London-based drug giant GlaxoSmithKline has quietly spun off a biotech startup, Tempero Pharmaceuticals, in the life sciences haven of Cambridge, MA, to develop drugs to treat diseases in which the immune system goes awry and attacks healthy tissues, Xconomy has learned.
Tempero was incorporated in March, according to state of Delaware corporate records. The word has been out at least several months that Glaxo (NYSE:GSK) planned to spin off a project from its Immuno-Inflammation Centre of Excellence in Drug Discovery into a biotech startup. Glaxo revealed back in February at a Massachusetts Biotechnology Council event that the startup—which it didn’t name at the time—would focus on “advances in T-cell biology… to develop novel medicines for inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.”
Spiros Jamas, who managed the T cell project at Glaxo, is leading Tempero Pharmaceuticals as the startup’s CEO, according to a source familiar with the matter. Jamas was previously a global healthcare analyst for Boston-based financial firm State Street (NYSE:STT). Earlier in his career he served as chief executive of Enanta Pharmaceuticals, a Watertown, MA-based firm developing a drug for hepatitis C virus, as well as former biotech Alpha-Beta Technology, which was developing an anti-infective treatment before ending operations in the Worcester, MA, area several years ago. Jamas told me in an e-mail that he wasn’t in a position to talk about Tempero, and Glaxo’s U.S. corporate media office in North Carolina also declined to comment.
It’s unclear why Glaxo isn’t developing Tempero’s science internally. However, Glaxo has made efforts in the past to divide its vast research and development organization into smaller units that are highly focused on particular diseases. (For more on this strategy, check out this colorful piece from the InVivo Blog.) Also, Sirtris, the Cambridge, MA, biotech firm acquired by Glaxo last June for $720 million, continues to operate much like an independent biotech firm with its own offices, drug-development programs, and executive team.
There’s good reason for large drug makers such as Glaxo to adapt R&D operations to have the nimbleness and laser focus associated with biotech firms—the giant research divisions of the past have largely failed to produce enough new drugs to fuel their organizations. It’s no secret that drugs that generate tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue for major drug companies are expected to lose patent protection between now and 2012. From now through 2012, Glaxo is expected to lose patent protections on drugs—such as diabetes drug Avandia, osteoporosis treatment Bonviva, and cancer drug Hycamtin—that generated 2008 sales of $2 billion.
Perhaps a good dose of biotech business strategy, like the one Glaxo is employing with Tempero, will be good medicine for pharma companies.
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