Koéna’s inspiring journey began with our Chief Scientific Officer and Parasite Immunologist, Dr Paul Turner, whose missional quest for finding a treatable diagnosis for community sickness in Africa and India ultimately led to his own battle with sickness and inspired a life-mission to find a cure.
Visiting Burkina Faso in West Africa during 1997-98 as a member of a World Health Organisation International Task Force into Tropical Diseases, Dr Turner was commissioned to investigate severe adverse patient reactions to diethyl-carbamazine citrate, a treatment provided to sufferers of Onchocerciasis (a parasitic disease that causes blindness). Impacting entire communities, and in some cases proving fatal, there was no known remedy to counteract the treatment’s debilitating health effects. Through his research, and his time spent in the African communities, Dr Turner hypothesized that inflammation involving two cytokines (TNF and Interleukin 6) was at the core of the severe adverse reactions and that the higher the cytokine levels were, the more severe the reaction were.
Dr Turner’s work in Africa was just the beginning of an impactful and inspiring career. In the preceding years to Dr Turner’s community-altering work in Burkina Faso, his personal and professional passion to better understand the triggers of cytokine levels remained a prominent medical pursuit. He was driven to research the relationship with cytokines on the human body's inflammatory response.
During 1998 to 2000, Dr Turner was at the peak of his career as a Professor, Head of Department at James Cook University and working for health organisations, including the World Health Organisation, and the private sector in the Alliance for International Health. The prime focus was the development of simple disease control programs.
It was during this period that his life took a dramatic turn after returning from West Africa, India and Myanmar, in 2000 Dr Turner experienced the first symptoms of malaria. The diagnosis was made in Australia and he was prescribed a relatively new but proven drug at the time called mefloquine. Within 24 hours, Dr Turner would begin to experience severe adverse effects associated with this treatment including immobilisation of his legs, balance and eyesight.
The malaria treatment would go on to have a debilitating impact on Dr Turner’s life for the next few years. In 2002 he was suffering from severe depression and deteriorating health, Dr Turner’s decreased capacity to work forced him to retire from academic life. He reached a point of sheer desperation. Finding himself in a period of hypersomnia, sleeping for up to 18 hours a day, he resolved to do everything he could to find a cure for his predicament. Often, in times of darkness the most inspired ideas form. For Dr Turner, it was the memory and correlation of his work in African communities in Burkina Faso and the role of inflammation.
Consulting a malariologist at the Australia National University, Dr Turner explored the hypothesis of whether heightened cytokine levels resonating from his malaria treatment could precipitate a chronic inflammatory condition. The response was an affirmative ‘yes’. Like the inflammatory condition induced by diethyl-carbamazine citrate in the African community’s Dr Turner visited, he knew there had to be cure for the inflammation caused by the anti-malarial treatment.
Partnering with Dr Barry Parsons, Dr Turner sought to create an innovative range of healthcare products that focused on inflammation. Beyond finding a cure to help alleviate his own symptoms, Dr Turner’s end goal was to create a treatment that was inexpensive, prescription-free, steroid-free and most importantly, scientifically backed.
After intensive research and experimentation with active ingredients known to have strong anti-inflammatory properties, the duo discovered a unique combination that worked synergistically on different areas of the immune system.
They found the active ingredients could suppress the levels of cytokines in the body and reduce the inflammatory response. Provided the unique combination of ingredients are delivered via the right “carrier” to the problem area, it could be used in a variety of applications. The combination of 4 ingredients was subsequently patented and is known today as Resta-Plex®.