The Elan Effect

Dec 15, 2005
By BioPharm International Editors

Elan Corporation, PLC, is a neuroscience-based biotechnology company focused on discovering, developing, manufacturing, and marketing advanced therapies for neurology, autoimmune diseases, and severe pain. Head-quartered in Dublin, Ireland, the company operates on a global basis and has locations in Athlone, Ireland, Bermuda, Japan, and the United States. Elan shares trade on the New York, London, and Dublin Stock Exchanges.

Elan is unique in an Irish context because it possesses the range of expertise required to develop, test, validate, manufacture, market, and broker international contracts in Ireland. In 2002, more than $18.4 billion was wiped off Elan's value following a consent decree issued by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and an investigation into the company's accounting practices. By February 2004, Elan had completed a recovery and restructuring plan that resulted in divestiture proceeds of more than $2 billion. The settlement of the US Securities and Exchange Commission's investigation, announced in February 2005, removed this uncertainty about Elan's future and allowed the company to focus more on bringing its innovative science to patients.

Elan's future now looks bright, and the restructuring of the company provided both a stimulus and an opportunity for the emergence of more than half a dozen new companies headed by former Elan personnel.

New Companies

Some of the largest private equity transactions in Ireland over the past couple of years have involved companies with some form of connection to Elan. Most recently, Azur Pharma Limited raised €40 million to fund a strategy based on in-licensing rights to products that have either received FDA approval, or that are in late-stage clinical development. Azur Pharma's founding team includes chairman and chief executive officer Seamus Mulligan who, as executive vice-president of business and corporate development at Elan, led the $2 billion asset-disposal program that enabled the company to restructure its balance sheet and stave off bankruptcy.

Another company with ties to Elan is AGI Therapeutics Limited. It is led by John Devane, who was formerly executive vice-president of research and development at Elan. He raised €9.5 million in first-round funding in 2004 to develop a pipeline of therapies targeting functional gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and dyspepsia.

A third example is Merrion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. This Irish-American firm has operations in Dublin and in Wilmington, North Carolina. It was founded to continue the progress of drug delivery technologies originally developed by Elan.

In addition, a slew of service-oriented firms have also emerged, including PharmaPlaz, an ambitious firm offering process development, clinical development, and manufacturing services. PK Pharma Innovations Limited is a specialist provider of pharmacokinetic analytical services. And InfoSight Corporation is offering specialist statistical services to companies in the pharmaceutical industry, food industry, and medical device sector, and to research groups conducting clinical trials.

These post-Elan ventures fall into two distinct categories. Azur, AGI Therapeutics, and Merrion and are engaged in the high-risk activity of drug development, which has potentially high rewards. The others are more service-oriented and, consequently, are able to tap into an immediate revenue stream.

BioClin Research Laboratories was established by CEO Mary Burke, who previously was responsible for clinical pharmacology at Elan, and by chief scientific officer Brian McKenna, who had managed Elan's bioanalytical laboratory. BioClin secured a lease on Elan's 6000-ft2 , purpose-built bioanalytical facility. The laboratory is the largest of its kind in Ireland. It enables BioClin to offer services to a growing number of small drug discovery and drug delivery companies that have limited development capabilities, and to virtual organizations that do not operate their own wet laboratories.

Regarding the BioClin venture, Burke and McKenna jointly commented, "We felt there was a niche for a high-class, regulatory-compliant research organization, and the restructuring gave us the final push to do it."

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