Ion channel assays are a vital tool in drug discovery research; but can be unreliable and expensive. Xention have recently introduced their new spin-off company, Metrion Biosciences, whose aim is to provide high quality ion channel screening services to the pharma and biotech industry.
To find out more about this new business, and the service they provide, we spoke to Marc Rogers, Vice President of Research at Metrion Biosciences.
JR: Can you tell me more about Metrion Biosciences and the services you provide?
Marc Rogers (MR): Metrion is a new independent contract research business unit aiming to provide comprehensive and high quality ion channel screening services to the pharma and biotech industry. It is a spin-off from Xention Ltd, a biopharmaceutical company based in Cambridge (UK) that is focused on developing ion channel modulators as new drugs to treat cardiovascular and other diseases. Our biology team have spent over 10 years developing and optimising a range of ion channel assays on plate-based and manual and automated patch clamp platforms to serve our internal drug discovery programs and external collaborations. We believe that the most reliable screening data for ion channel SAR, selectivity and target validation comes from using optimised cell reagents on high quality patch clamp platforms (so-called gigaseal technology) operated by skilled scientists. As well as our portfolio of mammalian cell lines and validated ion channel screening assays we will offer assay development and optimisation services. In addition, Metrion will market its panel of neurological ion channel assays for profiling and de-risking of new drug candidates. Finally, Metrion Biosciences intends to launch a full panel of validated human cardiac ion channel and phenotypic cardiomyocyte assays for predictive cardiac safety testing. This new suite of cardiac safety offerings will enable us to meet the requirements of the FDA’s Comprehensive in vitro Proarrhythmia Assay initiative (CiPA) that is set to replace ICH S7B (hERG and preclinical) and ICH 14E (thorough QT) guidelines.
Market surveys predict significant growth in the outsourced ion channel screening market, but customers say they prefer to deal with a specialist ion channel CRO that can deliver high quality data and expert service at competitive prices. This is precisely the business model that Metrion Biosciences will be offering, providing customers with dedicated ion channel screening and assay development expertise and enhanced cardiac safety assessment to help progress their drug discovery projects.
JR: Why have you decided that now is the right time to launch this new spin-off business?
MR: There is increasing interest in ion channel targets for new drug therapies and Metrion is well placed to exploit this opportunity as it has built up the skills and expertise to facilitate ion channel drug discovery for potential partners and clients. In addition, recent acquisitions have reduced the number of independent specialist ion channel CROs in the market so we see unmet demand for our skills. Finally, the team’s long standing expertise in cardiac research, and our panel of validated human cardiac ion channel assays, makes us well placed to commercialise new and improved applications for cardiac safety testing. We believe that changes in the requirements for in vitro cardiac safety profiling outlined by the FDA CiPA initiative and supported by regulatory agencies in other countries is likely to create significant demand for these services.
JR: The new team at Metrion will be led by you. Can you give me some more details on the Xention projects you have been involved in?
MR: I have worked at Xention since 2005, firstly developing and running ion channels assays for automated patch clamp screening, and then managing our drug discovery collaborations. Over this time I’ve been involved as lead biologist with several internal drug discovery programs (e.g. Nav1.3 for neuropathic pain) and collaborative projects funded by European grants. Our work on the EDICT FP7 programme focused on potassium Kv1.x channel modulators for multiple sclerosis, and the recently concluded MAREX FP7 programme profiled marine extracts for therapeutic applications, with an emphasis on Nav and Kv channel modulators. More recently I wrote a successful Innovate UK feasibility grant to develop translational neuroscience assays using rat sensory neurons on a multi-electrode array platform. A significant part of my role as Principal Scientist and VP of Research has been to manage the Xention biology teams involved in major collaborations with several international pharma companies on high value ion channel targets.
JR: Xention has a history of collaborating with a number of pharmaceutical companies on ion channel research, could you tell me more about this work?
MR: Xention has successfully competed for several large ion channel drug discovery collaborations, including projects with Ono Pharmaceuticals (2009-present) and Grunenthal (2011-present) as well as a recent agreement with a Japanese pharma company (2013-present). In some cases these projects were based on internal drug discovery projects and chemistry IP developed at Xention, while in other cases it was opportunity to apply our expertise to a new ion channel family. Although these companies had prior experience investigating ion channel targets, they wanted access to specific medicinal chemistry (e.g. ion channel focused compound library, small molecule design) and patch clamp electrophysiology expertise (manual and automated patch clamp) to progress internal projects or interrogate new ion channel targets. Xention won these contracts as we offered expert ion channel know-how and could apply our expertise effectively in a fast and flexible biotech environment. We were also able to offer our collaborators easy access to a network of preferred CROs supplying other specialist drug discovery services such as PK, ADME, in vivo efficacy, and scale-up at competitive prices. The combination of our expertise and detailed scientific feedback during the course of these projects means that all of the discovery milestones were met and our pharma partners have repeatedly renewed their collaboration agreements.
For more information please visit http://www.metrionbiosciences.com/
Marc Rogers was speaking to Jack Rudd, Editor for Technology Networks.