Bio21 Guest Message - Tony Duncan, Circa Group - 6 October 2020

As Covid-19 milestones pass here in Melbourne with an easing of the lockdown possible in another week or so, we see worrying increases overseas as countries enter new waves of the virus. Again, we hear from colleagues in Europe who have contracted the virus – fortunately all OK – but difficult times for families and colleagues. And reinforces the challenges ahead.

As with many small companies at the beginning of the pandemic, Circa took a number of steps to maintain a sustainable cashflow, and combined with the goodwill from organisations we work with (including Bio21), we have managed to keep all our staff productively employed. Teams / Zoom / Webex / Blue Jeans / Facetime and Skype have played a major part in “enabling” business during the past six months, and it will be interesting to watch the medium term impact of these technologies as things start to ease back to normal. However, the effect on people – unable to get back to the lab, lack of ability to travel, and for our generations the first time ever having to cope under quite strict “conditions for living” has meant different and often difficult challenges.

The Bio21 experience over the past couple of years is easily underestimated until we are in a situation like now. The opportunities to formally engage with researchers and peers – combined with opportunities to informally seek advice or comment is a key part of why Circa is here.

As a business, the lockdown discipline has given us the time to review strategies, and for Circa that has meant developing a greater focus on the potential opportunities for our core product – Levoglucosenone - particularly in pharma applications in general, and specifically coronavirus treatments. At the start of this pandemic, Circa – through the work of Christian Gunawan here in Melbourne and our CTO Jason Camp in the UK - identified more than 25 coronavirus treatments or candidates using intermediates that have recognised routes from Levoglucosenone in their structures. Discussions with (mainly US) companies involved in the space, this has turned into an interesting manufacturing opportunity to derivatise up to 500kgs / month of levoglucosenone production from our plant in Tasmania. 

However, discussions with Governments in Australia has led to an inescapable conclusion that their focus is vaccines – and I guess for many in the chain, these are more interesting long term funded projects. Circa will continue to promote local manufacturing of key treatment intermediates to be in the national interest, although it is an area Australia is not particularly well set up for.  

But not everything is as frustrating. Circa is very pleased to confirm that the EU H2020 Flagship project (“ReSolute”) we are leading, has been confirmed and the final agreements signed last week. 

The ReSolute® Flagship grant is to build a semi commercial scale plant, approximately 1,000 tonne per year output of Levoglucosenone / Cyrene™ in France. Circa is leading the project with a group of ten other companies, universities and organisations from the UK and Europe. The cost of the project will be supported by a €12m grant from the EU with commissioning H2 2022. 

Plant design is an extension of our FC5 plant in Tasmania – with modifications where scale efficiencies provide opportunities to improve economics.

ReSolute® will also support the development of local manufacturing. There is huge opportunity in various parts of Australia to better utilise waste biomass (forestry, bagasse, straw) and Circa’s Furacell technology is one of the few that could provide sustainable options. 

In the meantime, we ride out the pandemic from our home offices and look forward to the time we can get back to Bio21. And we particularly look forward to the massive Christmas (or sometime in the New Year) Masked Ball that Michael is going to throw to welcome everyone back.

All the best and keep safe

Tony Duncan
Managing Director, Circa Group Ltd