Meet the chemistry superheroes fast-tracking innovation, showcasing Australian technology to the world.
If you could create a perfect company during a global pandemic, it would look a lot like EpiChem, a wholly owned subsidiary of PharmAust (ASX:PAA).
“We’re all about accelerating the commercialisation of cutting edge, disruptive, novel technologies,” CEO Colin La Galia says.
Put simply, his 30-strong team do the tricky chemistry, taking the molecules and compounds and adding the magic. For example, discovering, developing and designing drugs on behalf of their global clients. Or converting e-waste into tin, lead, copper gold, platinum and rare earth metals for use in the defence or electronics industry. Or working with an aromatic candle-maker to create Covid-killing hand sanitiser and surface spray, which is now FDA-approved and exported internationally.
“During the height of the pandemic, I requested my team make hand sanitiser to protect our staff and their families, which we also donated to aged care and health care providers,” La Galia says. “Prior to this, people were desperate to source the product. Many were using low-grade products, and some were buying it from the $2 shop down the road. But our formulation was made to the World Health Organisation standard.”
Then, EpiChem worked with candle-makers, Forever + More, to produce Covid-specific hand sanitiser and surface spray for eight markets globally, including the US. The team also supported gin companies to change their output to sanitisers to create an alternative revenue stream, when the pubs and clubs were shut.
But their biggest breakthrough is converting and repurposing waste into profit: tyres into fuel; plastics into renewables; coal into fertiliser. “It’s like unbaking a cake, using a process called OHD, an acronym for Oxidative Hydrothermal Dissolution,” Colin says. “This technology hopes to reduce the need for landfill. It’s environmentally friendly, carbon neutral and (depending on the input biomass or feedstock) revenue-generating.”
His passion is infectious. “18 years ago, Epichem started with a clear purpose: to meet an unmet need in the market at the time for medicinal chemistry expertise, and provide employment for PhD chemists who were becoming lost overseas, or working as baristas in cafes, or as Uber drivers.”
EpiChem is now one of the only companies in Australia doing this type of commercial chemistry, outside of academia.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the company’s operations is in medicinal chemistry, through drug discovery, development and design. In collaboration with ASX and NASDAQ listed PYC Therapeutics, EpiChem developed a new treatment for Retinitis Pigmentosa 11, a devastating genetic disorder that causes loss of vision.
So, what’s their secret?
“It’s about having an intimate understanding of what the market needs are right now,” La Galia says.
As the pandemic spurs huge growth in the medtech industry, La Galia has joined other leaders to create Life Sciences WA, to promote innovation and support the local sector. “When people come together, share knowledge and collaborate as a result of the pandemic, we’ve seen what can be achieved: concept-to-patent in less than 12 months. We’ve never seen anything like this before.”
EpiChem works from two purpose-built, state-of-the-art laboratories in Perth, proudly remaining an SME punching above its weight. “Our clients work with us because of the quality of our work, problem-solving capability, and technical expertise,” La Galia says.
As their tagline says, ‘Our Formula. Your success’.