Ben Franklin is credited with having said, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.” That was certainly very true for the scientist-entrepreneurs who gathered around a café table in the winter of 2013 to found Cyclenium Pharma. Having just experienced the unexpected closure of their previous enterprise’s research site and after unsuccessful attempts to license any of that company’s assets, they faced a daunting industry landscape without a laboratory in which to work, no products to jump-start a new company, a very difficult funding environment, increasing competition in their technology focus area, and a great deal of uncertainty in the local biotechnology community. Undeterred, they did possess a very strong belief that the excellent potential in small molecule macro-cycle drug discovery, a field that their prior firm had pioneered, had been barely scratched. As such, it was ripe for the novel strategy they had collectively conceived, which was envisioned to be able to overcome the deficiencies of then current approaches, and permit Cyclenium to make its own indelible mark in the area.
Adding to the challenge was that they were approaching the always arduous task of drug discovery from a chemistry platform perspective, which has significant advantages in being pharmacological target and therapeutic indication agnostic, with concomitant very broad practical applicability. Traditionally, however, most biotech companies are focused around a disease, a target or, occasionally, biological platform that can be directly related to these two, which permits easy and rapid categorization and valuation. In contrast, chemistry technologies are often un- or, at best, under-appreciated, despite being a fundamental part of most solutions. Nonetheless, armed with their own checkbooks, a number of highly intriguing structural design concepts, a few pieces of used scientific equipment, over 150 years combined pharmaceutical industry experience, a proven track record in progression of macrocyclic molecules from discovery into the clinic, and, of course, many dreams, the founding team intrepidly embarked on their vision to make “Today’s Macrocycles for Tomorrow’s Medicines” and joined what has since become a renaissance in the biotechnology industry in Montreal.
To translate their designs into reality, Cyclenium established itself as one of the first discovery firms to become resident at the non-profit NEOMED Institute in the Montreal Technoparc, which has served as a nurturing eco-system of research, contract and service organizations, and proven quite beneficial for companies in their early stages. The Cyclenium research team then combined their scientific acumen, keen technical insight, and never-say-die attitude to overcome the roadblocks inherent in every new research endeavor: technical difficulties, failed experiments, equivocal results, and strategic dead-ends. In particular, by leveraging their excellent knowledge base in macro-cyclic drug discovery and exceptional depth of understanding of the unique properties of these spatially-defined chemical structures, they succeeded within the initial two years in creating the critical elements required for their proprietary CMRT™ (“smart”) macro-cyclic drug discovery technology and constructing the associated QUEST™ screening library. The true power of CMRT is perhaps best reflected in the broad diversity of therapeutic areas in which active programs have already originated from its application, including anti-infectives, central nervous system disorders, cystic fibrosis, and oncology.
Indeed, in its first five years of existence, Cyclenium Pharma has exploited that innovative technology to systematically build significant and sustainable value through utilizing a synergistic combination of drug discovery collaborations with large pharmaceutical firms desiring access to the unique capabilities of CMRT and risk-sharing partnerships to progress internal projects towards the clinic. Reaching that latter objective will be the primary goal of the next phase of growth, making the future decidedly much clearer and brighter than it appeared around that table only a few short years ago.