Flush with cash from a recent financing round, Inpharmatica is stepping up its growth strategy to address what the company’s newly appointed CEO describes as “a bounty of opportunity” for the London-based firm.
Last week, Inpharmatica announced that it had appointed John Lisle as its new chief executive in a bid to expand its commercial operations. Lisle, whose prior experience includes marketing and business development at AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, replaces Malcom Weir in the company’s top spot.
Weir, who has served as CEO since 2000, will now lead the company’s research activities as CSO.
Lisle told BioInform that his pharma background — and his lack of experience in the informatics market — should not be construed as a shift in the company’s priorities away from its core database business. Inpharmatica has historically pursued a hybrid business model that includes an internal drug-discovery program focused on nuclear receptors, along with sales of its PharmaCarta informatics platform.
Inpharmatica doesn’t plan to follow the path of other former informatics firms, like Incyte, Celera, and Compugen, which shed their original business plans over the last few years to focus their resources on drug discovery, Lisle said. “My appointment doesn’t signal a change in direction,” he said, noting that one of his top priorities is “to beef up the commercial experience in the organization.”
Inpharmatica has raised a total of £48 million ($91 million) since 1999, most recently closing a £13.9 million round led by Reed Elsevier’s VC arm, Reed Elsevier Ventures. [BioInform 11-15-04]. Lisle said that as a VC-funded firm, “there’s been very close attention to keeping costs under control and husbanding our resources wisely.”
However, he added, the market opportunity for the company’s computational tools — particularly those at the intersection of biology and chemistry — is “flourishing,” which places the firm in the position of “choosing which opportunities we want to invest in.”
Lisle said that he was brought on board to help prioritize those future investments. Some short-term areas that the company will likely pursue include further development of its new Admensa ADME informatics platform, as well as its ADME services business, and “tailored” database products in the area of toxicogenomics.
“One of our big assets is we have much less internal division between chemistry and biology than many of our customers do. Because of their size, they’re more siloed,” he said.
Currently, Lisle said, “the balance of the market interest at the moment is slightly more weighted towards the chemistry space than the biological. So there is more emphasis on getting hit-to-lead-to-candidate than on identifying targets.” Nevertheless, he added, “Biopendium continues to do well. But it’s particularly the ADME and Chematica space where we’re seeing a real thrive.”
As evidence of the mounting interest in the company’s expanding line of informatics products, Lisle pointed to two recent deals with large pharmaceutical firms. Last week, the company announced that Pfizer had expanded a licensing agreement for the company’s products that originally began in 2000, when the company first subscribed to Inpharmatica’s Biopendium database of annotated proteins.
In the expanded agreement, Pfizer licensed the company’s StarLite database of medicinal chemistry information and its DrugStore repository of known drugs linked to their targets. As part of the agreement, Inpharmatica’s scientists will also conduct a druggability assessment study for targets in the human genome, and Pfizer has agreed to “evaluate” Admensa.
The Pfizer agreement follows on another pharma deal that Inpharmatica signed in December, in which Novartis licensed the Chematica chemogenomics technology, also expanding an existing Biopendium agreement.
In addition, Lisle said that another pharmaceutical company has licensed Admensa — the first sale of the newest product in the company’s portfolio. Lisle said he did not have permission to disclose the identity of this company, but said that, just as in the Pfizer and Novartis deals, Inpharmatica already had a “long-standing” relationship with the firm.
Continuing to build on these existing pharma relationships will be a key part of Inpharmatica’s short-term strategy, and its drive toward profitability, Lisle said.
“In the short term, clearly we want to drive as much revenue growth in the PharmaCarta part of the business as we can, and develop a stronger list of partner companies, and, indeed, to make sure that the companies that we do partner with are benefiting from as wide a spectrum of the products and expertise that we provide as possible,” he said.
Lisle declined to provide a specific target date for profitability, but said, “it’s not a five-year goal; it’s a next one- or two-year goal.”
Pharma is emerging from a period of snubbing computational approaches, Lisle said, and is once again looking toward informatics as a cost-effective approach to accelerate discovery, reduce attrition, and make more rational decisions about portfolio prioritization.
Citing the rash of toxicity concerns surrounding several blockbuster drugs on the market, Lisle said, “You only have to look at the recent press announcements from some of the majors to realize that perhaps some more effort upstream would have prevented some of this fallout.”