Hearts & Minds Blog

Getting the Band Back Together

Roger Newton, PhD, FAHA

Executive Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer

Late last year, one of the country’s most brilliant scientists called me and asked if I wanted to help him change the lives of millions of people – again.

Two decades ago, that scientist, Roger Newton, helped create the statin Lipitor, which turned out to be the best selling pharmaceutical drug of all time. Because of his contribution to developing that medicine, millions of people have lived longer and healthier lives. I met Roger initially in 1998, just after he started the first Esperion Therapeutics. At the time, he was developing a new drug to potentially manage cholesterol. Within five months of meeting Roger, I signed up to be the CFO and Chief Operating Officer of his company.

This was during the heyday of the tech boom, when it was much easier for preclinical drug companies to raise money. We were able to secure about $200 million for Esperion, and lead it through its first public offering in 2000. Four years later we sold the company to Pfizer Inc. for $1.3 billion.

A lot has changed since then. Some of the best selling drugs, such as Lipitor, have gone off patent, and big pharmaceutical companies are shrinking their research and development efforts instead of expanding them. These types of changes create opportunities, and in 2008, Roger was able to buy back from Pfizer one of the drugs we had been working on when they initially acquired Esperion. The move prompted Forbes to deem Roger “The luckiest guy in the drug business.”

I had moved on to other ventures, and was finishing up a stint at one when I got that call from Roger late last year. He asked me to help him develop a new drug that might similarly help patients, especially for those who can’t take statins or don’t get enough benefit from them, which is almost 12 million people in the United States. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to potentially impact that many patients’ lives and work with my friend, Roger, again.

As CEO of the new Esperion, I’ve been working hard in much more difficult financial markets than a decade ago to make our company’s goals achievable. I’m pleased to say that we’ve already raised $100 million from investors.

While statins have been an amazing medical advancement, there haven’t been any major innovations in cholesterol management in over a decade and, in general, the LDL-C (the bad cholesterol) level of the U.S. population has started to plateau.   I believe the time is right for a new medication to help the millions of people who can’t tolerate statins or for whom statins aren’t enough/don’t help them reach their treatment goals.

At Esperion, we’re hoping to change that. If our drug, ETC-1002, which has shown very good results in Phase 2 clinical trials, can continue to demonstrate safety and effectiveness in larger, later stage trials, we think we’ll have a winner on our hands. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be reunited with Roger, and many other original, and new, Esperion colleagues, to potentially change the world – again.