Roger Newton: Economy alters strategy for second Esperion Therapeutics
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.
“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.
Esperion Therapeutics founder Roger Newton
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.”