Biotech is hot - and not just since the Corona pandemic proved the benefits of biotech innovations. Sirona Biochem is a cosmetic ingredient and drug discovery company that currently works on active compounds for diabetes, skin lightening and anti-aging. It specializes in stabilizing carbohydrate molecules with the goal of improving efficacy and safety. In this interview, Dr. Howard Verrico, CEO Sirona Biochem, and Dr. Géraldine Deliencourt-Godefroy, Chief Scientific Officer TFChem, address the company’s achievements, challenges and prospects.
Dr. Verrico, Dr. Deliencourt-Godefroy, please give a brief overview of Sirona Biochem. What does the company stand for and what is your long-term vision?
Dr. Verrico: Sirona Biochem is a highly innovative company that is built on the chemistry expertise of Dr. Geraldine Deliencourt-Godefroy and her team at TFChem in France. The basic premise of the work is the stabilization of carbohydrate-based compounds to improve their efficacy and safety in pharmaceutical and cosmetic applications. Carbohydrate compounds are commonly used as active ingredients and we have proven that we can take a known compound and make it safer. This significantly reduces the risk, since, in many cases, the parent compound has already been through safety and efficacy.
The company stands for the development of improved active ingredients. There are many products on the market that either have no efficacy, could be better in their efficacy, or have an improved side effect pro file. We aim to improve the efficacy and lower the side effects so people can get the benefit with less risk.
That said, we also have innovative projects that are not based on known parent compounds and that show very interesting effects, such as our LIP-01 project.
Dr. Deliencourt-Godefroy: The company was founded with the vision of building a pipeline based on my research in fluorinated carbohydrate compounds. We are building our portfolio on this platform technology, which allows us to target multiple applications with a highly predictable rate of success.
The long-term vision is to become a key player in the development of new drugs and cosmetic actives. We have already achieved success in commercialization and have recently increased our team of chemists with highly experienced technicians. This will help us to speed up our development, and this is something that is currently happening with the development of antiviral candidates.
Dr. Deliencourt-Godefroy, looking back over the years since TFChem was founded, what have been your greatest successes, what have been the greatest challenges?
Dr. Deliencourt-Godefroy: One of the greatest successes is of course TFC-1067, our compound for dyschromia. It has amazing efficacy, has ended its research and development phase, and is at the beginning of the commercial story. Getting a product commercialized is not easy in biotech start-ups, so this has been very rewarding.
SBM-TFC-039, the diabetes drug, is also considered a great success as it is currently pursuing its development in the area of diabetes for human but also veterinary applications. We currently have a lot of demand in this area. In addition, recent results have underlined another potential of development for this drug candidate, and we hope, we could confirm it in further development but unfortunately right now I cannot discuss because of IP [Intellectual Property].
Our GlycoProteMim portfolio is very close to clinical development with different applications anti-aging/ anti- wrinkle but in this family of compounds other applications, such as biological, material preservation, skin protection, skin barrier effect, open other applications, even dermatologic applications. Quite recently, the completion of a number of biological evaluations have even open completely unexpected application with high commercial value. This, for all our team, is very exciting and an achievement.
In terms of research, there is always challenges. It is part of the job, and it is also driving you to meet success. The biggest unsolved challenge to date, is work we did on an antigen for an aggressive form of cancer. The target compound has successfully been obtained but yet the yield of the synthesis is too low to allow for commercial development. We always keep it in mind, each time we work on other projects, in case we can find a suitable solution which could be applied to this project.
The biggest challenge is always to know what I can share or not in order not to damage our patenting strategy. The time is also really frustrating not only in research but also in the commercial development as it involves many different players, with their own strategy and challenges.
In 2013 there was an article about an anti-aging compound based on the naturally occurring antifreeze glycoproteins found in Antarctic fish. According to the article, there was immense interest from L'Oreal. How has the research developed here? Is this still an area in which Sirona is active?
Dr. Deliencourt-Godefroy: Yes, this is all part of the GlycoProteMim program that we are developing. In terms of R&D, this is the most advanced program in the company after SGLT inhibitor and skin lightener, and probably the next that will reach the market.
Dr. Verrico, your compound TFC-1067 is used as an active ingredient in one of Rodan + Fields' products. In an announcement on the licensing of the compound, the possibility of further cooperation was mentioned. Are there any concrete plans here?
Dr. Verrico: The cooperation with Rodan + Fields has been excellent. In 2018, Dr. Deliencourt-Godefroy and I were invited to the company tech day at their headquarters in San Francisco to meet with and present to the senior management and founders of the company. Communication has always been transparent about their processes and they have succeeded in commercializing our first compound. They have always expressed interest in further collaborations with Sirona and continue to review the ongoing research and development of our company. We see this partnership expanding in the future and we’ll see where we go from there.
In 2014, you entered into a cooperation with Obagi Medical Products (OMP) for the commercialisation of the skin lightening compound TFC-849. What led to the fact that in the end no product resulted from it and what is different today?
Dr. Verrico: When we entered the agreement with Obagi, we were in a very different place than we are now. The product, TFC-849, while similar to TFC-1067, was not nearly as advanced. We had good preclinical results, but no clinical trials and no scale-up or manufacturing in place. When the time came to do the scale-up, it was determined that it was difficult and costly to make which changed the commercial value and ended in the contract being discontinued. With TFC-1067, we now have a very comprehensive package for potential partners, including, preclinical work, advanced safety testing, clinical trials, scale-up process as well as commercial level manufacturing. These make a significant difference to a potential partner.
Dr. Deliencourt-Godefroy, working in a research laboratory recently may prove difficult if not impossible due to the Covid-19 pandemic. What are some challenges you have been facing? Are there any advantages that may have arisen from the challenging environment? How important is personal networking in France’s Cosmetic Valley where the world’s leading cosmetic companies conduct their research and development?
Dr. Deliencourt-Godefroy: It is far from impossible, but it is challenging. Our subcontractors have also met some challenges in terms of sourcing and unfortunately, it has increased some timeline, which is pretty frustrating for everybody. However, it brings new opportunities. It is the case with one project that we had since years in the lab: the development of an antiviral. Indeed, it is a challenging area, as on a commercial point of view, it was always the claim that it is better to have a vaccine, and that the vaccine will prevent the commercialization of antiviral drugs. What’s happening with Covid, is showing to everybody including big pharma, that we need both, and that there is a place for both in terms of commercialization.
We have a strong connection with the Cosmetic Valley, it helps us to meet different companies and to better understand their expectations. Thanks to them, we meet major prospects, which are expecting the next results in our GlycoProteMim program.
Dr. Verrico, in your latest presentation for investors you listed milestones to be achieved within the next three months. To what extent are you still confident of achieving these milestones and where do you see the greatest impact for Sirona?
Dr. Verrico: I am confident we will be able to achieve most of our milestones and that Sirona will be launched into a new era. In terms of impact, there is one milestone we did not include and that was the first commercialization of our product TFC-1067. We intentionally left this off as the timeline was not ours and so hesitated to call it our milestone, however, having a product reach commercialization it certainly is a significant turning point for any biotech company.
The other impactful event will be any partnering agreement, whether this is for our SGLT2 product or a second TFC-1067 agreement.
Last question: Sirona implemented a shareholder rights plan ("poison pill") in 2019. Given the company's prospects, a takeover in the future can certainly not be ruled out - especially in the context of the low company valuation. What would be a precondition for you to agree to a takeover?
Dr. Verrico: Management would not support any takeover offer unless it is based upon a valuation which accurately reflects the true value of Sirona’s technology and fully rewards the shareholders for their years of support to commercialize it.
Dr. Deliencourt-Godefroy: My strength is in research, chemistry, and to be honest, Howard has done everything possible to help TFChem to remain focused on the main expertise. I have great confidence in what has been and what will be done. We always try to evaluate what is the best decision for the company, its shareholders, and stakeholders.
Dr. Deliencourt-Godefroy, Dr. Verrico, we thank you for the interesting interview and wish you continued success!
Howard J. Verrico, MD
CEO and Chairman of the Board
Dr. Verrico obtained his medical degree from the University of Toronto in 1985 and has been a member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia since July 1986. Dr Verrico is currently a practicing emergency room physician. In addition, Dr. Verrico has extensive experience as a venture capitalist in the junior capital markets.
Géraldine Deliencourt-Godefroy, PhD
Chief Scientific Officer
Dr. Géraldine Deliencourt-Godefroy is an award-winning synthetic chemist and the founder of Frenchbased biotechnology company TFChem. Since the acquisition of TFChem by Sirona Biochem in March 2011, Dr. Deliencourt-Godefroy has assumed the role of Chief Scientific Officer. Her scientific research in carbohydrate chemistry has led to the discovery of new drug families and the development of drug candidates for diabetes and obesity, cosmetic ingredients and biological adjuvants. Previous to founding TFChem, Dr. Deliencourt-Godefroy was a scientific leader at INSA (National Institute of Applied Sciences) in Rouen, France, where she developed a new technology on stabilized carbohydrates. Previous roles also include a post-doctoral position at the University College London and doctoral research at the Research Institute of Fine Organic Chemistry in Rouen, France. Dr. Deliencourt-Godefroy received a PhD and Masters in Organic Chemistry as well as her business degree from the University of France. She is the author of several publications and patents and is also the recipient of the acclaimed Francinov Research and Innovation Medal, French Ministry of Research Award and the French Senate Award.
Sirona Biochem Corp.
Sirona Biochem is a cosmetic ingredient and drug discovery company with a proprietary platform technology. Sirona specializes in stabilizing carbohydrate molecules with the goal of improving efficacy and safety. New compounds are patented for maximum revenue potential.
Sirona’s compounds are licensed to leading companies around the world in return for licensing fees, milestone fees and ongoing royalty payments. Sirona’s laboratory, TFChem, is located in France and is the recipient of multiple French national scientific awards and European Union and French government grants. For more information, please visit www.sironabiochem.com.
Sirona Biochem is a publicly-traded company. The company is listed on the TSX Venture Exchange in Canada under the symbol SBM, the OTC Pink Sheets in the United States under the symbol SRBCF and in Germany under the symbol ZSB.