Idorsia Pharmaceuticals Ltd. – The Innovation Engine

Idorsia is a company driven by research and innovation and is now on the verge of entering the market.

When a company is bought out by a large company, traditionally the process involves the buyer taking on the whole company, then divesting, shutting down or absorbing the bits it does not need. However, when Johnson & Johnson came to acquire the company out of which Idorsia Pharmaceuticals would be created, things went a little differently.

“It’s a unique case. The company we created, late in the 90s, was bought by Johnson & Johnson. Rather than do it as usual – sell the whole company so they can disperse, sell or licence-out whatever does not fit the acquirer’s strategy, we asked them ‘What do you want?’,” recalls Jean-Paul Clozel, CEO of Idorsia Pharmaceuticals. “They wanted the latest products and the company’s commercial organisation. Meanwhile, we were more interested in the research pipeline we had built from scratch.”

An equitable deal was reached, and from that deal came a new, independent company in a unique position.

“It’s a four-year-old company with a 20-year-old research engine,” Clozel tells us. “The whole research and part of the clinical organisation became Idorsia. We rebuilt a company based on a strong scientific foundation and now we are expanding to include a commercial organization.”

R&D remains the company’s focus, however. The company employs around 1,000 people, primarily in drug discovery and clinical development, to discover and develop innovative small molecules to address a diverse range of medical disorders.

“We’re not in gene therapy or antibodies; instead, we use all our expertise and cutting-edge technology to discover drugs with organic chemistry,” Clozel explains. “We have looked at many areas from cardiovascular to neurology, but we find we’re more focused when we look for an interesting molecular target that we can deal with using organic chemistry. We follow the science without a precise idea of where our target indication is. We have ideas where it will lead, but we don’t have a fixed area of research.”

A Pipeline of Innovation

Idorsia Pharmaceuticals is in a strong position because, despite its youth as a company, it benefits from an incredible pipeline of varied projects which are backed up by years of research.

“Our people are key. We employ the best in all fields of expertise and while we have organized our drug discovery engine mostly in a classical way, it has yielded us a very good product pipeline,” Clozel says. “What is unique is that our team has been working together, sometimes for two decades, so we have a continuity that has brought us fantastic results. Our pipeline is the result of this continuity and perseverance. In biotech, you see most companies are bought ten years after their inception – as soon as they have one successful product. Hence the teams that have made the innovation possible are disrupted. But my wife and I own 29% of this company to ensure we won’t be bought and can preserve this continuity.”

One such product Clozel is looking forward to is a new sleeping drug.

“People don’t realise that insomnia is a disease affecting up to 20 million adult Americans, and with Covid-19, sleep problems have tremendously increased,” Clozel explains. “We have a drug that not only improves sleep, but we’ve been able to show it improves how you function during the day. Patients are able to feel it and we can measure the effects. It’s going to be something nobody has on the radar because they either think insomnia drugs are unfashionable or already addressed. Once this drug is on the market it has the potential to change the field of insomnia, which is a huge problem in Japan and Europe too. It could be our platform for growth for the next ten years. We expect it to become a blockbuster, and we’re focusing on giving it a successful launch. At present, the drug’s marketing application is being reviewed by the FDA, the EMA and Swissmedic.”

From the Ground Up

While Idorsia Pharmaceuticals has extensive and well-established research and product pipeline, it still needed to build the commercial side of the business from scratch after selling those original capabilities to Johnson & Johnson.

“The biggest challenge is to build a middle-sized company in such a short timeframe,” Clozel admits. “Our challenge is to build the kind of infrastructure which is usually built over 15 to 20 years but to do that in five years. Our product pipeline is much more mature and broader than what is usually found in a four-year-old company. That is why we are already in a position to be preparing the launch of our first product. Short: we need to compress the time needed to build a typical biotech firm by a factor of two or three.”

That Idorsia is already profiting from its established product pipeline, helps make this less of an impossible feat.

“This is feasible, but it has never been done. Never has a clinical-stage company been created with 15 years of research behind it and possession of as many patents in such varied therapeutic areas as we have,” Clozel points out. “Thanks to that we can develop our products, while also creating a marketing organisation across several different medical settings. We hire very good people and let them do their job.”

Part of the reason building Idorsia’s commercial arm is such a challenge is the global reach that is necessary to establish the company’s products.

“We need an organisation that is worldwide,” Clozel says. “Biotechnology is a global business. You cannot be successful in just one country; you need to be successful around the world and build a global organisation. So, we create commercial infrastructure in preparation for the launch of our products while continuing our research.”

Clozel keeps emphasising the importance of research to the company, and the industry as a whole.

“Biotech is like a car. The engine is research and drug discovery. Without the engine, you don’t run very far. If you have biotech without research, you won’t have a future.”

Idorsia Pharmaceuticals is a company designed to run and run.

“We want to create a middle-sized independent pharmaceutical company, not to be bought but to be able to run on its own,” Clozel insists.

At the end of the day, that company will always come down to one thing.

“Biotech is about only one thing. It’s about products,” Clozel says. “You can have the best technology, the best company, but without the right product, you will die. We believe we have the products that will ensure sustainable growth for at least ten years. We’re aiming to become one of the strongest European biotechs. Our current pipeline gives us the confidence that we have ten years of tremendous growth from products we will launch out of our existing pipeline. But after 2035 we will need a lot of new products, so we continue to innovate and do research.”

More like this