From the incubator to the big leagues
Company well positioned as a drug discovery and development company
March 16, 2012— Burnaby, British Columbia
Xenon Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Xenon Pharmaceuticals Inc., a clinical genetics-based drug development enterprise, was spun out of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 1996 by its two founders, Michael Hayden and Simon Pimstone. By 2002, the company was ready to leave the UBC incubator, and in 2003, Xenon made what Robin Sherrington, vice-president, business and corporate development, calls a “particularly high-value discovery,” identifying a drug target related to pain. Today, it’s a fully fledged drug discovery and development company with 56 employees and has two products in Phase 2 clinical studies.
Xenon’s mission is to discover, develop and commercialize innovative and differentiated medicines based on genetically defined targets. With a pipeline of products spanning discovery to Phase 2 clinical trials, the firm’s research focuses on treatments for pain, iron metabolism, and metabolic and cardiovascular disease.
While much of the firm’s success is thanks to its founders’ brain power and initiative, help from NRC-IRAP at a critical juncture helped make a tremendous difference, says Sherrington. In 2003, NRC-IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) Paul Barran helped the firm secure funding to hire researchers to work on a drug discovery platform for the new pain-related drug target. Xenon was able to establish its electrophysiology platform, which became a springboard for the development of XEN402, a potentially important pain drug now in clinical trials, as well as other spin-off discoveries. (In this context, a platform refers to establishing the foundation for further product discoveries by building the necessary scientific capability, knowledge and infrastructure.)
Xenon Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Because of the nature of the business, Xenon doesn’t currently measure its success in terms of sales, revenue or market share. Success for a company like Xenon is measured by its ability to attract investments and partnerships that enable it to continue and further its research. Xenon licenses products to larger organizations for clinical development and commercialization, and its success is evident in the top-tier pharmaceutical partners it has attracted over the past decade. Among its high-profile partners are Roche, Novartis, Pfizer, Merck, Isis and Takeda.
Before NRC-IRAP came along, explains Barran, Xenon would develop a drug as far as it could with its own resources, and then enter into a partnership with a pharmaceutical firm to continue the development. In the company’s earliest stages, this often meant selling the technology to a large pharmaceutical firm at an early stage.
“Our ITA, Paul Barran, has been a great spokesperson for Xenon. His continued willingness and flexibility to approach us about opportunities have been tremendously helpful.”
Robin Sherrington, Vice-Presidet, business and corporate development, Xenon Pharmaceuticals Inc.
“But as they progressed, they were able to use the money they received from such partnerships to develop the next project a bit further, and so on and so on,” he says. “As time goes on, they’re retaining more and more of the value of what they’re developing.”
The pain drug candidate that emerged from the NRC-IRAP-funded study became the first clinical product that Xenon owned completely.
“That’s where NRC-IRAP had a huge impact,” says Barran.
Xenon continues to establish itself as a B.C.-based pharmaceutical company performing research and development.
Since NRC-IRAP’s initial involvement with Xenon in 2003:
- Helped it attract other partnerships, including a deal with Takeda Pharmaceutical, Japan’s largest pharmaceutical firm;
- Resulted in discoveries that have supported more than $30 million in investments;
- Increased its intellectual property portfolio, with multiple patent applications;
- Supported the discovery of XEN402, now in clinical development;
- Enabled its potential for new spin-off drug discovery programs.
Xenon is now well-positioned as a discovery and development company, and its investors recognize the significant promise of the drugs it has under development, says Barran. “Longer term, a pain product is going to have a global market with millions of potential users.”
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