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Robert Trigaux

Both CEOs out at drug companies that tried but failed to bring USF research drug to market

astrazeneca-david-brennan-008.jpegWake up and good morning. Looks like two drug companies' big bet on a University of South Florida drug concept called TC-5214 has claimed additional casualties. The drug, which USF hoped could be its first grand slam commercial product based on university research, proved a bust for the two drug companies -- AstraZeneca and Targacept -- a tale which was first reported in April in this Tampa Bay Times column.

Since then, the CEOs of both drug companies have stepped down. In April, David Brennan (left), CEO of AstraZeneca -- a large drug development company -- resigned (or "retired earlier than expected" depending on the coverage) in what the BBC called a "boardroom coup" that was due, in part, to the failure of clinical trials using TC-5124.

dondebethizytargaceptformerceo.And on Monday of this week, it was announced that CEO Don deBethizy of the smaller drug company Targacept had suddenly resigned.  DeBethizy (right) had led the Winston-Salem biotechnology company since it was spun out of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in 2000. The company's stock had been slammed after it said it would halt further trials of TC-5214 citing a lack of success in research thus far.

As reported in the Winston-Salem Journal, analyst Kimberly Lee of ThinkEquity LLC of San Francisco, said deBethizy was at the company helm for several trial failures. "They have lost TC-5214, which, quite frankly, was their main value driver, and the stock price has suffered significantly because of that failure," she said. "Now, they need to rely on their earlier-stage pipeline. The company is a long ways from profitability."

So what does this mean for USF's pipeline of research heading toward commercialization? It probably makes drug companies more cautious since USF early on had touted the possibility that TC-5214 -- a drug that, when taken with other medications, was intended to help depression -- could be a big royalties win for the university.

Nobody says drug development is a sure thing. Far from it. USF will just have to shake off the jitters and try again. And it's still possible TC-5214 may find a use in another niche of treatment -- but probably not by either of  these drug companies.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times

[Last modified: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 10:13am]


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