Actelion’s founders were drawn together by successful collaboration, complementary skills and a belief in their collective scientific ideas. Having performed pioneering research at Roche, to characterize endothelin – a powerful blood vessel constrictor – and its receptors, the Roche team set out, to discover and develop a new class of anti-hypertensive drugs, so-called endothelin receptor antagonists (ERAs).
When Roche decided not to pursue this class of drugs the founders seized the opportunity to realize their ambition. Taking personal risk with their own funding, Actelion’s founders walked away from security at Roche, and following some additional financing, they negotiated the licensing of the compounds they had discovered and developed: tezosentan and bosentan.
Just a few years later, in April 2000, Actelion went public. Approximately one year later, shortly after a competitor’s ERA failed in development, in April 2001, tezosentan reported an unsuccessful study – and the share price plummeted. The founders’ commitment, however, did not waiver, they continued to develop their second ERA, bosentan. In December 2001, the initial risk was rewarded, as bosentan became Actelion’s first marketed product, Tracleer®.
Actelion was lifted into profitability in record time.
What made Actelion different was the deliberate decision to create its own discovery capability, to develop its own drugs and then to market them around the globe. The founders did not opt to pass the drugs along and quickly recoup their investment, but set about establishing a company with a clear ambition to find new drugs and treat more patients.
Over time, Actelion established a very active drug discovery and development organization, created a sales and marketing organization that spans the globe, including operations in Japan, and acquired four more products.