Interview with CombiGene’s CEO Jan Nilsson

A unique opportunity for CombiGene and Zyneyro to reduce pain in the world

"It would be fantastic if we at CombiGene, together with our Danish partner Zyneyro, could be part of a future solution to the problems caused by pain."

CombiGene’s cooperation agreement with Zyneyro has just been made public when Ingeneious manages to reach CEO Jan Nilsson for a telephone interview about the latest addition to the company’s project portfolio. The intense buzz in the background reveals a good atmosphere and high energy at CombiGene’s office in Lidingö.

There seems to be a good atmosphere at CombiGene.

Jan laughs before answering. “There really is. We are very happy about the cooperation agreement with Zyneyro. This is a very important day in CombiGene’s history. Together with our new colleagues at Zyneyro, we now have the opportunity to develop therapies for the treatment of severe pain, a real scourge for large parts of the world’s population. It is also very satisfying to be able to state that we have been successful in our efforts to find and inlicense a new and extremely interesting project.” 

What made you interested in this particular project?

“A lot of things! First, pain is a gigantic problem. Estimates show that between 15-25 percent of the adult population in Europe and the United States suffers from ongoing pain problems and about 7 percent have chronic pain. The need for new and effective therapies is thus enormous. Today’s alternatives are in many cases not very effective and have a number of drawbacks. The problem is that they are not specifically developed to treat chronic pain and the pain relief achieved often has a number of disabling side effects such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, impaired physical and mental ability, and addiction problems. In the United States, an estimated 700,000 people have died due to opioid abuse in the past 20 years. It would be fantastic if we at CombiGene, together with our Danish partner Zyneyro, could be part of a future solution to the problems caused by pain.”

How do you view the development that Zyneyro has been pursuing?

“I’m incredibly impressed! Our colleagues at Zyneyro have developed a unique concept to offer effective pain relief without the side effects that today’s treatments often give rise to. The development program consists of two drug candidates: a peptide treatment and a gene therapy treatment. The peptide treatment is intended to be used in severe temporary pain conditions, while gene therapy treatment is being developed to treat severe chronic pain conditions. What has impressed me the most is precisely the combination of two therapies that address both temporary and chronic pain. The idea of also being able to use the peptide treatment as a screening opportunity for a possible AAV treatment makes the concept even stronger.”

How far has the project come?

“Both drug candidates are in preclinical phase and there are still several preclinical studies before the project can proceed to studies in humans.”

How far is it to market?

“It’s virtually impossible to have a clear idea of that right now, so let me turn the perspective around a little bit. The development program that we will run together with Zyneyro includes two treatment methods, a peptide treatment, and a gene therapy treatment. I believe that with the peptide treatment we will have the opportunity to initiate studies in humans, so-called clinical phase, in 2025 if everything goes according to plan. As for the gene therapy treatment, clinical studies in humans will be able to begin some years after that. Like all drug development, this development program also contains several elements of uncertainty and will take significant time even if everything goes exactly according to plan.”

How do you assess the commercial potential?

“Given that the problem of chronic pain is so great, there is of course also great commercial potential. The study “Pain in Europe” estimates the costs to society at 3-10 percent of gross domestic product. In the US, the yearly cost of pain relief is estimated at USD 560-6352 billion. The need for, and hence the market for, an effective pain relief treatment is thus great.”

Does the agreement with Zyneyro mean that you are now putting your efforts to find additional projects on hold?

“Not at all. This work will continue unabated. Our ambition is to build a broad portfolio of projects in different phases of drug development, ranging from projects in the really early phase to projects in pre-clinical development and thereby contribute to gene therapies being put to clinical use.”

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