Amylin CEO, Putting Boardroom Coup Behind Him, Turns Up Heat on New Diabetes Drug

9/29/09Follow @xconomy

The first half of this year, Amylin Pharmaceuticals CEO Dan Bradbury was absorbed in the closest thing corporate America has to political warfare—a boardroom challenge from billionaire Carl Icahn and another unhappy shareholder, Eastbourne Capital. The second half has been more about doing the basics Amylin (NASDAQ: AMLN) must do if the San Diego diabetes specialist is ever going to enter the top tier of big, profitable biotech companies.

Now that the dust appears to finally have settled on the proxy fight—new director Paulo Costa was elected the chairman last month—Bradbury has been back hammering away at the company’s need to make sure it nails the potential blockbuster diabetes drug in its pipeline. Yesterday, he was happy to talk about it by phone while he visited Amylin’s new biotech drug factory in West Chester, OH.

The importance of Amylin’s new factory to its future is hard to overstate, so there’s good reason for the CEO to drop in and make sure the troops keep their collective eye on the ball. Amylin and its partner Eli Lilly have made a $500 million investment in the factory, dating back to December 2005, in order to meet market demand for what they hope will be the next big thing for diabetes, exenatide once-weekly. This plant, which now has 250 employees, is getting ready to undergo an FDA inspection in the next six months as Amylin and Lilly seek clearance to start selling the drug in the U.S. It’s the only place in the world with the expertise, and capacity, to meet the first three years of market demand for exenatide once-weekly, which will seek to grab big market share among the 25 million people in the U.S. with diabetes.

To hear Bradbury tell the story, this is the time to execute on the fundamental game plan with things like manufacturing, and not for Monday morning quarterbacking about whether the coach is calling the right plays.

Dan Bradbury

Dan Bradbury

“Certainly in the first half of the year there were a lot of distractions for me. I have more time now to focus on actually running the business as opposed to board issues,” Bradbury says, during a break from meetings with Amylin’s Ohio staff. “It’s all about execution at the moment.” He adds,”We need to make sure everyone is fully on board with where we are as a company. The launch of exenatide once-weekly next year is critical to the future of the company.”

Why does getting this new drug right matter so much? Amylin generates almost 90 percent of its revenue from exenatide (Byetta), a novel peptide drug that was first approved by the FDA in April 2005 for patients who weren’t able to control their blood sugar with existing meds. The drug has gone on to become a commercial success, generating $678.5 million in sales last year, just its third full year on the market.

But the existing product has its limits, partly because it must be injected twice-daily. So Amylin and Lilly have sought to make this drug a lot more appealing to millions of patients by obtaining a license to drug delivery technology from Cambridge, MA-based Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS). That technology encapsulates the same peptide in a polymer microsphere that slowly dissolves in the bloodstream, so patients only need to get stuck with a needle once a week, not twice a day.

This new-and-improved drug has generated clinical trial data so far that Bradbury says are good enough to beat the biggest selling drugs in the diabetes market—Merck’s … Next Page »

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  • Carl Chessman

    HAH! What a great spin on the same BS we’ve all heard before. Dan uses the very word: “execute”, which is in fact why Amylin has failed to join the ranks of profitable biotechs. Thirty plus VPs, numerous buildings only half-full or empty, bad and untimely hiring decisions and a myriad of other bad examples too numerous to mention here. Amylin has great drugs, a great location, great benefits, and even some pretty smart people, but VERY poor execution. Disclosure: I’m a former Amylin employee with 24 years industry experience, so I had a frame of reference that’s fairly realistic. For the sake of my fully-vested ESOP shares, I hope things work out, but if history is any lesson, they’ll find a way to screw it up (they ALWAYS do).

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/ltimmerman/ Luke Timmerman

    Thanks for the comment, Carl. I’ve heard a few war stories about bureaucracy at Amylin, so your comments are pretty consistent with things I’ve heard from other former employees. If you or other employees have other insights you’d like to share, you can always e-mail me at ltimmerman@xconomy.com. It definitely helps being prepared when interviewing the execs–Luke