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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Investments Gone Bad

Ipierian is now an Antibody company!

Ipierian, founded in July of 2009, is the combination of two companies, Pierian and iZumi Bio. Pierian was co-founded by George Daley, Doug Melton and Lee Rubin, from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. iZumi Bio came with the leadership of Corey Goodman, chairman, and John Walker, CEO. John Walker served as a Director at Cargo Cult favorite, Geron.

iPierian’s has had four CEOs John Walker, Mike Venuti, Peter Van Vlasselaer and now Nancy Stagliano. The chief technical officer, Berta Strulovici, exited the company shortly before Venuti. The heads of finance, business development, and legal/intellectual property left shortly after Venuti. A few weeks later Corey Goodman resigned his position as chairman of the board and Doug Melton, gave up his role as a scientific advisor.

Originally the business plan was to use their stem cell technology as a tool for screening new drug candidates, and selling their services to Big Pharma. The company’s technology is used to coax ordinary adult cells into a stem-cell like state. The cells are known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). After an iPSC line has been differentiated into the cell types of interest, a disease phenotype is investigated, revealing a disease-relevant difference between the patient-derived cells and those from healthy controls. From this disease phenotype, cell-based assays are developed to enable the discovery and validation of novel targets and molecules.

Enabling the discovery and validation of novel targets and molecules was the Cargo. The company was the airport. The Cargo never came. There was no wealth in the system. The airport has undergone several shake-ups in management and some remodeling of the runway. Since Big Pharma didn't buy into the airport, iPierian has no choice but to develop the drugs they were hoping big pharma would. We still have to wonder if underlying technology real or is it another fantastic narrative?

The big name scientists told a good story. The problems came when the narrative failed to fit the reality being faced in the laboratory. Without the promise coming true the executives began to fight. The company is now an antibody company with a stem cell twist. The new CEO, Nancy Stagliano is a neuroscientist by training. Her last startup (South San Francisco-based CytomX Therapeutics) is an antibody drug developer. 

The only thing that matters is the ability of the technology to "enable the discovery and validation of novel targets and molecules". Management is secondary in the long term of this company.

iPierian has spent $50 million dollars to reach this point:
iPierian used its stem cell technology in recent months which has given it new insights about targets to go after on the Tau protein and in the Complement pathway.  
- Nancy Stagliano 
Recent months? I guess the first few years were spent firing CEOs. The latest CEO was busy on her startup CytomX Therapeutics.
Our novel platform represents a transformational drug discovery and development approach.
That sounds familiar. The chairman of the board is also the chairman of Geron! Why did Nancy leave CytomX? Why did the iPierian leaders abandon their ship? Who is suppose to solve the problems created by the others? I don't have much hope that iPierian is not Cargo Cult. All of the signs are there. The founders are gone. The new leaders are doing what they did at their last job. Everyone at the top seems to have worked with each other before. That wouldn't be a bad thing if this were a more successful industry. Lots of money has been wasted and people are trying to get some of it back. Think gambling. The most difficult problems facing the company is in drug discovery. All of the PhDs from the best schools are out trying to get money from investors. The laboratory staff have been handed an exact path that they must take to success. If they fail, they lose their jobs. Money is running out so they had all better start succeeding.

Look to the sky. Hope the planes come.

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