Startups, Venture

Taking on lousy side effects of existing meds, NEA-backed Xoc tackles Parkinson’s/migraines with $30M Series A

New Enterprise Associates is backing a startup near San Jose that’s using old clinical data — paired with new tech — to come up with novel drugs for Parkinson’s disease and migraines. By mimicking the things that work in old drugs while abandoning side-effect-causing triggers, the hope is to design drugs that lack the grim reactions of those already on the market.

The company, called Xoc (pronounced “shock”) Pharmaceuticals, raised $30 million in this new Series A round led by NEA (one of the world’s largest venture firms, with $18 billion in assets under management).

Scott Borland

The company’s president and CEO Scott Borland tells me approved treatments for Parkinson’s and migraines come loaded with lousy side effects that make this market ripe for new entrants. With new technology, Borland thinks existing therapies could be better understood – and used as blueprints – for novel drugs.

“A lot of receptor technology has really advanced in the last five to 10 years,” the company’s president and CEO Scott Borland tells me “Assays are more reliable, and the receptor relationships are more understood. If you look at a compound from a couple decades ago, people often didn’t understand why it had effects in the clinic.”

Now, they might.

Borland says Xoc is first taking on Parkinson’s disease (PD) and migraines, as these are two common conditions that could use new treatments with fewer side effects. The company is using its first tranche in the $30 million round to take two programs into pre-clinical trials. They’re developing a dopamine agonist called XC130 to help treat Parkinson’s disease, and an oral drug called XC101 for the prevention of migraines.

For PD, Borland said one thing Xoc wants to tackle is the common and often devastating side effect of compulsive behavior – a problem for patients taking drugs like GSK’s Requip and Boehringer Ingelheim’s Mirapex.

“A very common side effect of dopamine agonists is compulsive behavior,” Borland said. “(Patients) go on a dopamine agonist and develop compulsive disorders like shopping, gambling, and compulsive sexual behavior – all things that can jeopardize personal relationships and caregiver relationships. When a patient with advanced PD loses the help of a caregiver, that can be a very real problem.”

The hope is to dial in on what’s causing specific side effects, and design a drug that avoids the same pitfalls. Borland thinks using old data intelligently will reduce the risk of failure.

“We’re working in classes of drugs that work pretty well,” Borland said. “We’re not creating a completely new class of compounds. We’re tailoring our molecule design to precisely what we want, but these compounds will have similarities to compounds that have been around for a long time.”

For Xoc’s migraine program, Borland said the company is not looking to rival major market hopefuls like CGRP agonists currently in development from Amgen, Novartis, and others.

“They’re a bit ahead of where we are, honestly,” Borland said. “We think we fill a really nice space between a generic drug and a therapy like those CGRP agonists, which will undoubtedly be very expensive.”

Plus, Xoc is aiming to develop an oral drug, which might be more convenient for patients than heading to a clinic for injections.

When asked how Xoc’s treatment would differ from preventative oral migraine medications already on the market, Borland said, “Frankly, the existing drugs don’t work very well, and none were developed specifically for migraine prevention.”

The company expects this Series A round to get both programs to the clinic.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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