Melbourne researchers take head lice treatment to the world

A new Victorian biotechnology company, Hatchtech, announced at BIO 2005 that its technology is the first in the world to kill 100% of head lice eggs. International clinical trials are expected to begin within a year and the product may be on market shelves within three years.

Next to the common cold, the world's second most communicable disease is head lice. This is not news to Melbourne's parents who spend literally hundreds of dollars each year trying to prevent their kids from scratching. With a global market worth close to $US310 million a year, a patented product that completely eradicates head lice is a highly attractive proposition for the pharmaceutical industry.

Hatchtech is a biotechnology company that is a spin-off from The University of Melbourne's Centre for Animal Biotechnology, with commercial support from Melbourne Ventures.

Focusing on the development of products for the consumer health market, Hatchtech is developing a range of low-toxicity ovicides (treatments to eradicate eggs) of human, animal and plant parasites.

"This funding is confirmation that Hatchtech is on the right track. The novelty and effectiveness of the technology, the marker size and the short lead time required to take the product to the shelves has attracted significant funding from leading investors," he said.

"This technology promises to provide the first truly effective head lice treatment, killing both the lice and their eggs. It has the potential to revolutionize the head lice industry," added Dr Vern Bowles, Chief Scientific Officer, Hatchtech.

One in five primary school children have head lice, according to NSW Health who warned in 2003 that existing treatments were not working at eradicating the parasite because the bugs were becoming resistant. In 1993 there were 6 million cases of head lice in the US. In 2003, this figure had doubled to 12 million, according to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

A comparison of Hatchtech's technology with five of the leading international head lice treatments has shown that only the Hatchtech product killed the eggs while the other treatments were poor as an ovicidal treatment. The company has recently shown that its technology is equally effective at combating several of the leading crop pest species, opening the door to this highly lucrative $US7 billion market.

The company recently completed $US2.2 million of second round funding from a syndicate of Australia's leading Biomedical Venture Investors, including from the Queensland BioCapital Fund, GBS Venture Partners, BioComm, Uniseed and Westscheme. The funding will be used to fast track the commercialisation of the head lice product and to further develop the technology into other market areas, Director, Chris Nave said.

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks and Treasurer John Brumby are leading a delegation of more than 140 researchers, CEOs and commercial people to BIO 2005, the world's biggest biotechnology meeting in Philadelphia (June 19-22). On show will be Victoria's expertise in immunotherapies, cancer research, bio- agriculture, genome projects and stem cells.

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