Ebb & Flow

Investors in oncology company Gloucester Pharmaceuticals Inc. are looking at a 3.5X-6.5X return on an acquisition by Celgene Corp. (NASDAQ:

CELG), making it a model for how to execute in-licensing and keep costs under control.

Since its inception in 2003, Gloucester has raised a little more than $100 million from a core syndicate including Apple Tree Partners; ProQuest Investments; Prospect Venture Partners; and Rho Ventures. Celgene will acquire the company for $340 million in cash and up to $300 million in milestones.

FDA approved Gloucester's Istodax romidepsin in November to treat cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL). The launch of the histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor is expected next quarter. The company is running another pivotal trial in peripheral T cell lymphoma (PTCL), which is expected to report data next year.

Gloucester co-founder and investor Martin Vogelbaum of Rho Ventures said the syndicate chose to fund all the way to approval in CTCL, rather than partner along the way.

"We did this with 10-15 employees. Given our low overhead, the money was only going to clinical costs," said Vogelbaum. "We were able to do this better, cheaper and faster than big pharma or medium-sized biotech."

Gloucester in-licensed Istodax in 2004 from Fujisawa Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. prior to its merger with Yamanouchi Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. to form Astellas Pharma Inc. (Tokyo:4503).

"We were in the right place at the right time, Fujisawa needed to get it off the balance sheet before the merger announcement," said Vogelbaum.

He credited the National Cancer Institutefor getting the compound off to a good start: "NCI was very instrumental in our understanding of how good a drug this was."

When it was in-licensed, Istodax (formerly FK228 depsipeptide) was in Phase II testing for CTCL and PTCL by NCI under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Fujisawa. Gloucester announced final Phase II data from that trial at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) conference last week(see B19).

In October, Allos Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ:ALTH) launched a competing product, Folotyn pralatrexate, to treat relapsed or refractory PTCL. Last week, Allos shares were off $0.76 (11%) to 5.86.

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