AstraZeneca's NASH spinout shifts focus to Boston as ex-BMS exec takes charge

Having spent 7 years building up a pipeline of bile acid modulators from its base in Gothenburg, Sweden, AstraZeneca ($AZN) spinout Albireo is now swinging its center of gravity to Boston, MA. The shift follows the appointment of ex-Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) executive Ron Cooper as CEO.

Albireo CEO Ron Cooper

Cooper spent more than one-third of his 30-year career at Bristol in European roles, culminating in the veteran spending his last 5 years at the company as president of operations on the continent. Yet in assessing how best to advance Albireo and its pipeline of bile acid modulators, Cooper has immediately honed in on Boston, MA, as key to the future of the business. Albireo unveiled news of its appointment of Cooper and the opening of an office at the Cambridge Innovation Center at the same time--and the new CEO has made it clear where he wants to focus the company and why.

"It's the talent, it's the thinking, it's the energy [of Boston] that's pretty exciting to us," Cooper told Boston Business Journal. "I want this company to be around that kind of excitement." For all the merits of Gothenburg, or any other city in Europe or perhaps the world, it is unable to compete with what Cooper describes as the "buzzy ecosystem" of Boston. The CEO has tied the future of Albireo to Boston despite never working in the city over his 30-year, one-company career, which included stints in France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada and NJ.

The move to Boston and appointment of Cooper come at a critical time for Albireo. Since spinning out of AstraZeneca with bile acid modulator assets and $40 million from the Big Pharma, Phase IV Ventures, TPG Biotech, TVM Capital Life Science and Aberdeen Asset Management, Albireo has advanced to the point at which it has three mid to late-phase programs without raising additional funds. With treatments for pediatric cholestatic liver diseases, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and chronic constipation now in or nearing expensive late-phase trials, that will have to change.

Cooper is considering taking Albireo public to bankroll the planned slate of studies. Whether the company goes down this route or decides to tap private investors again, the expectation is that the decision to put Albireo in the biotech hotspot of Boston will serve it well.

- read the release
- here's BBJ's take