Sequel Pharmaceuticals’ CEO on How to Start a Biotech and Sell it For a Bundle, and Repeat
I’ve heard about serial entrepreneurs who start a company, build it up to a certain point, sell it to someone bigger, and then repeat the whole cycle again. But I had never heard of a true biotech sequel until I met Randall Woods a couple weeks ago.
Woods is the CEO of San Diego-based Sequel Pharmaceuticals, and a well-known entrepreneur who’s also the chairman of Biocom, the local biotech trade association. The two-year-old startup is literally the sequel to his previous company, Novacardia, a company that Woods led until it was sold for $350 million to Merck on Sept. 6, 2007.
Sequel came less than 24 hours later. The same nine employees, in the same office, with the same management team, and the same board (except for one), set their sights on a new goal. The idea was to take a drug in the early stage of development, steer it to the later stage of trials until the concept is more proven, and then sell it for a bundle to big drugmaker. Novacardia took a drug into pivotal studies for congestive heart failure, then passed the baton to Merck for the final phase of development. Sequel aspires to do the same thing with a different drug for a different heart ailment—atrial fibrillation.
“We didn’t even have a 24-hour break,” Woods says. “We just changed the sign on the door.”
This group of people clearly has skill in cardiovascular disease, so it knows something about the new problem. Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm that can cause acute attacks, or a chronic condition whose symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, or stroke.
About 2.2 million people in the U.S. are estimated to be affected, and it caused 470,000 people to be hospitalized in 2003, according to the American Heart Association. The incidence is thought to be increasing as the Baby Boomers get older. There haven’t been many new developments in treatment either, except Sanofi-Aventis’ dronederone (Multaq), which first won FDA approval in July. That drug showed it could reduce hospitalizations from cardiovascular disease and deaths from all causes by 24 percent when compared to a placebo. Other than that, patients sometimes take beta-blockers to slow down their heart, or warfarin to thin their blood, Woods says. Another treatment from Vancouver, BC-based Cardiome Pharma is seeking FDA approval.