Discovery of RNA interference
The biological process of RNA interference was discovered incidentally by Richard Jorgensen in 1990. Attempting to strengthen the blue color of petunias by introducing into cells a vector coding for the blue pigment, Jørgensen obtained depigmented plants. He and others showed that RNA introduced by the vector interfered with those produced naturally by the plant and prevented the production of the pigment.
It is only 11 years later, in 2001, that researchers were able to trigger this RNA interference in mammalian cells. This technology is the most promising that emerged over the past twenty years.
The discovery of this technology has been awarded in 2006 by the the Nobel Prize in medicine to two of its discoverers, Craig Mello and Andrew Fire. The potential of this discovery, in particular to develop new drugs, was quickly perceived by the entire scientific and medical community.
Six months after the publication of the first article describing a RNA interference in mammalian cells, a laboratory of the CNRS (French National Scientific Research Center) in Villejuif filed a patent protecting the use of several interfering RNA (siRNA) to treat cancers. SeleXel obtained an exclusive worldwide license of this family of patents.
A portfolio of patented innovative compounds
Wishing to transform these siRNAs into therapeutic drugs, Florence Cabon, co-inventor of the patent of the CNRS and Director of research at INSERM ( (french NAtional Institute of Health) rapidly envisionned creating SeleXel. This wish materialized in 2006 with the creation of the company, Florence being joined by Pierre Attali, who brought his medical skills and strong industrial experience in the development of drugs, and by Etienne Krieger, designer at the french school of management HEC of a training and coaching program for innovative startup entrepreneurs.
The strong relationships of SeleXel with academic laboratories allow the company remaining at the forefront of research in its field. Since its inception, SeleXel pursues a policy to build a strong portfolio of patented siRNAs in oncology. A new family of patents was filed jointly between SeleXel and the CNRS in 2009. Others are currently being filed by SeleXel on its own. All patents exploited or developed by SeleXel are focused on applications in Oncology.
SeleXel has developed strong skills on using interfering RNAs in vivo, and to demonstrate the effectiveness of siRNAs to treat various types of cancers.
An environment driving innovation
At first hosted on the CNRS campus of Villejuif, close to Paris, the company moved in 2010 to join the Oncopole of Toulouse in the Pierre Potier center.
The Toulouse Oncopole, located on the former site of the AZF plants, comprises a 300-bed hospital specialized in Oncology: the Institut Universitaire du Cancer de Toulouse (IUCT), a INSERM/CNRS/University Research Center: the Cancer Centre for Research of Toulouse (CRCT), and the Centre Pierre Potier. This Center houses a dozen of innovative heath companies and a CNRS service unit providing a technology platform of high level. This environment offers SeleXel many opportunities for collaborations and interactions.