<figcaption>A researcher at Lexicon Pharmaceuticals Credit: Courtesy of Lexicon Pharmaceuticals</figcaption>
A researcher at Lexicon Pharmaceuticals Credit: Courtesy of Lexicon Pharmaceuticals

Thirty miles north of Houston, texas - and a world away from the biopharmaceutical industry's hubs in California and New Jersey - sits The Woodlands, a sylvan community and home to the headquarters of Lexicon Pharmaceuticals.

The company was founded in 1995 as Lexicon Genetics, and until last year focused almost exclusively on creating knockout models by the thousands for drug target discovery. This past year, Lexicon shifted gears, moving into the commercial development of drugs. With the organizational change came a new name, Lexicon Pharmaceuticals, soon followed by layoffs of 120 people out of a workforce of about 700 people. Despite the change, Lexicon employees gave their company good marks, winning ninth place in this year's Best Places to Work in Industry overall list, up from 26th place the previous year.

"We all agree that we have a common goal," says Lexicon's associate director of oncology, Rick Finch. "We're very excited about sharing our discoveries as soon as possible to get others excited about them."

When rumors about the impending layoffs circulated, Lexicon employees braced for the bad news. "I dusted off my resume and made sure everything was up to date," admits Robert Read, a veterinary pathologist at Lexicon who managed to avoid a pink slip. "It was not the happiest time around here, but everybody still believed in what we were doing," remembers Wade Walke, a company spokesperson.

While the company changed focus, it managed to retain some aspects that made it successful. "Having such an extensive library of phenotypic information at Lexicon, I'm able to do research in my field that I wouldn't be able to do anywhere else," says Andy Whitlock, an ophthalmologist at the company.

With its staff slimmed, Lexicon sought a fresh infusion of funds to bankroll its transition into clinical trials and drug development. Help came in the form of $250 million from the investment firm Invus, which also arranged a further investment of $345 million over the next several years.

Having weathered the changes of 2007, Lexicon is now moving forward with four drug candidates: One oral treatment for cognitive disorders is in Phase II trials, while three other drugs - for irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and carcinoid syndrome - are in Phase I trials. The breadth of the research conducted at Lexicon, and the sharing of ample information between researchers, keeps employees engaged and interested, says Finch.

Read agrees. "I think the world of this company," he says. "It's just a really exciting and dynamic place to work."

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