Xenon and a Unique Idea
In the search for new cures and treatments for diseases, many genomics-based biotechnology companies focused their efforts on the genes of a single group, such as an African tribe or Icelandic village, which has shown a remarkable resistance or weakness to a particular ailment.
The scientific founders of Xenon Genetics had a different idea. "What makes us unique is that we are doing this research with multiple founder populations and families," says president and CEO Frank Holler. "We go out and gather what we believe are the most informative populations in the entire world of six billion people."
Founded in 1996, Xenon has since then had 35 groups or populations under study in 11 countries around the world. Another unique idea, says Holler, was a decision to focus not just on one category of disease, but several.
"RBC Royal Bank has been associated with the firm since the beginning," says Holler. "What we were looking for was a bank that has a commitment to the life sciences industry. We're in a unique business. It creates some unique banking requirements." Frank Holler, president and CEO Xenon Genetics
With multiple drug discovery programs underway for cardiovascular, neurological and metabolic diseases, a global assortment of informative populations and a large staff of experienced medical scientists, Xenon hopes to rapidly identify the strongest candidates for drug development. In partnership with Warner-Lambert, it has already identified promising therapies to raise HDL-cholesterol ("good cholesterol") and lower triglycerides.
Xenon and RBC Royal Bank
The Life Sciences & Health Services team and other arms of RBC Royal Bank have advised Xenon on a variety of fronts, including investment capital, venture capital, commercial banking, investment banking and mergers and acquisitions. "All the things we need to build the company," says Holler.
In fact, he notes, RBC Royal Bank's venture capital group was an early investor in the company. The bank also helped Xenon invest its capital, lease equipment, establish a Group RSP and secure credit facilities.
Xenon and Success
Xenon has grown rapidly from just three people at the start to about 100 today in research facilities in Burnaby and Montreal. Though a commercialized product is still in the future, Xenon had $14 million in revenues in 2001 and recently raised $74 million in capital markets - the largest private placement in Canadian biotech history at the time. The firm's Montreal subsidiary, Xenon Genetics Research Inc., was also awarded $11 million of funding recently from Genome Canada and Génome Québec.
"It's an exciting business," says Holler. "The impact one has on patient care and the quality of life can be very significant."