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Posted on Sun, Oct 25, 2009 : 5:30 a.m.

Roger Newton: Economy alters strategy for second Esperion Therapeutics

By Nathan Bomey

Not too many people get the chance to start the same company twice.

But Esperion Therapeutics founder Roger Newton is reaping the benefits of learning from his company’s first mistakes and successes.

Newton, the Ann Arbor scientist who famously co-discovered Lipitor, the world’s top-selling drug, is cognizant that the second version of Esperion won’t move as quickly as the first.

The first Esperion, shuttered by Pfizer in 2007, raised more than $200 million in capital and went public in 2000, just two years after it was founded.


Esperion Therapeutics CEO Roger Newton said his company is close to starting its first clinical trial.

Photo by Nathan Bomey |

“That’s not going to happen this time,” Newton said. “We’re in a totally different economic climate.”

Pfizer acquired Esperion in 2004 for $1.3 billion and summarily closed the 50-person division three years later when it announced it would leave the Ann Arbor region.

Newton raised $22.75 million in venture capital in 2008, licensed technology from Pfizer and re-started Esperion in the same Plymouth Township building where it had been located.

Esperion Therapeutics founder Roger Newton

On the University of Michigan’s acquisition of the ex-Pfizer facility in Ann Arbor: “It’s going to have to be more than just a U-M facility. It’s going to have to be a facility that provides what I would consider basic sciences, discovery science, translational science opportunities, clinical science and clinical research. There’s going to have to be opportunities for commercialization of that science and facilities that are open to that.”

On the importance of interdisciplinary research relationships at the ex-Pfizer facility: “People build silos. They build their own research groups. They often just stick to themselves and they don’t share ideas. That’s not what this needs to be. This needs to be clearly integrated.”

On the biotech industry’s place in Michigan: “It’s still a great opportunity for the community and for Michigan to truly diversify itself and see the commercialization of the science into products that hopefully will help the prevention of disease.”

The new Esperion expects to start its first Phase 1 clinical trial in November to study the safety of its top drug candidate. That’s two months ahead of schedule.

Still, Newton said Esperion would have to proceed with caution, particularly because it’s infinitely more difficult to raise capital to fund the expensive biotech development process during the global economic crisis.

The first Esperion expanded too quickly and had to resort to layoffs at one point - a painful process Newton has vowed not to repeat.

“We’re being much more careful in our hiring,” he said. “We’re utilizing consultants when we need them so we don’t necessarily have to build a large infrastructure and have to pay for that infrastructure. It’s a slow process.”

Stephen Rapundalo, executive director of Ann Arbor-based MichBio, the state’s life sciences association, agreed that Esperion’s development would be more methodical than the first time around.

“That first round - he rode a wave,” Rapundalo said. “I wouldn’t say that it was easy, because I know for a fact that he had to work really, really hard to raise well over the $200 million that he did. But certainly those were easier times in terms of investment.

“This time around definitely his company is going to evolve much more slowly. It’s going to be more sort of what you would expect.”

Nonetheless, Newton is back for a reason. He said he’s committed to commercializing a drug therapy to raise so-called “good” HDL cholesterol.

“That’s really what I want to do,” he said.

But Esperion isn’t banking all its fortunes on commercializing HDL therapies, a challenge which has stumped the biotech world. He’s currently in the midst of acquiring additional intellectual property and is primed to jump in the “nutraceuticals” market.

Nutraceuticals, commonly referred to as dietary supplements, are derived from food and meant to provide an alternative medicinal therapy for a variety of conditions.

Newton, whose doctorate degree is in nutrition, said he hopes nutraceuticals could provide a constant source of revenue, creating a “more sustainable business model.”

Contact’s Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter.