The Levicept story is inspiring to us for many reasons. First, it shows that assets that had once been written off can, in the right hands and with the right approach, prove themselves. Second, it confirms the importance of successfully navigating the tremendous challenges of early stage validation, as we’ve written about before, and the non-traditional capital (or visionary founder) that is usually required to do that.
As FierceBiotech explains – http://www.fiercebiotech.com/story/levicept-emerges-pfizers-rd-ashes-157m-and-new-pain-drug/2014-10-08 – history has proven that investigator Simon Westbrook did indeed understand the protein he’d discovered better than anyone else, including the leadership at Pfizer.
Pfizer’s 2011 cost-cutting and door-closing was part of a wave in the biopharma business at that time. Westbrook’s discovery of a fusion protein (p75 neurotrophin receptor fusion protein) was, for whatever reason, cut in the overall wave of retreat. And but for Westbrook’s entrepreneurial actions it would have been lost. Now Levicept (the company he founded) is closing on $20million in venture and grant funding to show that the fusion protein could be applied to chronic pain indications in actual human proof-of-concept patients. Among the participants in the round is Index Ventures which had provided the original seed funding back in 2012.
Between the moment Westbrook realized he believed in the compound and was ready to give it a go and start a company, and the closing of that venture round, is where the magic happens in science translation and commercialization. The right asset (and all necessary IP of course), combined with the right researcher/team, plus participation from diverse capital sources, can yield important economic and scientific advances. We suspect there are great deal more undiscovered or forgotten assets.