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Marcadia Biotech principals ponder next course

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As if it wasn’t enough of an achievement to sell a 5-year-old startup for what may total $537 million when all the money is counted.

The 11-employee Marcadia Biotech Inc. was generating enough cash flow prior to its sale to Swiss lifes sciences giant Roche that its investors ran into an unusual problem.

“Our venture-capital firms were going crazy. They never had a company that had to pay taxes,” said Fritz French, former CEO of Carmel-based Marcadia.

French and Kent Hawryluk, vice president of business development, on Tuesday morning outlined the company’s brief but lucrative life.

BioCrossroads' “Frameworx” discussion series drew more than 50 life science leaders to the 48th floor of Chase Tower. The setting was appropriate, given Carmel-based Marcadia’s lofty accomplishments. It’s become an affirmation of sorts that a company far removed from the venture-capitalist-clustered East and West Coasts can rise and flourish in central Indiana.

“It’s the kind of story that makes you say, ‘If these guys can do it, maybe I can, too,’” said David Johnson, CEO of BioCrossroads.

December's sale to Switzerland-based Roche is expected to generate at least $287 million for the company’s owners initially. Investors could reap an additional $250 million if one of Marcadia’s experimental drugs to treat diabetes reaches market.

Hawryluk noted the benefits of Marcadia’s earlier partnership with Merck, which helped finance the firm’s growth, in addition to the more than $15 million in venture capital that was raised.

Although neither he nor French would elaborate on the value of that partnership, “we still had $37 million on the books when we sold the company,” French said.

Marcadia was founded by Hawryluk and former Eli Lilly and Co. scientists Richard DiMarchi and Gus Watanabe.

The participation of the former Lilly scientists provided “instant credibility,” French said, an advantage that many startups don’t enjoy.

Marcadia also successfully deployed what has become standard practice of major pharmaceutical companies in recent years—operating on largely a contract basis with outside firms. Much of the work was conducted in DiMarchi’s laboratory at Indiana University, with compounds it generated outsourced to other partners, including a research center at the University of Cincinnati.

French and Hawryluk told of a razor-edge walk to engage interest in partners—first those with which they’d enter licensing agreements and later to seek a buyer.

“We really felt that we were getting terms we might not see again for at least a year or two,” Hawryluck said of the process as momentum for a sale grew last summer.

Playing into Marcadia’s favor was a handful of failures Roche had of late in snapping up small players in the diabetes sector.

“Wall Street had expected them to be in this area,” French said.

Marcadia is being absorbed within Roche. French and Hawryluk have been talking to Roche execs about possibly licensing a short-acting glucagon that Marcadia has been developing that could be used to treat those suffering episodes of low blood sugar. A deal could spawn a new company for the duo, but French was unsure Tuesday whether an agreement could be reached.

If that doesn’t transpire, “I don’t know (what I’ll do),” he said, responding to an audience question. “I’ll probably take a few months and think about what I’ll do next.”
 

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