Sydney spinout lands $273m deal to develop drugs for psychiatric disorders

Compounds developed by Professor Michael Kassiou’s drug discovery team for Kinoxis Therapeutics will be used to target oxytocin receptors with the aim of creating medicine to treat schizophrenia, depression and other neuropsychiatric illness.
Professor Michael Kassiou (left) and Associate Professor Michael Bowen. Photo by Stefanie Zingsheim

Kinoxis founders Professor Michael Kassiou (left) and Associate Professor Michael Bowen in the Chau Chak Museum. Photo by Stefanie Zingsheim

University of Sydney spinout, Kinoxis Therapeutics, today announced a partnership with global pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim to develop oxytocin-targeting precision treatments aimed at improving the quality of life for people living with psychiatric disorders.

The partnership, worth up to $US181 million ($A273 million) in payments – plus royalties on any future sales – establishes Kinoxis as a global player in the development of precision drugs for the treatment of conditions including schizophrenia, depression and dementia.

The social and economic impacts of mental health conditions are enormous. The World Health Organization estimates one in every eight people live with a mental disorder. Social dysfunction is a common symptom of many neuropsychiatric disorders and can manifest through social withdrawal, abnormal behaviour, aggression, or difficulty forming and maintaining relationships.

The partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim will use chemical compounds developed by Kinoxis that target the oxytocin receptor as its starting point to develop treatments for these conditions.

These compounds were discovered through medicinal chemistry programs led by Kinoxis co‑founder Professor Michael Kassiou of the Drug Discovery Initiative and School of Chemistry, which included Dr Tristan Reekie who is now Kinoxis Head of Medicinal Chemistry.

Kinoxis Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder Associate Professor Michael Bowen of the School of Psychology and Brain and Mind Centre and his team have been evaluating the potential therapeutic use of the compounds and different approaches to targeting the oxytocin receptor.

From left: Professor Michael Kassiou (School of Chemistry), Dr Hugh Marston (Boehringer), Associate Professor Michael Bowen (School of Psychology) and Hugh Alsop (Kinoxis).

From left: Professor Michael Kassiou (School of Chemistry), Dr Hugh Marston (Boehringer), Associate Professor Michael Bowen (School of Psychology) and Hugh Alsop (Kinoxis) in the Chau Chak Wing Museum. Photo: Stefanie Zingsheim

Kinoxis was established to commercialise discoveries of novel molecules with the potential to treat a range of psychiatric disorders. Associate Professor Bowen received the 2021 Prime Minister’s Prize for New Innovators in recognition of his scientific leadership at Kinoxis.

He said: “I’ve spent nearly 15 years researching the oxytocin system as a potential target for developing new treatments. It’s truly special to be partnering with a leading global pharmaceutical company that shares our vision for its potential to transform the way we treat disorders of the brain and mind.

“This outcome demonstrates what can be achieved through industry-university partnerships. Co-founding Kinoxis and providing scientific leadership for the company and its partnership with the University has been the highlight of my career.”

The partnership will bring significant funding to the University to support further research in the School of Chemistry, School of Psychology, and the Brain and Mind Centre that will be conducted in close collaboration with experts from Boehringer Ingelheim and Kinoxis.

University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Mark Scott, said: “This major partnership between University of Sydney spinout Kinoxis and Boehringer Ingelheim is a shining example of why the University is so committed to supporting research translation and commercialisation and the innovators who want to bring their ideas to life.”

Professor Kassiou said: “More than three million Australians suffer from illnesses that impair social functioning. The oxytocin receptors in the brain have emerged as an attractive drug target but they have been intractable with small molecules.

“More than 10 years ago my group began investigating the chemistry and pharmacology relating to the oxytocin receptor. We have discovered several series of small molecules, now licensed to Kinoxis, that have allowed us to target the oxytocin receptor in ways not previously possible.”

“As lead inventor and co-founder of Kinoxis I am proud of what has been achieved.”

Professor Michael Kassiou in his laboratories. Photo by Stefanie Zingsheim

Professor Michael Kassiou in his laboratories. Photo by Stefanie Zingsheim

Hugh Alsop, CEO of Kinoxis Therapeutics, said: “We are extremely pleased to have entered into this collaborative agreement with Boehringer Ingelheim to accelerate the development of our unique oxytocin receptor targeting compounds. This collaborative effort will enable development of these molecules to address the significant unmet needs of individuals living with mental health conditions.”

Oxytocin is a neuropeptide – a chemical produced naturally in the brain that plays a critical role in the regulation of social behaviour. Peptides are short chains of amino acids.

Through this partnership, Kinoxis and Boehringer Ingelheim aim to unlock the therapeutic potential of targeting the brain oxytocin system to treat disrupted social behavior to help people living with chronic and complex mental health conditions.


The University of Sydney is a shareholder in Kinoxis Therapeutics. Researchers Associate Professor Michael Bowen and Professor Michael Kassiou are participants in the Kinoxis Therapeutics Employee Share Option Plan. University of Sydney Principal Enterprise Officer Andrew Tindell is a non-executive director of Kinoxis.

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