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Taking Away the Pain

While research seemingly has an infinite number of practical applications, it is hard to imagine a more worthy result than the potential to ease human suffering. Thanks to a unique collaborative research partnership involving Memorial University, a small Newfoundland community and Canadian biotechnology company, Xenon Pharmaceuticals, the world of pain management may be on the cusp of a transformative breakthrough.

Bird Cove, Newfoundland is home to one of only 15 families reported worldwide who suffer from a rare condition called congenital indifference to pain - CIP.  While those afflicted with CIP maintain the sensation of touch - hot, cold, rough, soft - this genetic disorder prevents the ability to feel pain. When Springboard member Genesis Group introduced Xenon to the CIP clinical research being conducted in Newfoundland and Labrador by Memorial University geneticists, the pharmaceutical company was very interested in how this research might contribute to the development of a more effective pain medication. 

“By understanding the molecular basis of CIP, it was our hope we could create a product that triggered a similar pain-resistant reaction in patients suffering from chronic pain conditions,” says Xenon President and CEO, Dr. Simon Pimstone.

As a result of this interest, Genesis Group negotiated a collaborative research agreement with Memorial that was fully funded by Xenon. Through the collection, clinical analysis and early work up completed by Memorial researchers on the DNA of the Bird Cove families together with samples that Xenon collected from families in other parts of the world, Xenon was able to then identify the specific gene responsible for CIP. This discovery led to the invention of XEN 402, a pain control product that inhibits the pathway sending pain signals to the brain and is effective for both inflammatory and neuropathic pain conditions. What makes XEN 402 especially unique is that it can control pain without important side effects that are common to other pain drugs such as addiction.

As a result of these discoveries and developments, Genesis has a revenue sharing agreement with Xenon that will provide payments back to Memorial University. XEN 402 has shown positive results in human trials and is advancing in phase 2.   The value of the global market for prescription pain products is estimated at over $20 billion annually. If XEN 402 is successful then Memorial University will receive significant royalty revenues which will be used to fund new research initiatives and underwrite health care infrastructure costs for the communities that participated in the genetic research program.

“Memorial’s partnership with Xenon is a shining example of the potential for Atlantic universities and colleges to work with Canadian companies to achieve commercial success, provide outstanding benefits to society and at the same time generate a significant revenue stream back to Atlantic Canada,” says Genesis Group President, David King.