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Amira’s Drug Discovery Team, Pioneers of Hit Asthma Treatment, Take Aim at Pulmonary Fibrosis

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is likely to generate its fair share of attention. Baltera likes it for a couple of business reasons. The first is that he doesn’t see any direct competitors that he’s aware of, unlike the more crowded battlefield for Amira’s experimental drug that’s made to block a target called DP2 for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (However, Gilead Sciences, InterMune, Novartis, and Actelion are a few competitors trying to tackle pulmonary fibrosis in different ways.)

Pulmonary fibrosis also happens to be a disease that affects a small enough number of people that a small company like Amira, with 50 employees, can foresee building a small specialty sales force to market it without the help of a massive pharmaceutical partner. “We’ll keep this one for ourselves,” he says.

The company’s philosophy with this program, like others, is to shoot for a once-daily pill so that it can have a reasonable shot at being a commercial success, Baltera says. This philosophy from the founders comes from “battle scars” accumulated at Merck, when they discovered that science wasn’t the only thing that matters in drug development. “It’s easy to get on your scientific high horse and forget about what patients really need, and what payers really need,” Baltera says. “You’ve got to be practical in this business.”

With a meaningful milestone on this program still more than a year away, I wondered how Amira is managing the business. The company has done some belt-tightening in terms of keeping resources focused on its most “high-value” programs, Baltera says. The company raised $25 million in a Series B round in March 2007 from Novo A/S, Prospect Venture Partners, Avalon Ventures, and Versant Ventures. If that cash, along with undisclosed amounts it has gotten from its partnership with Glaxo, can stretch out long enough to get to some of those meaningful milestones, then the story could get much more interesting.

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