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that included Rick Klausner, the former director of the National Cancer Institute, Eric Lander of MIT, and Tony Evnin of Venrock Associates, Arnold Levine of Rockefeller University, and others.
By 2003, Adams joined the team as chief scientific officer, fresh off his success with the discovery and development of bortezomib (Velcade), now a billion-dollar annual blockbuster for Takeda Pharmaceuticals. With Perkins as the strategist and business development leader, the team was in place. There was also an opportunity for Perkins to advance over time.
“When Steve first began discussing the concept of the company, he was very explicit with our board, that if 10 years in, he hadn’t identified an internal candidate who is a good successor, he will have failed,” Perkins says. “So this is something that has been an explicit goal of his for the past decade. For the last several years we’ve been working on it.”
Perkins took one step in the progression to CEO when she became president in October 2008. A month later, the huge Purdue/Mundipharma deal closed. That transaction—in the midst of financial meltdown—-was crucial for Infinity’s future, especially considering what happened later when IPI-504 failed in its first pivotal trial for gastrointestinal stromal tumors.
The deal has left Infinity unusually flush as a biotech company without any marketed products. The company entered 2010 with $130 million in cash, a commitment from Purdue to provide $150 million in R&D funding over the next two years, plus an optional $50 million line of credit that’s interest free and doesn’t need to be paid back for 10 years. That means that between existing cash, committed R&D funding, and credit, Infinity has access to $330 million to support its internal pipeline and seek out other drugs it can obtain licenses to from other companies, Perkins says. While many other companies are cutting back expenses and laying people off, Infinity has remained steady with 180 employees, and is looking to make a few select hires with commercialization expertise, Perkins says.
The runway may be long, but Infinity is going to need a little extra space to achieve lift-off. The company doesn’t have any drugs in the final phase of clinical trials. Infinity also hasn’t given up on IPI-504—it is currently in a mid-stage clinical trial for non-small cell lung cancer, as well as a breast cancer trial in combination with Roche’s trastuzumab (Herceptin). Results from both of the new IPI-504 studies will be available in 2010, she says, and ought to “embolden” researchers and investors who want to see this drug get on the right track. Perkins is hoping to get some interim data from a Phase I trial of IPI-926, a drug that’s made to block the hedgehog pathway that’s implicated in cancer.
If the data turns out positive, Infinity wants to be sure it has laid down the groundwork to make sure it will translate into a commercial hit. That means getting people on board who know the competitive landscape, how the standards of treatment shift over time, and how to apply that market intelligence to craft clinical trials that will truly set the Infinity drugs apart from the pack. It doesn’t sound like the model of build-it-and-flip-it-quick-to-a-Big Pharma company model.
“We are committed to building a commercial organization, and being fully integrated. I think it’s no accident that there’s no example of any biotech company that’s ever been successful without being fully integrated,” Perkins says. “What are the economics after you have put significant capital at risk in developing a product? You don’t want to leave the decisions for how to commercialize it, and how much priority to put on it, in someone else’s hands. You need to be the champion.”