How Seragon CEO Rich Heyman Made Lightning Strike Twice in San Diego

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Aragon’s core team start over with the pre-clinical drug for breast cancer that was still in Aragon’s pipeline. “We really tried to prospectively find companies that would be open to that,” Heyman said in a recent phone interview.

Johnson & Johnson proved to be ideal because J&J already had developed a global sales-and-marketing infrastructure for abiraterone acetate (Zytiga), a prostate cancer drug that reaped $1.7 billion in sales last year. J&J wanted to build its brand as a leader in prostate cancer drugs, and was willing to let Aragon spin out its follow-on drug for breast cancer. Other potential buyers that showed interest wanted both of Aragon’s drug development programs, Heyman said.

Baltera said he’s also amazed that Aragon’s VCs returned to re-invest in Seragon. “To their credit, all of [Heyman’s] investors were willing to stand by him,” Baltera said. When Seragon raised $30 million in initial funding last fall, the Column Group, OrbiMed Advisors, Aisling Capital, venBio, and TopSpin Partners all participated.

Usually, venture investors “really don’t like to roll one investment over into another one,” Baltera explained. “It’s hard to pull off, given the dynamics of venture investing.”

Rich Heyman

Rich Heyman

Heyman nevertheless managed to get all the variables in alignment. “We always felt this was kind of like having your cake and eating it too, because we were so excited about that second potential program,” Heyman said. “That’s why we were trying to set that up.”

“He is representative of what life sciences in San Diego is all about,” said Jay Lichter, a life sciences partner with San Diego-based Avalon Ventures. “He’s a fantastic scientist, and a great CEO, and he’s scrappy in the way that life sciences in San Diego is scrappy. He sticks to hard science, and creates value with as little money as possible.”

As Heyman tells the story, Aragon and Seragon were based on new insights in hormone-driven cancers that came out of the lab of Charles Sawyer, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Sawyer was trying to understand why some hormone-driven prostate cancers eventually become resistant to drugs like bicalutamide (Casodex) that block hormone-signaling pathways.

In the process, Sawyer saw an opportunity to develop a new generation of drugs that would block androgen hormones like testosterone from “switching on” tumor growth much more effectively than … Next Page »

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