Atlantic Healthcare plots opening of NC office as influence of ex-Salix team grows

Atlantic Healthcare is planning to roll out the next phase of a strategy designed to establish itself as a transatlantic specialty pharma company. The move will see Atlantic open an office near Raleigh, NC, the life science hub where the former Salix Pharmaceuticals executives now influencing its strategy made their names.

Atlantic CEO Toby Wilson Waterworth

Toby Wilson Waterworth, the CEO of Cambridge, U.K.-based Atlantic, revealed the plan to set up an office around Raleigh within the next 12 months in an interview with FierceBiotech. Atlantic, as is indicated by its name, has always planned to operate out of the U.S. and Europe. Now, Raleigh has emerged as an obvious location given the people Atlantic has brought on board in a $24 million (€21 million) fundraising round. Almost one year after Valeant ($VRX) bought Salix for $11 billion, members of the team who helped the firm to the buyout have reinvested some of their winnings.  

"A number of the ex-Salix team invested in the company," Waterworth said. Dr. Lorin Johnson, the scientific founder of Salix, is known to be involved and has taken on the position of chief scientific advisor at Atlantic. Beyond Johnson, the identities of the ex-Salix team who have picked up a stake in Atlantic is as yet unknown. "We haven't gone public on who they are yet as we haven't asked them whether we can," Waterworth said. An accounting scandal, failed merger and the exits of top execs left Salix with a somewhat tarnished reputation, but it still sold up with its stock at a historic high.  

Waterworth thinks the experience of the investors can benefit Atlantic. "[We have] strengthened considerably with the joining forces with some of the Salix people," he said. "The Salix team showed their capability." Salix grew by acquiring late-phase programs and bringing them to market in the U.S., a strategy that is reminiscent of the one Atlantic is pursuing. "Atlantic's plan has always been quite similar … but with a bigger geographical presence covering both North America and Europe," Waterworth said. Both companies have a focus on gastrointestinal fields of specialty medicine.

Atlantic now plans to draw on the experience--and money--of some of the people who helped Salix to grow into a major specialty pharma. "Certainly, they have a very keen interest in being involved with the company," Waterworth said. "I think ... they see Atlantic as having similar potential and there's the enjoyment of getting involved with an earlier stage company again, perhaps where Salix was a number of years ago." Atlantic, which is yet to bring a drug to market, expects to deliver data from a Phase III trial of its lead candidate in the back half of 2017.

The trial is testing a topical formulation of alicaforsen, a drug it picked up from Ionis Pharmaceuticals ($IONS), in patients with pouchitis. With that trial underway, Atlantic is now set to pursue the bigger prize of ulcerative colitis. "We're starting to turn our thoughts to the optimum way to fund the UC Phase III," Waterworth said. Another private round with institutional investors or an IPO, on either side of the Atlantic, are possibilities. "All things are on the table," Waterworth said.

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