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Sementis raises $5m for COVID vaccine as Hickinbotham takes majority stake

Business

Adelaide biotechnology company Sementis Limited has raised more than $5.2 million to accelerate work on its next- generation COVID-19 vaccine, handing majority control of the company to local developer Michael Hickinbotham in the process.

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The company had aimed to raise up to $10 million in the rights issue, which closed on August 13, before finalising the figure of $5.256 million late last week.

Before the capital raise, Hickinbotham owned 47.55 per cent of the Sementis shares as the sole director and shareholder of Fortitude Nominees.

The company confirmed that he had taken up his full entitlement, understood to be $4.755 million, and now owned more than 50 per cent of the shares in the company.

Sementis initially announced the $10 million rights issue in January but the process was delayed after concerns were raised by shareholders that the entitlement offer could hand effective control of the company to Hickinbotham.

However, the Federal Government’s Takeovers Panel announced in June it had declined to make a declaration of unacceptable circumstances following the acceptance of undertakings from Sementis and Fortitude Nominees.

The $5.256 million rights issue enables Sementis to progress a number of activities and milestones over the next 18 months.

These include developing an industrial quality and scale manufacturing process to enable Phase 1 clinical trials.

Sementis Chair Martyn Evans confirmed that Hickinbotham took up his full entitlement in the offer and now held more than 50 per cent of the company’s shares.

“Michael has been a director and long-term supporter of the work of the company and his substantial ongoing investment in Sementis Limited at this stage of our development is a strong vote of confidence in the work our science and research team is undertaking,” the former state and federal Labor minister said.

“We will continue to work towards our long-term objective of proving up the vaccine platform and the efforts by Sementis to contribute an Australian solution to the global fight against Covid-19.”

Hickinbotham Homes is one of the state’s biggest builders.

The Hickinbotham Group of Companies was last year ranked No.51 in InDaily’s South Australian Business Index of the state’s largest 100 companies.

Sementis Ltd is developing its next-generation vaccine with the University of South Australia, based on the Sementis Copenhagen Vector (SCV) platform.

The vaccine has been in development since March 2020 and is intended to complement the existing vaccines being rolled out nationally and contribute to global solutions to COVID-19.

Sementis CEO Leanne Hobbs said the company’s goal of moving to the clinical phase within the next two years required a step-change in investment.

“This capital raised will enable our team to accelerate efforts in developing a scalable manufacturing process,” she said.

“It will contribute towards finalising pre-clinical and Phase 1 clinical studies for our next-generation COVID-19 vaccine candidate as well as demonstrating proof of concept for the Sementis vaccine platform technology.

“Our focus is to develop our vaccines in the most robust way to meet international standards for a long-term public health outcome, for both the Australian and international community.”

In May this year, University of South Australia Professor John Hayball, who is also Sementis Chief Scientific Officer, was awarded $2.9 million via the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund to fast-track human clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccine within the next 18 months.

The key to the company’s vaccines is its Sementis Copenhagen Vector platform, which can quickly develop new vaccines for a range of viruses.

The team has already used the vaccine platform to create a dual protective vaccine for the mosquito-borne Zika and Chikungunya viruses. But that vaccine is yet to progress through to the approval stage.

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