For just over a year, Leslie Browne has been president and CEO of Pharmacopeia, a drug discovery company that had been ripped apart and put back together again. So though Pharmacopeia was founded a dozen years ago, Browne thinks of himself as an entrepreneur. "The company has been in existence since 1993, but we are working in a creative way to move drug candidates at least as quickly if not more quickly than our competitors."
When Browne arrived last year the company had been split into two parts, a San Diego-based software company called Accelrys, and a drug discovery business. Two "pure play" companies, the board decided, could better focus on objectives and pursue acquisitions and investments. Accelrys kept the molecular modeling and simulation software business. The discovery business, now called Pharmacopeia Drug Discovery Inc. (PDD), is on Eastpark Boulevard at Exit 8A.
"The core technology to make compounds, that is all technology that is still here," says Browne. The technology began in the lab of W. Clark Still, 49, a Columbia University chemist who worked on computational methods of building molecules in order to predict reactions that would lead to the design of new drugs.
Still and his colleagues, including Mike Wigler, synthesized chemical compounds on microscopic plastic balls, allowing the firm to create libraries containing millions of compounds. A proprietary tagging system, a sort of barcoding, enabled scientists to easily find compounds with certain properties to fight a particular disease.
Using the term for "an official list of drugs" as its name, Pharmacopeia was incorporated in 1993. Joseph A. Mollica arrived as chairman and CEO in 1994. (Mollica is now PDD’s board chairman.) Pharmacopeia had more than 200 workers in Princeton in 1998, and that year it bought a San Diego-based molecular modeling and simulation firm. In 2001 it tried to buy a San Francisco-based firm with genome-based tools to validate targets, but the deal did not go through. In 2002 it downsized.
The decision to separate the two parts of the company came when Bristol-Myers Squibb took one of Pharmacopeia’s compounds into clinical development, says Browne. At that point the board realized that, to get the greatest value, the two companies needed to operate separately. The Accelrys part of the business had generated revenue of $95.1 million in 2002. PDD revenue that year was $29.3 million.
Pharmacopeia Drug Discovery has operated as a standalone company since May, 2004. It has 150 workers in two buildings totaling 78,000 square feet at Exit 8A and is paying rent for another year on 81,000 square feet in Monmouth Junction. Last August it landed $7.7 million in private placement funding. The stock has been running parallel to but slightly under the Nasdaq biotechnology market index and the Nasdaq composite index. Its third quarter report reveals that, as of September 30, it had $35 million in cash. It has no long-term debt.
Pharmacopeia still has the largest proprietary compound collection in the world. According to the quarterly report, issued in the same week that the company was honored by the New Jersey Technology Council as "large company of the year," the company met key milestones, with regard to royalties and milestone payments. In clinical trials now are four product candidates for which Pharmacopeia has partnered with large pharmas. It also has early stage product candidates, including some that could eventually be used for psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and transplant rejection.
The new CEO recruited David M. Floyd, a chief scientific officer from Bristol-Myers Squibb, as well as a general counsel (Stephen C. Costalas) and a CFO (Michio Soga). "We have a new management team consistent with our new business and new business strategy," says Browne. "We have established Pharmacopeia as a leading therapeutic product business with a robust partnered product pipeline and a growing wholly-owned portfolio."
No longer focusing on providing compounds for other companies to develop, Pharmacopeia now works for itself to build a product portfolio that it can take into clinical development. Its future revenue is expected to come from its own products. "The big difference is that, before, we were laterally working to help others, but we are now working to develop our own products," says Browne.
Browne grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, the son of an ambulance driver, and was an only child. He says he is imbued with what he calls the "Scottish mentality," to work hard, keep your nose to the grindstone, get the job done, and get a good education.
"Although my parents were not university educated, they always encouraged and pushed me," he says. But when he was 14 years old, his grandfather demanded to know, "When is this boy going to get a job?
Browne majored in chemistry at Strathclyde University, in Glasgow, Scotland, graduating in 1972. After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, he was a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow at Harvard with the Nobel laureate Professor R. B. Woodward. At Ciba-Geigy in Basle, Switzerland, he helped discover Diovan, an early angiotensi II antagonist. He also managed
cardiovascular research and discovered Fadrozole, the first marketed non-steroidal aromatase inhibitor for the treatment of estrogen-dependent breast cancer.
At Berlex Biosciences he rebuilt the drug discovery operation and did pharma-biotech deals. As COO at Iconix Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a chemogenomics company in Mountain View, California, Browne launched Iconix’s first product, DrugMatrix.
Browne’s wife Marcia, a teacher, founded Friends of Alouette International, a nonprofit that helps children in the Phillipines, and they have three grown sons. Twenty years ago he ran the New York marathon and still maintains a strenuous workout schedule.
Browne had been involved in Pharmacopeia’s business for 10 years. When working for Berlex Bioscience, he helped Pharmacopeia get its second corporate collaboration. So nothing has really surprised him in his first year as CEO. "The most exciting aspect is what the assets are. There is a tremendous amount of value, and it becomes my job to realize the company’s full potential."
Risk-taking is a necessary part of being an entrepreneur, Browne agrees. A CEO must measure risk and accept risk. "I take a disproportionate risk on myself so that others in the organization can do their jobs," he says.
Browne says that another way he supports his staff is by trusting them make decisions without fear of reprisals. "You never have all the information you need to make a decision, but some folks are totally paralyzed by seeking the perfect decision," says Browne. "There are very few wrong decisions. It’s important to be able to make a decision with a shortage of information, take the mistake, and then go back to fix it."
Pharmacopeia Drug Discovery Inc. (PCOP), 3000 Eastpark Boulevard, CN 5350, Princeton 08543-5350; 609-452-3600; fax, 609-452-3672. Leslie Browne, president and CEO. Home page: www.pcop.com