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3 Tiny Biotechs Packed With Top Execs With Proven Track Records



7/17/2017 6:19:10 AM

3 Tiny Biotechs Packed with Top Execs with Proven Track Records July 17, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

Because biotech companies face a litany of regulatory challenges, an experienced business leader or team of leaders can make all the difference between success and failure.


Todd Campbell, writing for The Motley Fool, takes a look at three biotech companies that have the advantage of proven leaders.

1. Aurinia Pharmaceuticals

Headquartered in Victoria, British Columbia, Aurinia (AUPH) is focused on developing voclosporin for lupus nephritis (LN). In mid-June, the company presented data from its global Phase IIB AURA-LV study in lupus at the Annual European Congress of Rheumatology (EULAR) 2017 in Madrin, Spain. The data showed that the low-dose voclosporin statistically improved efficacy over the control arm at both 24 and 48 weeks, and doubled remission rates at 48 weeks compared to the control arm.

The company’s chief executive officer and chairman is also a founder, Richard Glickman. He was co-founder, chairman and chief executive of Aspreva Pharmaceuticals (ASPV), and played an integral role in developing CellCept, or MMF, as the standard of care for lupus nephritis. Aspreva was bought by Galenica in 2008 for almost $1 billion.

Campbell writes, “Aurinia Pharmaceuticals’ C-suite is packed with ex-Aspreva Pharmaceuticals executives who know a thing or two about lupus nephritis (LN)…. A Phase III study that could confirm its Phase II findings is already under way, with a completion date of 2020. If the trial’s a success, Glickman and his crew estimate voclosporin’s market opportunity could be $1 billion in the United States alone. Given that this company’s market cap is only $530 million, betting that this management team will succeed again could be profit-friendly.”

Aurinia shares are currently trading for $7.02.

2. Axovant Sciences

Based in Basel, Switzerland, Axovant Sciences (AXON) was founded by multiple start guru Vivek Ramaswamy, who also launched Myovant (MYOV) and Roivant Sciences, and others. Axovant acquired initepirdine for mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease for $5 billion from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). In a Phase IIb trial, it’s shown a favorable safety and tolerability profile, with immediate and sustained efficacy over placebo. Topline results from its MINSET trial in 1,315 patients on a stable background therapy of donepezil (Aricept) are expected in late September 2017.

In April, David Hung joined the company as chief executive officer. Hung was the founder, president and chief executive officer of Medivation (MDVN) until it was acquired by Pfizer (PFE) in September 2016 for $14 billion.
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Campbell notes that Hung isn’t the only top exec at Axovant. “While the odds are stacked against it,” he writes, “Axovant Sciences’ management is one big reason investors might not want to bet on a failure. Its chief development officer is Lawrence Friedhoff, who beat the odds once before, when he developed Aricept, one of the globe’s most commonly used Alzheimer’s disease drugs.”

Axovant shares are currently trading for $24.87.

3. Esperion Therapeutics

Located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Esperion (ESPR) is focused on developing a cholesterol drug. Campbell has argued before that Pfizer might consider acquiring Esperion.

The rationale is that Pfizer had spent plenty of money on developing a new type of cholesterol medication, a PCSK9 inhibitor, called bococizumab, which functions differently than statins. And Pfizer’s Lipitor is a statin. There are PCSK9 inhibitors on the market, Amgen (AMGN)’s Repatha and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN) and Sanofi (SNY)’s Praluent. However, bococizumab had some safety risks that led to Pfizer shuttering the program.

Esperion, however, is developing another cholesterol drug that uses yet another mechanism of action. Its lead candidate is bempedoic acid. It is an oral drug and can be taken along with statins.

Esperion’s founder is Roger Newton, who led the team that developed Lipitor at Warner-Lambert. After leaving Warner-Lambert, he started a biotech company in 1998 called (confusingly) Esperion Therapeutics, what might be considered Esperion 1.0. It produced positive results on a cholesterol drug, which Newton then sold to Pfizer for $1.3 billion in 2003. In 2008, Newton then launched the current Esperion, what might be dubbed Esperion 2.0, and recruited many of his former team from Esperion 1.0.

Campbell notes, “In Phase II trials, pairing bempedoic acid up with statins reduced bad cholesterol by an additional 20 percent. Results from Esperion Therapeutics’ Phase III study are expected next year, and if they’re good, Newton may strike it rich in this indication yet again. Given his track record already, I’m not betting against him.”

Esperion shares are currently trading for $49.01.

Read at BioSpace.com


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