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Ex-MAP Execs Start Xoc with Plans to Leapfrog New Migraine Drugs

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Patients should have better ways to prevent migraine headaches, says Scott Borland, president and CEO of Xoc Pharmaceuticals. Current generic drugs bring unwanted side effects. New options are on the way, but they will likely be expensive.

Los Gatos, CA-based Xoc is now in the mix too. Xoc is developing a pill meant to prevent migraines that, if it reaches the market, could offer a cheaper option than a new, emerging class of injectable medicines, Borland says.

“We think there’s a niche between the generics that managed care folks drive people toward and the more expensive therapies that are in development now,” Borland contends.

Some investors found the pitch compelling and they’ve now committed $30 million in financing to back Xoc’s work. New Enterprise Associates led the Series A funding round, which Borland says will support work bringing two compounds, one for migraines and another for Parkinson’s disease, into clinical trials.

Borland already has experience in migraine drug development. He was a senior neurology executive at MAP Pharmaceuticals, a Bay Area startup that had partnered with, and was then acquired by Allergan (NYSE: AGN) in a $1 billion deal for an inhalable form of dihydroergotamine, an old, generic drug for treating migraines. Shortly after the 2013 acquisition, the FDA rejected the MAP drug, citing problems with the canisters used to dispense it. Though Allergan has said the drug remains in its pipeline, it has since made more progress with a migraine-prevention drug in pill form.

Like Borland, several members of Xoc’s staff are also MAP veterans. Borland says that even though MAP gave him and his team experience in migraine research, Xoc’s work is independent of MAP and his new company has developed novel compounds. The name Xoc (pronounced “shock”) comes from a term in the Mayan language that is the origin English word for “shark,” according to the company. Xoc analyzes compounds that are already available to treat a disease to understand how they work, the receptors that hit and the side effects they cause, he says. This research enables Xoc to identify which receptors its drugs should target. Xoc used this approach to develop both of its compounds.

Migraine patients seeking a drug to prevent their headaches can use topiramate (Topamax), an old anti-seizure drug that was later approved for migraine prevention. Besides coming with side effects like drowsiness, dizziness, and a tingling sensation in the extremities, Borland says the drug also doesn’t work very well for migraine prevention. Generic triptans are available to help patients curb the symptoms of migraine attacks, but these drugs also have side effects.

The first drugs in a new class of injectable migraine medicines eant to reduce the frequency of headaches could be approved this year. Amgen (NYSE: AMGN), Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY, Teva Pharmaceutical (NYSE: TEVA), have applied for FDA approval for their drugs; Alder BioPharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALDR) plans to submit its application later this year. While data from clinical trials has been encouraging, Borland notes that these drugs don’t work for all migraine patients.

Borland wouldn’t provide many details about Xoc’s migraine compound, XC101, other than to say it doesn’t work the way the new migraine-preventing drugs do, and targets multiple receptors known to play a role in the debilitating headaches, rather than a single one. The hope is the approach proves more effective and safer than the other migraine-preventing drugs.

Xoc is also developing a second drug, XC130, for Parkinson’s disease. Xoc aims to improve upon dopamine-boosting drugs like apomorphine, which can help Parkinson’s patients control their symptoms but come with a slew of side effects, like involuntary muscle movements, hallucinations, and insomnia. Those side effects can make it hard for patients to find and maintain the right dose, Borland says.

Xoc aims to begin clinical trials for both XC101 and XC130 next year, he says.

Photo by Flickr user tr0tt3r via a Creative Commons license.