Based: South San Francisco
Founded: 2009, from the merger of Pierian and iZumi
Another company on our 2010 list that didn’t last long before being acquired is central nervous system disease player iPierian, which was absorbed by Bristol Myers Squibb in an up-to-$725 million deal in 2014.
By that year, iPierian was already a very different company from what it was when it was a Fierce15 winner in 2010 on the back of an enviable scientific advisory board that featured several leading experts in cell reprogramming and differentiation. It had started life as a stem cell therapy developer, backed with cash from Google Ventures.
The impeccable scientific pedigree, however, never translated into the kind of partnering deals the biotech was looking for, and disagreements within management on strategy led to the board terminating the contract of CEO Michael Venuti as well as most of the senior management team.
There then followed a shift in direction under interim CEO Peter Van Vlasselaer that continued when Nancy Stagliano was given the helm of the biotech in 2011. Instead of focusing on stem cell therapies, iPierian would use its platform as an engine to discover new, in-house drugs for neurodegenerative disorders.
By the time BMS made its move, iPierian had found its lead asset, a preclinical-stage anti-tau antibody called IPN007 that was a few months away from clinical trials. It was being tipped as a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), but it didn’t last long at BMS, getting handed off to Biogen in 2017.
Stagliano had already left the company a few months before the BMS takeover to head up True North Therapeutics, a spinout from iPierian focused on rare disease treatments. True North took a drug for cold agglutinin disease (CAD)—complement C1s inhibitor sutimilimab (TNT009)—into the clinic before being acquired for $400 million by Bioverativ, which was in turn bought by Sanofi for $11.6 billion in 2018.
To bring the story up to date, IPN007—rechristened BIIB092 and then gosuranemab—flunked a phase 2 trial in PSP and was dropped for that indication by Biogen last year. It is still in a phase 3 trial (Tango) in people with mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s, but it remains a high-risk project given other failed trials for tau-targeting drugs in dementia.
Sutimlimab, meanwhile, has advanced quickly under Sanofi for CAD—a rare condition in which the immune system turns on the patient’s red blood cells—and it's heading for a November approval verdict from the FDA after a priority review. The company is running an early phase trial in immune thrombocytopenic purpura.