Mayleben Ends Short-Lived Retirement to Lead Esperion

Remember a few weeks ago when we wrote about Tim Mayleben’s retirement from Aastrom? Well, it wasn’t a retirement for good: Mayleben has a new gig as the CEO of Esperion Therapeutics, the Plymouth, MI-based startup developing small-molecule drugs to lower cholesterol.

During its early years, Mayleben served as the COO and CFO of Esperion, and “In my mind, he never left Esperion,” says Detroit Xconomist Roger Newton, Esperion’s founder, chairman, and CSO.

Newton says the tandem leadership style he and Mayleben deployed in the past was a “remarkable relationship” from both a therapeutic and investor perspective. “Having Tim as someone here on a day-to-day basis to grow this rendition of Esperion is something we have talked about for a while,” he says.

Esperion was “rebooted” in 2008 by Newton, who led the drug discovery team that created Lipitor, the world’s most prescribed drug and the source of more than $130 billion in sales.

Newton co-founded Esperion in 1998 before selling the company to Pfizer in 2004 for $1.3 billion—one of the most successful exits in Michigan startup history. Pfizer eventually shut the company down, and Newton went about licensing the name and some of the intellectual property to continue developing small-molecule, LDL cholesterol-lowering technology.

“Tim and I stayed in touch, and when we restarted Esperion 2.0, Tim was right there as a consultant before he went off to Aastrom and raised $85 million,” Newton says.

Newton praises Mayleben’s fundraising prowess, noting that while at Esperion, Mayleben raised more than $200 million in investment capital and helped negotiate the deal with Pfizer. “We’re lucky to have Tim here with his ability to identify smart money,” he says.

Newton also says a $40 million investment from a syndicate including Aisling Capital and Arboretum Ventures will take Esperion through the completion of the phase II clinical trials currently under way for ETC-1002, a novel small-molecule LDL-C lowering therapy for treating statin-intolerant and statin-resistant patients.

Mayleben notes that the lipid regulation market, estimated to be worth more than $30 billion, is one of the largest therapeutic categories in the pharmaceutical industry.

“Statins do a remarkable job, but they also create some issues for people who can’t tolerate them,” Mayleben says. “That’s created a surprising opportunity. Ten years ago, our compound wouldn’t have had a place, but today, doctors and patients are looking for alternatives to statins.”

Esperion says it will report positive new results from the ETC-1002 study on Monday at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. Mayleben says Esperion, which employs 11 people, expects to enter the final phase of the ETC-1002 trials by the middle of 2013.

“Because we have very good data and a great team, we’re attracting a lot of interest from investors,” he adds. “Long-term, we have a pipeline of other product candidates we’ll develop as financing is available.”

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