Former Keryx Exec’s Mission: Turn TG Into the Next Pharmacyclics

5/6/13Follow @benthefidler

Seven years running a publicly-traded biotech are likely to give anyone a sense of the manic nature and the volatile ups and downs of drug development. And Mike Weiss, who headed Keryx Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: KERX) from 2002 to 2009, has both the scars and the trophies to prove it.

But those lessons have left Weiss with a sharpened idea of how to build a drug company as he dreams of molding his latest venture, cancer drug developer New York-based TG Therapeutics (OTC BB: TGTX), into the next Pharmacyclics (NASDAQ: PCYC) or Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INFI).

Doing so is no small task, and Weiss is well aware that TG has plenty to prove to put his new company into the same conversation as those two highfliers. Sunnyvale, CA-based Pharmacyclics is one of the most successful biotech stories in recent memory, riding ibrutinib, a blood cancer drug that selectively blocks a molecular target called Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (Btk) to a meteoric rise in value. Pharmacyclics now trades at over $80 per share, with a market capitalization of $5.75 billion. Its stock traded at just $6 per share two years ago. And Cambridge, MA-based Infinity has made its own steep climb, shooting up from just under $6 in 2012 to roughly $40 per share today by advancing a cancer drug targeting the PI3 kinase pathway. But both started out roughly where TG sits today: treating a small number of patients, holding a tiny sample of promising data, carrying a share price of less than $6, and preparing for the most crucial time of its existence.

Mike Weiss, CEO of TG Therapeutics

“If you look back at Infinity and Pharmacyclics, some of their largest appreciation really came in this kind of a year, when they were just really getting enough information to give a confidence level of the activity of their drugs,” Weiss says. “So yes, we’re looking at that model and we’re saying this is a pivotal year in terms of value creation.”

Just how does Weiss believe he can propel TG to such starry heights? By applying the lessons of hard worn biotech experience running New York-based Keryx for seven years, a tenure that included more than its share of highs and lows.

Keryx was in the cellar when Weiss entered the picture in 2002. The company had $15 million to $20 million in cash and investors didn’t consider the company to be worth much more than that. Weiss came in and jettisoned almost all of Keryx’s 75-member workforce, save for then-head of Keryx’s investor relations department in Israel, Ron Bentsur (now the company’s CEO), and a few people in the U.S. doing some clinical work, he says.

Weiss’ plan was to take the drug Keryx already had in development, sulodexide—which it was testing in patients with diabetic nephropathy—and surround it with enough other drug candidates that it could withstand a failure in clinical trials.

Weiss specifically looked for targets in the risky cancer field. So he merged Keryx with … Next Page »

Ben Fidler is Xconomy's Deputy Biotechnology Editor. You can e-mail him at bfidler@xconomy.com Follow @benthefidler

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