WisTA's drug patents win at WIPO, IPOS Awards

Published August 27, 2014 in http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/

By Jacquelyn Cheok

STARTING a business is hardly a walk in the park - just ask any founder. For one thing, angel investment - capital provided to a start-up by affluent individuals usually in exchange for convertible debt or ownership equity - is hard to come by.

But one local pharmaceutical start-up has managed to raise some US$300 million through angel investors. Such a sum is unheard of in the industry, said observers.

These angels - about 500 of them - are mostly Singapore doctors and medical practitioners who "believed in the science way before venture capitalists did", Seng Shay Way, managing director of WisTa Laboratories and also a doctor, told BT.

The angel investment has made possible the development of LMTX, a drug used to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer's Disease and Frontotemporal Dementia.

For its patents, WisTA on Tuesday emerged a winner at the 2014 World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) Awards.

It came out on top (out of 50 companies) in the IP Commercialisation category, demonstrating "relentless efforts" in commercialising products that can treat neurodegenerative diseases, said IPOS.

"WisTa is the best kept secret in the start-up ecosystem. It owns technology with the potential to change the world, but has been under the radar of even a tech start-up practitioner like myself," said Leslie Loh, managing director of venture capital firm Red Dot Ventures, and one of the judges for the category.

WisTa's Dr Seng attributes this to the start-up's lesser-known school of thought used in treating Alzheimer's.

Its "tau" hypothesis (treatment by destroying tau protein tangles which form abnormal aggregates in brain cells) is relatively new, compared to the "amyloid" hypothesis (treatment by removing toxic amyloid protein found in the brain) which has dominated Alzheimer's research for the past 20 years.

"However, many high profile amyloid-based clinical trials have failed, slowly giving prominence to the 'tau' hypothesis," said Dr Seng.

Concurrently, WisTa is stepping up promotional efforts to raise funds and recruit patients for its global clinical trials. An initial public offer is an option but the start-up is not actively considering that now, Dr Seng said.

WisTA, incorporated in Singapore in 2002, has laboratories in Berlin, Germany and Aberdeen, Scotland.

Dr Seng added: "This latest recognition from WIPO-IPOS not only shows that what we're doing is not wrong, it is also important for biomedical research as a whole, which usually goes unnoticed."