2015 Winner: Outstanding Commercial Achievement In Alberta Science And Technology
Small remote pharmaceutical team leverages success into a $750m sale for life-saving drugs
Venture capitalists. Seed money. These are phrases you expect to hear when somebody describes financing their company, but a well-established partnership between an industry leader and a small remotely operated team led by Christopher Micetich, serves as a positive testimony to a different approach he took when Micetich founded Fedora Pharmaceuticals Inc.
“Rather than relying on venture capitalists, I chose to go to angel investors,” Micetich says. “They were mostly family friends and people who knew me personally or by reputation. I capped the number of angel investors at 50.” Micetich structured the company to allow him to raise $15 million but, through solid management, industry experience and utilization of a worldwide network of industry experts, he did not need to raise the entire amount to accomplish his goal.
With years of experience leading several pharmaceuticals companies Micetich has been defined as a serial entrepreneur. This reputation has given Micetich credibility and key knowledge to work with investors.
The Big Discovery
Fedora Pharmaceuticals began as a spinoff company based upon technology licensed from NAEJA (which was founded by Micetich and his father, world renowned medicinal chemist Dr. Ronald Micetich). Fedora’s program success was primarily defined by the knowledge Micetich’s team had at Naeja’s around beta lactamase inhibitors. This same team was involved in the discovery of Tazobactam, a beta-lactamase inhibitor discovered by Dr. Ronald Micetich, which is a drug of first choice in hospitals worldwide because of its ability to allow other drugs to enter the body more easily.
Ronald Micetich’s original company, SynPhar Laboratories, was built around the discovery of Tazobactam and elevated Alberta’s position as a leader in health sciences. This led Dr. Micetich to win the inaugural ASTech Award in Science and Technology in 1990. Christopher Micetich, Founder of both Naeja and Fedora Pharmaceuticals Inc., is now a second-generation ASTech Finalist.
Over time, drug resistance results in researchers studying alternative treatments. “I think it comes back to a mis-prescription of drugs and/or a misuse of drugs,” Micetich says. “When drugs come out for approval there has been years of research and millions of dollars spent to figure out exactly how much drug is needed to kill a particular bug.”
“What typically happens is people receive a prescription, and once they start to feel better they stop taking the drug. The bug isn’t killed, it’s simply knocked down,” Micetich says. He says once the bug starts to spread again, it continues to develop a resistance. “Through misuse and misprescription, we will always be in business. There will always be drug resistance, and we’ll always have to find a new way to combat bacteria,” Micetich says.
Fedora Pharmaceuticals holds exclusive rights to a family of beta-lactamase inhibitors discovered by NAEJA Pharmaceuticals to replace Tazobactam – along with related drugs – as resistance begins to peak. Overall, the partnership gives Fedora an important bargaining chip and credibility in the larger pharmaceutical market. Fedora’s licensing deal negotiated by Micetich is valued in excess of $750 million in addition to royalties.
Fedora is able to earn royalties because the company is the principle license holder. Naeja has received a licensing fee for the original transfer of technology to Fedora. Although Fedora has done very well financially on the deal, money has not been the motivating factor. The angel investors and all staff involved have been very motivated to see a new drug get to market that will save lives. The licensing deal moves Fedora’s team one step closer to this goal.
The Human Impact
Working with his father, Micetich always knew the work they were completing was important. He knew the drug was successful because of its profits, and he knew it was being used in hospitals all over the world. But what he didn’t fully realize was the human impact of the drug. It wasn’t until he visited his father in the hospital that he realized how important their own work truly was.
Dr. Micetich had suffered a massive stroke and was in a vegetative coma with little chance of survival. The family flew to Los Angeles to see him. “He really never came back after that stroke. One day we came in to the hospital and the doctor said he had suffered a massive lung infection,” Micetich says. “The nurse said, normally it would kill patients in his condition, but not to worry because they had a miracle drug called Tazobactam.”
Micetich says he told the nurse the drug they were using was the one his father discovered, but she didn’t believe him. “She Googled it,” Micetich says. ”When we came in the next day, they had all of these articles (about him) plastered on his headboard, and his name taped over on his chart and on the tape was written in big black letters, Dr. Taz.” As Micetich expected, Tazobactam cleared up his father’s lung infection.
This helped Micetich see the effects and impact of the drug first hand, and he immediately developed a greater understanding of the importance of his work. Micetich continues to use his experience as motivation today, and the lesson regarding the impact of their work helps fuel Fedora Pharmaceuticals to discover new ways to battle disease.