Veteran Biotechs Evolve
An early gene therapy company, Introgen Therapeutics (www.introgen.com), was founded in 1993 by M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s Jack Roth, M.D., and David Nance, the company’s president and CEO. Using two viral gene delivery systems, Introgen has eight anticancer therapies in development, which employ an oncolytic virus, a variety of genes used as tumor suppressors and immunotherapies, or a nanoparticle formulation. Its lead, Advexin, is being tested for head and neck cancer.
In September, Introgen began a Phase II trial in metastatic small-cell-lung cancer with INGN-225, a p53 tumor suppressor used to stimulate dendritic cells. It also reported results from multiple Phase II trials showing a statistically significant correlation between abnormal p53 and tumor response in patients given Advexin with head and neck, lung, prostate, or Li-Fraumeni cancers.
Another Houston-area veteran, Lexicon Pharmaceuticals, recently moved into a second phase of development, from genetics and fee-for-service to developing small molecules and antibodies. This year, the company changed its name from Lexicon Genetics to Lexicon Pharmaceuticals to reflect its changed mission. Founded in 1995 by Arthur Sands, M.D., Ph.D., Lexicon is examing 5,000 pharmaceutically significant human genes (G-protein coupled receptors, kinases, ion channels, other key enzymes, and secreted proteins) by analyzing the corresponding knockout mouse models.
“We have completed our physiology- and behavior-based analysis of about 80% of these 5,000 genes and have identified and validated more than 100 in six therapeutic areas: diabetes and obesity, cardiovascular disease, psychiatric and neurological disorders, cancer, immune system disorders, and ophthalmic disease,” reports Dr. Sands.
“Using our gene trapping technology to create the OmniBank library of over 270,000 embryonic stem cell clones, we can generate knockout mice at a significantly higher rate than is possible using other methods, which provides us with a strategic advantage in the discovery of in vivo gene function and identification of novel drug targets,” adds Dr. Sands.
Another indicator of the maturing Houston biotech industry is Genentech’s recent acquisition of Tanox, with which it developed Xolair for asthma, for $919 million, says Nancy Chang, Ph.D., former Tanox CEO who recently moved to OrbiMed Advisors. “There is much greater infrastructure in Houston now as compared to 20 years ago, when it was a second cousin to the oil and gas industries.”