Katharine Sepp, chief executive officer, and Joost Schulte, chief scientific officer, co-founders of Oxalys Pharma, knew that they had discovered a promising new drug candidate for treating neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Huntington diseases but the challenge was to figure out a way to successfully commercialize their discovery.
This was specially challenging as any new drug had to go through a very long, rigorous and expensive process before it was available for patient use. Getting connected to the right clinical and industry experts was critical to moving the discovery to commercialization. The question was how to accomplish this in an effective manner.
Ms. Sepp, an Ontario native, completed her PhD in neuroscience and genetics from the University of British Columbia and had primarily worked in the research area at various universities including Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mr. Schulte was raised in British Columbia and completed his PhD in neuroscience from UBC and had both industry and research experience.
While conducting research at MIT, they developed a drug discovery model for neurodegenerative diseases. Their discovery was a drug that protects brain cells from accelerated aging that occurs in disorders such as Huntington and Parkinson’s diseases. The drug they identified protects the brain in two ways. The drug activates cellular quality-control mechanisms that become less efficient with age. It also reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which has a degenerative impact on the brain if chronically high. Recently neurologists have found that high levels of cortisol could serve as an early indicator of these neurodegenerative diseases. This could allow for early detection and treatment via their new drug by nipping the deterioration of the brain in the bud. Also, since stress is found to worsen disease symptoms, the drug would be useful in later stages of these diseases. The duo formed Oxalys in 2010 while working together at MIT.
The solution came in the shape of a talk given at MIT by Sherwin Greenblatt, former CEO of Bose Corp. Mr. Greenblatt talked about the process whereby they introduced their revolutionary new speakers to the market. He said Bose knew they had a superior product but needed to find external validation for the same. Their solution was to find opinion leaders and influencers in the audio field whose views mattered and who were followed by consumers.
This led them to connect with a highly respected reviewer of audio equipment who wrote for a major stereo review magazine. The review got them the credibility and attention needed to successfully take their invention to commercial success.