Shared from the 1/3/2018 The Florida Times-Union eEdition

Area company Espero looks to hold trials for new drugs

In 2014 Quang Pham founded Espero Pharmaceuticals, which the Jacksonville Business Journal called “the fastest-growing company in Jacksonville” last year.



Now the company, renamed Espero BioPharma after a merger, is preparing to launch new clinical trials for two drugs Pham, its chairman and CEO, believes can become “standards of care” as an anti-coagulation drug and treatment for atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat.

Last March, Espero Pharmaceuticals merged with California-based Armetheon Inc. to become Espero BioPharma Inc. As a result of the merger, Espero acquired the drugs tecarfarin and budiodarone.

Tecarfarin is an anti-coagulation drug with the potential to replace warfarin as the standard for care for people who need to take an oral anti-coagulant, Pham said. Warfarin, which for accounts for 56 percent of the anti-coagulation drugs taken in the U.S., was initially developed as a rat poison. Side effects can include serious bleeding, nausea, loss of appetite and or stomach/abdominal pain.

Other anticoagulant drugs, like Xarelto and Eliquis, have since been developed, but those drugs can be risky because if a bleed develops, it’s difficult to reverse, Pham said. With warfarin, there is an antidote to bleeding.

A clinical trial, the Tecarfarin for Anticoagulation Trial, is expected to begin in the second quarter of this year. If the trial goes as expected, Espero will apply in 2020 to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve the drug for general use.

Budiodarone is intended for the treatment of atrial fibrillation. Espero plans to initiate a third Phase 2 clinical trial for it this year.

“Tecarfarin and budiodarone each have the potential to become best-in-class agents, creating significant value for patients, physicians and our investors,” Pham said. “We look forward to working with our clinical investigators and the FDA to advance these promising product candidates through the clinic and to patients who are underserved by available anticoagulant and anti-arrhythmic agents.”

Before the merger, Espero already marketed and distributed three cardiovascular medications. GoNitro, a sublingual nitroglycerin powder, and Nitrolingual Pumpspray are both used to treat angina, chest pain or discomfort caused by narrowed arteries. Durlaz Extended Release Capsules is a version of aspirin, which helps prevent platelets from forming blood clots that can cause a heart attack.

Pham is a native of Vietnam, born in Saigon in 1964. His family emigrated to the U.S., eventually settling in California. He attended UCLA, then became a Marine aviator who did his flight training at the Naval Air Station Pensacola. He flew CH-46 helicopter missions during the Persian Gulf War.

In 1994 he went to work for the pharmaceutical company Merck. In 2000, he founded Lathian Systems, a pharmaceutical promotions company. He sold that company in 2012. He moved his family to Ponte Vedra Beach in 2011 so they could be close to his wife’s parents.

Pham said the advantages Jacksonville offers Espero are affordable housing, good weather, good medical facilities and the lack of a state income tax. The disadvantage, he said, is that Jacksonville is “not exactly a bio-tech hub.”

The company no longer lists Jacksonville as its only headquarters city. Irvine, Calif., where Armetheon Inc. was headquartered, now shares the distinction. Nationwide, the company has about 30 employees, with fewer than 10 of them in Jacksonville, Pham said.

“What’s our future?” he asked. “We’ll figure that out in the next six to 12 months …. I’ve really put everything in this company for three years.”

CHARLIE PATTON: (904) 359-4413

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