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CrazyFruits » WORLD NEWS AND SPORTS FROM SKY » Melbourne cancer biotech Sienna strikes first big deal with US firm

Melbourne cancer biotech Sienna strikes first big deal with US firm

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Melbourne biotechnology start-up Sienna Cancer Diagnostics, which is backed by ex-Macquarie boss Allan Moss, has signed its first deal with an American pathology company paving the way for a potential float this year.
The unlisted company, which was a beneficiary of the now defunct Commercialisation Australia grant program, will seek to raise $10 million.
Chief executive Kerry Hegarty said the milestone, which has been 12 years in the making, has come despite many "train wrecks" along the way.
Ms Hegarty said Sienna has succeeded where other cancer diagnostic ventures have failed because it has been able to stay an unlisted company so far.
"Being a public unlisted company has given us room to get through those hiccups," she said. "There is a hesitancy by the CEOs of these small, high risk, pre-revenue companies to tell it like it is."
Sienna has developed an antibody-linked diagnostic stain that detects an enzyme called

telomerase, which is often found in high concentrations in cancerous cells.

To illustrate the benefit of remaining unlisted, Ms Hegarty said in 2008 the company essentially started again. Sienna had been developing a test to monitor activity of telomerase, but it showed little promise. Instead the team decided it would be best to measure how abundant the enzyme was.

"That was a big decision," she said.

If the company had been listed, Ms Hegarty said she may have wavered in telling her shareholders "this test does not work".

"I used those words," she recalls the frank discussion she had to have with the company's wealthy backers. "Show me a CEO [from a listed company] who has used those words."

The company will begin selling its reagent to urologic pathology specialists Bostwick Laboratories for use in urine testing for bladder cancer. Ms Hegarty said the stain is more effective than routine testing in picking up early stage cancers. It is also cheaper and less invasive than follow up tests, which have to be performed by a specialist.

The reagent will be sold for Bostwick to use in their own diagnostic tests. Sienna will pursue other pathology companies, including local giants like Sonic Healthcare and Healthscope.

Ms Hegarty said her revenue goals for 2015 were "modest". "This is slow and progressive growth, showing Sienna's capability."

The big play for Sienna is to create its own tests using the reagent. Ms Hegarty said over the next two months she will decide whether it is best to raise the $10 million from the public or private market. The capital will be used to gain regulatory approvals for the company's own tests.

The†company has received $1 million over two Commercialisation Australia grants. Ms Hegarty says the combination of grants and credits received under the research and development tax incentive program meant that Sienna has been able to add $4 million of funding to about $10 million raised from investors like Mr Moss.

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