Briefcase: Business snippets from around SA

In this week’s briefcase, BioCina lodges its bid to manufacture advanced mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in Adelaide, SA Smartwatch company Spacetalk reports record sales and Melbourne-based Bass Oil agrees to buy three Cooper Energy assets in South Australia’s Cooper Basin.

Jul 19, 2021, updated Jul 19, 2021
Spacetalk founder and CEO Mark Fortunatow says the 2020-21 financial year was a breakout period for the company.

Spacetalk founder and CEO Mark Fortunatow says the 2020-21 financial year was a breakout period for the company.

BioCina lodge vaccine manufacturing bid

Biologics contract development and manufacturing firm BioCina has submitted a bid to manufacture advanced mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in South Australia.

The Federal Government’s approach to market for onshore mRNA vaccine manufacturing closed on Friday after being open to applications for eight weeks.

The Commonwealth has reportedly received around a dozen applications from firms across the country.

The winning bidder could be the first to manufacture mRNA vaccines in the southern hemisphere, although Industry and Science Minister Christian Porter has indicated it may take up to 18 months for the first mRNA doses to roll off the Australian assembly line.

BioCina, a subsidiary of global private investment firm Bridgewest Group, consider their bid to be a frontrunner with their proposal revolving around a 4600m2 manufacturing plant in Thebarton they acquired from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer last year.

The biotech firm has previously stated they could begin manufacturing mRNA vaccines – the type used by Pfizer and Moderna – at the Thebarton site within 12 months of receiving funds from the Federal Government.

Its bid is in partnership with the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute and the University of Adelaide.

BioCina CEO Ian Wisenberg confirmed to InDaily that his company has partnered with two other undisclosed firms as part of their proposal which was lodged on Friday.

He said their consortium now includes an American drug development firm to secure the intellectual property for the vaccines and handle the lipid nanoparticle encapsulation stage of the manufacturing process.

The other is a South Australian industry partner to complete the sterile fill-finish component requirement – a critical part in allowing the vaccines to be safely distributed.

An expert advisory panel is set to assist the Federal Government in selecting the successful consortium.

Melbourne’s CSL manufacturing site, which is already manufacturing viral vector AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, is also considered a frontrunner for the contract.

Smartwatch shares gain pace

The share price of SA Smartwatch company Spacetalk reached its highest level since before the coronavirus pandemic late last week after it reported encouraging initial results for the recently completed financial year.

The Adelaide company that initially made its mark by pioneering school messaging systems, changed its name from MGM Wireless to Spacetalk in November 2020 to help it ramp up a global push into the smartwatch market.

It launched its first kids smartwatch in 2017 and released Spacetalk Life for seniors last year.

The company released its results preview to the ASX on Thursday, which showed record Q4 revenue of $3 million, up from $1.1 million in the same quarter last year.

This was led by a jump in device sales of $1.7 million (from $0.1 million) and an increase in subscription revenue to $670,000 for the quarter, up from $360,000 in Q4 20.

Spacetalk founder and CEO Mark Fortunatow said the record revenue was driven by a combination of hardware sales, subscription increases and the onboarding of large tier-1 partners.

“Our new partnerships with some of the world’s largest telcos – including Telstra, Telefonica UK (O2), Virgin UK – bears testament to the strong growth in the kids smartphone watch category and their urgent focus on participating in it; importantly, with us,” he said

“In sum, FY21 has been a seminal year in which we have brought to market world-first new technology and our products now range as the flagships of the category for some of the world’s largest telcos and retailers.”

Spacetalk shares reached $0.19 on Friday, their highest level since January 2020.

Bass Oil takes on Cooper fields

Melbourne-based Bass Oil has entered into an agreement with Cooper Energy to purchase its interest in three non-operated assets in South Australia’s Cooper Basin.

The acquisitions include a 30 per cent interest in the producing Worrior oil field and interests in highly prospective exploration acreage for a total of $650,000.

The assets are all to be operated by Adelaide-based Beach Energy.

Bass is primarily an onshore Indonesian oil producer but is looking to add Australian sites to its portfolio.

It is exploring its funding options and will seek to raise the necessary funds to fully develop the Cooper Basin assets in conjunction with Beach.

The Worrier oil field was discovered in 2003 and has produced 4.1 million barrels of oil to date. The field is currently producing more than 40 barrels per day with a planned zone change to increase production to about 100 barrels per day.

Bass Oil managing director Tino Guglielmo said the company had previously demonstrated its ability to extract value from acquired mature oil fields.

“We are pleased to announce the addition of this new arm to our business and our entry, as an oil producer into the South Australian Cooper Basin, which remains one of the more prolific basins in Australia,” he said.

Dwelling approvals dip after boom

Dwelling approvals in South Australia fell by 11.9 per cent in May on a seasonally adjusted basis following the end of the HomeBuilder subsidy, ABS figures released last week show.

However, the 1312 dwellings approved in the month was still significantly up on the 928 approvals in May 2020 and 877 in May 2019.

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Master Builders SA CEO Will Frogley said although approvals had declined since HomeBuilder scheme ended in March, building activity was still very strong by historic standards.

He said the strong pipeline of work in residential building should keep the sector very busy for the next 12 to 18 months.

“Despite a decline in May, new detached homes were up more than 50 per cent on the same time last year,” he said.

“Renovations are a similar story, up 74 per cent.

“Since COVID-19 South Australians have prioritised their homes over other spending, and strong house price gains over the past year are helping maintain strong numbers in this part of the market.”

Suburban shops strip fitter

Shop vacancies in Adelaide suburbs have dropped two percentage points to 7.3 per cent over the last six months, JLL’s latest Adelaide Retail High Street Overview shows.

JLL says it’s the lowest suburban vacancy rate it has recorded in Adelaide since early 2016.

But suburban demand stands in stark contrast with CBD strips which are more than five points behind at 12.9 per cent – improving just 0.2 points from last year’s survey.

In the same period, the overall vacancy rate across the Adelaide high streets declined from 10.4 per cent to 9 per cent, which JLL said was the largest period-on-period improvement recorded in the study’s five-year history.

The overview measures the percentage of empty shopfronts on seven of Adelaide’s most prominent retail strips.

Prospect Road led the way with a vacancy rate of just 2.9 per cent, down from 7.1 per cent last year, although JLL noted it was the smallest retail strip analysed in the report.

Prospect Road’s vacancy rate is 3.4 points lower than the next closest competitor, King William Road in Goodwood and Hyde Park, at 6.3 per cent.

The Parade in Norwood recorded the strongest occupancy surge of all the high streets, with empty shopfronts almost halving from 14.7 per cent to 7.5 per cent.

JLL’s report attributes the gains to a “high volume of new leasing deals” and “retailers absorbing unleased speciality retail space introduced to market in 2019 and 2020”.

Jetty Rd Glenelg (6.6 per cent to 7.9 per cent) and O’Connell Street North Adelaide (8.2 per cent to 10.4 per cent) were the only two precincts to have a vacancy rate increase in the first three months of this year compared to six months previous.

Agilex Biolabs expand Thebarton headquarters

Bioanalytics firm Agilex Biolabs has expanded and refurbished its Thebarton headquarters with a $1.5 million vaccine and immunobiology laboratory.

Agilex, who conduct bioanalysis of molecules on behalf of pharmaceutical and biotech companies, said the 30 per cent expansion of their facility will cater for increased demand from their global client base.

The new laboratory will focus on new areas of medical interest including RNA vaccines and gene therapy, according to Agilex CEO Jason Valentine.

Premier Steven Marshall, who launched the facility on Wednesday, claimed the expansion would put South Australia on the global map for high tech clinical research.

“We have seen significant advances in vaccines and immunobiology in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and now the Agilex Biolabs’ state-of-the-art facility offers the very latest in technology to support the further development of these new and emerging therapies targeting infections, cancer and genetic conditions,” Marshall said.

The new facility is due to open for business in the next few months.

Agilex said international clients are already booked in to access the new technology at the lab.

It comes after the South Australian firm in April acquired a rodent toxicology facility from the University of Queensland in Brisbane in a bid to speed up the pre-clinical research process for Agilex clients.

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