Un­mask­ing flu

A coal ty­coon bankrolls an in­no­va­tive early di­ag­nos­tic tool

The Australian - The Deal - - Contents - Story Hed­ley Thomas Pho­tog­ra­phy Lyn­don Mechielsen

They are an un­likely pair­ing. On one side, meet Paul Dar­rouzet, who made his for­tune in coal with an exquisitely timed foray in the Bowen Basin be­fore the GFC. On the other side is med­i­cal sci­en­tist Sean Parsons, who has de­voted his adult life to the dis­ci­plined study of crit­i­cal care medicine and car­ing for pa­tients.

Af­ter de­vel­op­ing a mine with some as­so­ciates, Dar­rouzet sold out in 2007 to in­ter­na­tional re­sources gi­ant An­glo Amer­i­can for more than $700 mil­lion. Liv­ing in Queens­land’s Whit­sun­days, where he owns the 500-plus berth Abell Point Ma­rina, he still plays hard and in­vests well. He en­joys col­lect­ing fast cars, sleek boats and shop­ping cen­tres, but for three years he has been ven­tur­ing into a very dif­fer­ent busi­ness.

Parsons is a prod­uct of Bris­bane Gram­mar School and the Univer­sity of Queens­land. He workedas a doc­tor in indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties and in hos­pi­tals in re­gional Queens­land. As a se­nior reg­is­trar in a ma­jor Bris­bane pub­lic hospi­tal’s Emer­gency Depart­ment and In­ten­sive Care Unit,

he helped deal with a swine-flu pan­demic and

was struck by how lit­tle was known about the

in­fluenza virus and its deadly re­la­tions. Af­ter

spend­ing two weeks car­ing for a pa­tient who

al­most died of in­fluenza, he de­cided more needed to be done to di­ag­nose the virus.

Parsons teamed up with a long-time friend, Steven Dahl. With help from David Dahl, Steven’s fa­ther and founder of Tradelink, they be­gan to ex­plore tech­nolo­gies to im­prove the man­age­ment

of in­fluenza, while still do­ing their day jobs.

Parsons and Dar­rouzet have come to­gether to form a com­pany called El­lume (Il­lu­mi­nat­ing Health­care) with a prod­uct de­voted to the early di­ag­no­sis of in­fluenza. If they get it right, they could save lives and achieve a fi­nan­cial suc­cess that makes Dar­rouzet’s wind­fall from his coalmin­ing in­vest­ments look like chump change.

“I don’t be­lieve there is a more in­no­va­tive di­ag­nos­tic prod­uct this close to mar­ket any­where in the world,” says Parsons.

His mo­ment of change came in 2011. “I looked af­ter a pa­tient in ICU at Princess Alexan­dra Hospi­tal who spent two weeks on ex­tra­cor­po­real mem­bra­nous oxy­gena­tion [lung by­pass] and

nearly died from in­fluenza,” Parsons tells The

Deal. Stand­ing at the pa­tient’s bed­side, Parsons de­cided the med­i­cal com­mu­nity should be able to do much bet­ter at di­ag­nos­ing and man­ag­ing

flu. He was pre­pared to risk his med­i­cal ca­reer

to pur­sue the cause. De­vot­ing all his spare time to his new mis­sion, he in­vented the Re­spirio Flu Test, a ground-break­ing de­vice an or­di­nary

per­son could use to see if they had the flu.

Mean­while, Dar­rouzet had be­come a gen­er­ous spon­sor and di­rec­tor of Wes­ley Med­i­cal Re­search In­sti­tute in Bris­bane. As a med­i­cal lay­man, Dar­rouzet could never un­der­stand­why doc­tor­swere still un­able to tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween a vi­ral and a bac­te­rial in­fec­tion. It was a point he laboured in meet­ings with the in­sti­tute’s Julie Camp­bell. The busi­ness­man speaks with a re­fresh­ing di­rect­ness and can­dour; the care­fully re­hearsed cor­po­rate spin-cy­cle is not part of his lex­i­con.

“I do read a lot about what is hap­pen­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally in re­la­tion to pan­demic re­sponses to viruses, and the other side of this is about our in­abil­ity to treat cer­tain in­fec­tions which have be­come more re­silient be­cause of the in­creased role of an­tibi­otics,” Dar­rouzet says. “I knew that some­thing like 60 per cent of the use of an­tibi­otics

was un­nec­es­sary and of no ben­e­fit, but it continues be­cause doc­tors do not have the clin­i­cal tools to di­ag­nose some­thing that is vi­ral — and re­sis­tant to an­tibi­otics — and some­thing that is bac­te­rial.”

Then Camp­bell heard of Parsons’s ground­break­ing in­ven­tion. Call it fate; call it sheer luck. Camp­bell was able to bring Parsons to­gether with Dar­rouzet, who was think­ing about the

same thing — and had the fi­nan­cial re­sources to do some­thing about it. Their com­pany, El­lume, brings to­gether patent lawyers, lab­o­ra­to­ries and sci­en­tists, all ded­i­cated to a med­i­cal in­no­va­tion in nan­otech­nol­ogy. It is now await­ing word on its clin­i­cal as­sess­ment by US health au­thor­i­ties, which will start the next step of full clin­i­cal tri­als.

It has not yet been three years since their first meet­ing, but Dar­rouzet and Parsons are con­vinced they are on a global com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion path­way with a unique prod­uct that can for­ever change

the di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment of in­fluenza for

hun­dreds of mil­lions of people. The big dif­fer­ence

be­tween this and other in­fluenza rapid di­ag­nos­tic tests, ac­cord­ing to Parsons, is its ac­cu­racy and sim­plic­ity for the pa­tient. It looks and feels like a fu­tur­is­tic mask. For the user wor­ried if they have the flu, the task is straight­for­ward — you blow as if you were blow­ing your nose into a tis­sue. The test is ac­ti­vated when the flaps of the mask are closed and a collection slide is clicked.

A com­bi­na­tion of four in­no­va­tions — quan­tum dot flu­o­res­cent nanopar­ti­cle im­munoas­say; dis­pos­able flu­o­res­cent im­munoas­say anal­yser; unique code au­then­ti­ca­tion; and non-in­va­sive sam­pling and in­te­grated test­ing of nasal se­cre­tions — then­works to pro­duce a neg­a­tive or pos­i­tive re­sult on the mask’s screen for In­fluenza A and In­fluenza B. Put more sim­ply, a test re­sult is achieved by de­tect­ing vi­ral anti­gens in the nose-blow sam­ples. It can pro­vide pos­i­tive de­tec­tion within three days of the on­set of flu-like symp­toms and can be used with chil­dren as young as one year old.

I back the right people and in Sean I am back­ing some­one in whom I have a lot of con­fi­dence as a sci­en­tist and a doc­tor ... We are in this for the long haul

Parsons and Dar­rouzet vouch for 96 per cent ac­cu­racy, with scope to be more ac­cu­rate as nan­otech­nol­ogy evolves. The ear­lier a de­fin­i­tive di­ag­no­sis of flu can be made, the bet­ter for ev­ery­one. Parsons and Dar­rouzet be­lieve their in­no­va­tion, which would be sold over the counter in phar­ma­cies for about $25, will save hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars and nu­mer­ous lives by alert­ing in­fected people, who can then be iso­lated to pre­vent an out­break and treated with anti-vi­ral med­i­ca­tion.

Parsons points to in­ter­na­tional stud­ies show­ing that sea­sonal in­fluenza out­breaks in­fect 5 to 15 per cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion ev­ery year, with an es­ti­mated three to five mil­lion se­vere cases and 250,000 to 500,000 deaths. In the US, the an­nual death toll from in­fluen­zare­lated symp­toms is about 36,000.

If Re­spirio passes as­sess­ments from US health au­thor­i­ties and the US Bio­med­i­cal Ad­vanced Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Author­ity, full clin­i­cal tri­als will fol­low next year.

Dar­rouzet ad­mits he likes a punt, but he also does his home­work. With the Re­spirio prod­uct, he says, he has put his money down to back an­other strong hunch un­der­pinned by solid sci­ence and ver­i­fi­able data sets of im­pres­sive re­sults.

“But it is more than that — I back the right people, and in Sean I am back­ing some­one in whomI have a lot of con­fi­dence as a sci­en­tist and a doc­tor,” he says. “We see enor­mous commercial op­por­tu­nity. We can also make the world a bet­ter place. We’re in it for the long haul.”

Sean Par­sons, left, and Paul Dar­rouzet have teamed up to bring to mar­ket a sim­ple de­vice to de­tect flu early

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