New biotech incubator takes key step to drive translation of world-class medical research

People in CSL hi-vis vests looking out the window over the biomedical precinct
The new biotech incubator is expected to open in 2024. Picture: Supplied

The University of Melbourne, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI), and CSL have appointed an independent operator for their new biotech incubator, launched to grow early-stage Australian biotech companies translating medical research into commercial outcomes.

Australian deep-tech incubator Cicada Innovations will establish operations and oversee day-to-day management of the incubator at CSL’s new global headquarters within the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct. The incubator is expected to open to Australian start-ups in 2024.

University of Melbourne Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Jim McCluskey said the appointment of Cicada Innovations, with its depth of experience and understanding of the support required by research scientists to nurture biomedical start-ups, is substantial progress in establishing Australia’s leading incubator.

“Once the incubator is operational it will accelerate the translation of promising medical research into biotech inventions and commercial outcomes, provoking new collaborations while addressing the challenges facing the community,” Professor McCluskey said.

Incubators reduce barriers to entry for start-ups through an affordable ‘one-stop shop’ that provides access to expert technical support and sophisticated technology platforms which can be expensive and cost-prohibitive to small companies.

Cicada Innovations was appointed following a competitive global search and has a successful track record in establishing and running incubators in Australia. Twice named ‘top incubator in the world’ by the International Business Incubator Association, Cicada Innovations has helped incubated start-ups raise over $1.5 billion in funding, achieve over $1.3 billion in exits and trade sales, file over 600 patents, and launch over 700 innovations globally.

The incubator will be open to applications from small biotech companies engaging in early research and seeking to take their discoveries to the next stage of development. The incubator will provide affordable, state-of-the-art wet-lab facilities, equipment and office space to start-ups.

Cicada Innovations will provide a range of services, including commercialisation education programs, facilitated access to investors, industry mentoring and access to service providers for incubator residents, ensuring the creation and ongoing success of a vibrant biotech ecosystem within the incubator.

WEHI Director Professor Doug Hilton AO said the appointment was an important step forward for the incubator’s efforts to build a critical mass of management-skilled scientists, with the knowledge and confidence to run successful biomedical and biotech companies.

“Cicada Innovation’s unique experience, underpinned by a wealth of knowledge about Australia’s biotech ecosystem and the unique challenges facing start-ups here, will provide a launchpad for incubator residents to translate medical research to successful commercial outcomes,” Professor Hilton AO said.

CSL Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Andrew Nash said incubator residents will benefit from Cicada’s operational expertise and proven track record of incubator management, as well as its location within CSL’s new global headquarters and Australia’s R & D hub.

“Incubator residents will be working in an innovation-driven environment alongside a large and focused CSL R&D team, enabling opportunities for peer-collaboration, learning and sharing of ideas,” he said.

“The strong collaboration between CSL, the University of Melbourne, WEHI, Breakthrough Victoria and now Cicada Innovations has been critical to bring the incubator to fruition and reflects CSL’s values and desire to deliver on our promise to patients worldwide. As Australia’s largest biotech, we can share our extensive knowledge with resident biotech startups who will have access to the wrap around support they need to translate their medical research into new treatments and therapies,” Dr Nash said.

Sally-Ann Williams, CEO Cicada Innovations said: “Global health challenges require collaboration between all parts of the ecosystem to bring solutions to market. The opportunity to connect Australia’s world leading biomedical research with the support needed to translate discoveries to products in market is one that will benefit Australia as a whole. This incubator can be a catalyst nationally for growth in commercial biotech outcomes for Australia and we are delighted to help bring that vision to life.”

The incubator has been made possible with financial and in-kind support from CSL - Australia's largest biotech company - the University of Melbourne and WEHI, and a contribution from Breakthrough Victoria, an independent investment management company administering the Victorian Government’s landmark $2 billion Breakthrough Victoria Fund.