Gemphire’s CEO resigns for ‘personal reasons,' plots new entrepreneurial opportunities

Gemphire’s CEO and president, Mina Sooch, has resigned for “personal reasons” less than a year after helping get its cut-price $30 million IPO off the ground.

Dr Steven Gullans, Ph.D., a board member of the biotech and MD at Excel Venture (which owns more than 5% of Gemphire’s stock), takes the top spot in the interim while the hunt for a new leader is on.

Full details as to why Sooch has left were not given, but she said: “I anticipate taking some time off to spend with my family and then pursuing new entrepreneurial opportunities.”

Last August, the Northville, Michigan-based biotech, which planned to raise $45 million in an initial public offering, had to slash that to $30 million in the tough IPO days of 2016. It currently has a market cap of just over $110 million, although its shares fell more than 13% last night after the news of the CEO’s unexpected departure hit.

The biotech said after securing its IPO that it would use that $30 million toward late-stage testing of its big hope gemcabene in a trio of dyslipidemia disorders.

The drug was in-licensed from Pfizer in April 2011 by a pair of the pharma’s execs: Gemphire CSO Dr Charles Bisgaier and chief legal officer David Lowenschuss.

Both joined Pfizer when it acquired Esperion in 2003 for $1.3 billion; the company was subsequently spun back out under a 2008 restructuring of the pharma. Gemphire was formed around the drug in 2014.

Sooch resigns just as the biotech is poised to release top-line data for the COBALT-1 trial next month, which is looking at gemcabene in homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia. A small snapshot of interim data from this study were posted back in January.

Data from ROYAL-1 meanwhile, a phase 2b trial for gemcabene in hypercholesterolemia patients not adequately controlled on statins, is set for a read-out in Q3 this year.

Gullans said: “On behalf of the board of directors of Gemphire Therapeutics, we thank Mina for her outstanding leadership and tireless efforts in helping to bring Gemphire to where we are today.

“Mina is an extraordinarily talented individual who was responsible for building out the management team, securing several rounds of financing since 2014, taking the company public, and successfully advancing its clinical stage pipeline. We wish her much success in her future endeavors.   Moving forward, this transition is expected to build on the positive momentum of our late-stage dyslipidemia clinical trials, for which we expect important data read outs starting in late June of 2017.

Sooch added: “I am extremely proud of the milestones we have accomplished towards our vision of becoming a leading cardiometabolic biopharmaceutical company.  I am very grateful to my Gemphire colleagues who assisted in building this success, as well as our advisers, partners, and investors. 

“This is an exciting time for the Company and I am a true believer in gemcabene’s unique drug profile to address the large unmet need in cardiovascular disease. I have great confidence in the Gemphire team and look forward to the upcoming readouts of the phase 2b trials.”

The company also announced in its financials earlier this month that, based on gemcabene’s lipid-lowering and anti-inflammatory mechanism of action, and on the” strength of positive preclinical data we announced during the first quarter,” it also has plans to launch a phase 2 program in the fatty liver disease NASH this year for the med.

It said in its latest financials that cash and cash equivalents as of end of March were $29.3 million.

Analysts at Jefferies said: “While timing is a bit odd ahead of three gemcabene data readouts through Q1'18, CEO Sooch leaves GEMP well-funded with a strong executive team and helped establish a broad NASH/dyslipidemia clinical strategy. Importantly GEMP's strategy remains intact and timing of data read-outs are unchanged. Ph. II NASH study on track for H2 start and COBALT HoFH data in late June.”