Money men come back to biotech
Stewart Washer. Picture: Bill Hatto/The West Australian

Perth's affinity with rocks and gas, and the financial community's willingness to make money from them, is legendary.

And it appears this affinity to money, and risk, on St Georges Terrace is triggering the resurgence of a poorly understood sector in Perth.

"When I used to roadshow biotechs in Perth a year ago, I'd struggle to get an audience of more than about five," Stewart Washer, considered one of the doyens of biotech in Perth, told WestBusiness. "Today, we fill all the spots, immediately.

"People who traditionally had never been interested in the space - brokers, high-net worths, all those sorts of people - are just scrambling to hear the stories. It's great."

Dr Washer, chairman of stem cell technology company Cynata Therapeutics, which listed on the back of Perth money, believes the slowdown in the small resources sector is creating a window of opportunity for biotech.

And, like the tech plays popping up around Perth, talk of biotech boom, or bubble, continues to circulate around Perth's financial community.

In what its backers hope is the next big thing, Perth-based tendon regeneration company Orthocell is set to list on the Australian Securities Exchange within three months in a $10 million initial public offering.

Helped along by John Poynton's Azure Capital, which is understood to be accounting for $5 million of the $10 million injection, Orthocell uses tendons grown at Murdoch University to treat problems such as tennis elbow and knee injuries for AFL footballers.

Dr Washer said Perth itself still had a big vacuum to fill before it was considered a biotech hub - and investors are still wary of the last biotech boom - but it had the right elements. "What we don't have is a deep pool of executive talent in the sector here," he said.

"But there's money, Perth has that, and that helps."

The West Australian

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