On “Building a Pearl” – Story of Pearl Therapeutics from Concept to Acquisition by Astra Zeneca for $1.15B


Pearl Therapeutics is a huge success story in the biotech world.  At www.bio2devicegroup.org event, Dr. Sarvajna Dwivedi, co-founder of Pearl Therapeutics talked about his own professional journey and about Pearl team, technology and products, that brought the company to pearly stunning $1.15 Billion exit.  Pearl Therapeutics was acquired by Astra Zeneca in June, 2013.

Dwivedi began the talk by paying tribute to his mentors, his father, Professor Rewa Prasad Dwivedi, his first role model and a reknowed Sanskrit scholar and poet, his professor Dr. Alan Mitchell  at University of British Columbia who imparted important lessons on staying true to fundamentals and understanding the properties of nature, and Silicon Valley’s prolific inventor Mr. Mir Imran, who told him long before he needed to raise money, “don’t ever take investor’s money, unless you can treat it as your own”.  Dwivedi said he carried all those valuable lessons in his professional journey.

After his education where he worked on tablets, Dwivedi was invited to join Glaxo to work on inhalation products.  When he was concerned about making a jump from tablets to inhalation products, he was told “you know how to keep particles together, you would know how to keep them apart too”.  From Glaxo, he went on to Dura, where he worked on an electromechanical inhaler system, a complex 50 part device.  Then at Alkermes, Dwivedi put together a team which designed a device with a precessing capsule inside.  Each of these opportunities contributed to giving him a stronger grounding into fundamentals.

Eventually, his career journey brought him to Nektar Therapeutics.  Nektar was focusing on systemic conditions like diabetes, to be treated by inhalation delivery of drugs like insulin, and on anti-infective therapies for lungs.  Dwivedi and his colleagues were looking at delivering drugs uniformly into the lungs for diseases such as asthma and COPD, and especially make drug combinations with standard metered dose inhalers.  Global COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma market is projected to reach $47 billion, by 2017.  These were compelling clinical problems that Dwivedi and his colleagues were trying to solve, but Nektar chose to stay focused on other opportunities.  Eventually, Dwivedi and his co-founder Adrian Smith formed Pearl Therapeutics and spun it out as a separate company.

Image representing Pearl Therapeutics as depic...

Image via CrunchBase

Pearl Therapeutics has combined two bronchodilator drugs in one inhaler, and put it into Phase III.  Pearl has now demonstrated that it can also combine three drugs, to treat the fatal lung condition, COPD.  These drugs typically do not mix well together in a common inhaler and that leads to less than ideal distribution of the drugs in the lungs.  Pearl’s secret is its proprietary technology.  Dwivedi said the lessons he learned earlier in life regarding staying true to fundamentals and to not fight nature, were most useful in navigating these challenges.  The nature of particles is to coalesce, and therefore it’s very difficult to keep them separate for aerosolization purposes.  This can be achieved easily with liquid propellant suspensions, such as those in commonly used metered dose inhalers.  Pearl creates these suspensions with a proprietary technology utilizing specially engineered phospholipid porous particles.  When these inhalers are actuated then the porous particles go back from liquid to vapor, facilitating consistent and uniform inhalation delivery. The porous particles traverse the back of the throat easily and spread aerosols throughout the lung.  Astra Zeneca saw the tremendous promise in this technology, the product progression achieved by Pearl, the value of the product pipeline at Pearl, and the Pearl team assembled by Dwivedi and his co-founder, Smith.  AZ forked over $1 B+ and acquired Pearl, with a promise to enable Pearl to continue to operate independently.  This was very interesting talk and generated a great deal of discussion.

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