As part of our mandate to help build knowledge-based companies in New Zealand, the Ulysses Group, as managers of the New Zealand Seed Fund, actively sought promising science from the country’s leading life science research centers. The University of Otago has the country’s oldest medical school and a world class reputation in the field of cancer genetics.
A group of scientists at Otago had conducted ground breaking research into the apparent genetic pre-disposition of a Maori family to gastric cancer. Within the family unit, the disease was so common that many young people were advised to undergo prophylactic gastrectomies. Using the latest methods for analyzing gene expression patterns, a group led by Prof. Tony Reeve and Dr. Parry Guilford identified a unique gene profile within the family that predisposed many of the members to developing gastric cancer. This enabled a more proactive approach to the management of those with the genetic pre-disposition while sparing those who did not have it.
Working with the academic scientists, Ulysses recognized that the techniques employed by the lab could be applied across a broad spectrum of cancers to identify specific cancers by their unique genetic signatures and to predict disease progression and even drug susceptibility. Given the broad market potential, it was determined that this constituted the basis for establishing a company to be funded by the NZ Seed Fund.
Ulysses drafted a business plan, secured the commitment of the founding scientific team, negotiated a license from the University and launched the company in 2000 as Pacific Edge Biotechnology Ltd. One of Ulysses partners served as the founding CEO long enough to establish the company, build the team and develop lab space. During the first two years of the company’s life, Ulysses led the process of building the board of directors and the scientific advisory board, establishing collaboration agreements with key partners, applying for government grants, securing additional investment and taking the company public before hiring a full time CEO.
Today, Pacific Edge has a product in the market in multiple countries including Japan and the US and is New Zealand’s largest life sciences company with a market cap of roughly NZ$400M.