MBE Forum: Dr. Jilly Evans – Amira Pharmaceuticals

This month I attended the next installment of the Master of Bioscience Enterprise Forums held at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland on the 11th July. Guest speaker, Kiwi born and educated Dr. Jilly Evans (Link #2) spoke on the topic of “Biopharmaceutical companies: keys to success”. Before founding Amira Pharmaceuticals [www.amirapharm.com] in July ’05, was a Research Director at Merck. In addition to Jilly, Amira was founded by other ex-Merck employees due to a plant/branch closure.

With previous experience in Merck developing Singulair ( a cysL Ti receptor inhibitor with annual sales of US$4 billion) and FLAP inhibitor MK591(projected dumped due to unwarranted side effects and high dosing levels), Jilly and her team set off to develop new more viable FLAP inhibitors that worked around the Merck patents ( made easier as the scientists that wrote the patents were know working at Amira). From this AM103 and AM803 were born. The compounds will be used to treat disorders triggered by inflammation such as respiratory (asthma) and cardiovascular diseases

Recently Amira has sold lead compounds (AM103 / 803) to GSK for US$425 million (fully signed off on the acceptance of a ‘back-up lead’. The company focuses on small molecule drugs involved in inflammation. In particular drugs that inhibit the Leukotriene Pathway.

Additional Notes:

Jilly’s Keys to Success:

  • People – Every employee in the company has a shareholding in the company
  • Project expertise
  • Planning
  • PASSION
  • Money

4 lead drugs, Series A Funding – US$15 mill and Series B Funding – US$25 mill, all within 2 years – pretty impressive

Jilly advocated the use of Foundations as a source of venture funding as they don’t particularly need fast returns. Despite having an abundance of willing funding sources, they had to turn away some as to not dilute their shareholdings

Core components of the company (pitch to investors):

1:A proven team of drug hunters

2:broad pipeline targeting large markets,

3:enabling pharma partnership i.e. a commercialisation partner,

4:leveraged development capability i.e. they know where to outsource to get things done such as animal/clinical/pharmacol/tox work- use of language important when pitching

Interestingly she advised to let the scientists behind the company pitch the idea rather than the business folk. This is something not so much favoured by the business gurus due to most scientists get caught up in the science side of things of which investors are not fond of.

* * * *

These forums constantly attract a large crowd of students, staff and industry creating a diverse schmoozing pool. They frequently prove to be extremely insightful and educational – from a young bio-business scientist’s perspective anyway. This one in particular was significant for highlighting a successful kiwi story in the international biotech/pharma field – a rare but motivational feat.

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