Aside from the name, there isn’t much at Ligand Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: LGND) that resembles the San Diego biotech that went public in 1992.
During the 15 years that followed its IPO, Ligand brought five drugs to market, reported 2005 sales of more than $176 million, and once employed 650 people. The same company posted annual revenue of just $23.5 million in 2010 and now has only 26 employees.
Ligand came of age during the golden years of biotech. None other than Brook Byers of Silicon Valley’s renowned venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers founded the biotech in 1987. The first CEO, Howard Birndorf, and his successor, David Robinson, built the company on breakthrough research in nuclear orphan receptors—a class of proteins found within cells that are triggered by certain hormones. The idea was to develop drugs that targeted such receptors, triggering specific biochemical reactions that would combat cancers, hormone-related diseases, and metabolic disorders, among other things.
In all that time, however, Ligand has never reported a profit.
“They actually hit it better than most,” says Rob McKay, who joined Ligand as a senior director for business development and investor relations after a tumultuous shareholder revolt pushed Robinson to resign in 2006. “They developed drug candidates and got them approved. The problem was that the company was run by scientists—they over-promised and under-delivered year after year after year.”
Today, Ligand is pursuing a fundamentally different … Next Page »