WMSTI's SUMiT10 features Newton
Roger S. Newton knows a bit about launching a life sciences start-up in Michigan — the same one, twice.
President and CEO of Esperion Therapeutics of Plymouth, Newton re-established the cholesterol-fighting research and development firm three years after his former employer, Pfizer Inc., purchased and then closed it.
The biggest difference between the circa 1998 start-up of Esperion and its second coming in 2008 is the development of the life sciences infrastructure in Michigan, Newton said.
“There was no infrastructure back then. Now there is all kind of structure on both sides of the state and the southwest side of the state to promote the life sciences industry,” he said.
Newton is slated to be the keynote speaker for the West Michigan Science and Technology Initiative’s SUMmIT10 on Tuesday. Registration opens at 7:30 a.m. for the event at Loosemore Auditorium on Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus in downtown Grand Rapids. It also includes a panel discussion, company presentations and lunch from noon till 1 p.m. for $35. Visit www.wmsti.org for more information.
Newton, whose company is located in a life sciences business accelerator in Plymouth, said organizations such as Ann Arbor Spark, WMSTI and Southwest Michigan First are crucial for entrepreneurs seeking to turn their ideas into businesses.
Capital has been a challenge across the board during the economic downturn, and Newton said life sciences entrepreneurs need to look outside the Midwest for venture support. While there is interest from homegrown investors, there is just not enough VC money here to support all the good ideas, he said.
“We’re no longer called the fly-over zone. People are stopping in this state and talking to young entrepreneurs and people who want to commercialize their ideas. I am going to use the Esperion stories as kind of a template of what was, what is and what will be or could be,” he said.
A 30-year veteran of the pharma industry, Newton was senior vice president for Pfizer Global R&D and a director of Esperion when it was part of Pfizer.
Newton, who holds degrees in biology, biochemistry and nutrition, was involved in the development of the atorvastatin, now the world’s biggest-selling anti-cholesterol drug under the brand name Lipitor. He co-founded Esperion in 1998 to investigate the treatment of high cholesterol by focusing on high density lipoprotein, known as the “good cholesterol.”
Pfizer bought Esperion for $1.3 billion in 2004, but closed with rest of the company’s Michigan R&D facilities in 2007. Newton regained control of Esperion in 2008 and has raised $23 million in venture capital to support the reincarnated firm.