakin University, is testing new drugs which could lead to a single-injection hepatitis C treatment.
If successful, this could change the lives of up to 170 million hep C sufferers around the world.
Dr French’s research is also tackling gene therapy assaults on hepatitis B, affecting 350 million, and lung cancer.
“We’re starting trials in America soon and if they’re shown to be safe and effective we’ll gear up for more trials and then start thinking manufacture,” Dr French told the Independent.
“But the time is now to talk to governments about assisting us. There is clearly a need for Australia to embrace clever technologies and we are the only gene therapy technology company in Australia.
“We’re a small company with an enormous potential if we can provide a single-shot cure for hep B and C.”
Dr French said Chinese investors had shown interest in his company’s work but he was keen to keep manufacturing in Australia and, with major manufacturers such as Ford culling back their operations, he thought Geelong was a good proposition.
“The shell of the building would be useful but at this stage we have no idea exactly what space we’d need, it’s still at a very early stage, but we need to start thinking about it now,” he said.
“My main aim is to get the Government thinking about the possibility of more creative uses of its subsidies to old industries and how it could be helping new industries.”
Dr French thought start-up cost savings could be achieved by helping new industries utilise the infrastructure of declining industries.
The US Food and Drug Administration is tipped to give the nod within weeks to Benitec’s breakthrough technology that would result in patient DNA affected by hepatitis being shut down with a single injection medication.
The treatment involves an artificially-built DNA strand carried to the liver by a benign virus injected into the patient. Liver cells then generate a therapeutic double stranded RNA molecule, which shuts down the hepatitis C from replicating.
Dr French’s aspirations of utilising the Ford site have drawn national attention, including a qualified nod from former prime minister Bob Hawke.
“For us to go overseas would be a great loss for Australia if we’re as successful as we hope to be,” Dr French said.

  • Max

    Under Dr French’s plan, Geelong could become Australia’s silicone valley. How exciting would that be. We could actually keep all the talented scientists this country educates rather than losing them to countries smart enough to realise that pharmaceuticals are extremely profitable. The car industry is completely unsustainable without subsidies and has managed to keep domestic and imported car prices much higher than they should be. Gene therapy drugs cannot be simply copied by countries who pay their workers only enough to keep their families from starvation, because they are so complex. If a one-shot cure for HCV and HBV was successful, the drugs could be manufactured here for worldwide distribution. The money, estimated at $20 billion a year, would stay in Australia and create many new jobs. However, this would be impossible without Government assistance. I hope they are listening, else our children will be facing massive unemployment in a country that manufactures nothing. There really is no other way to keep these potential blockbuster drugs in Australia. The Government need to step up, look outside the mining industry to keep it afloat and embrace new industries struggling to survive.

    I truly hope that Peter French’s company succeed with their trial. Their platform technology is revolutionary and may cure many currently incurable diseases.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  • Bryan

    I wouldn’t care where the drugs are made, as long as it would provide healthy competition to the hep c market. If dr. French could pull it off, and make treatment much more affordable world-wide, they could provide hope and cure for millions, provide jobs in Australia, and give hope to those who have the disease the possibility of being cured at a much more reasonable cost. I’m so glad I invested in this company, and look forward to all they can possibly accomplish.
    A one-shot cure with 100 percent cure rate, without side effects, and a cure that is complete within 2 weeks would blow the roof off of novel hepatitis treatments alone, let alone other diseases.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  • Sean

    I’ve been in this stock for some years watching it slowly succeed. 10 years of waiting and topping up because all of us shareholders truly believe in this technology and its economic potential. I hope australia is responsible for curing all blood born diseases in the next decade and we become the drug powerhouse of the world!

    We deserve it!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

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