Gregory Mossinghoff showed up for his second interview with Inspire Pharmaceuticals back in 1998 carrying a well-thumbed folder of Inspire materials from his first interview the previous year.

“It looked used, and he had obviously been thinking about the company,” Inspire’s Chief Executive Officer Christy Shaffer tells Local Tech Wire about Inspire’s recently appointed president who had served as senior vice president and chief business officer.

Inspire, which had asked Mossinghoff to interview, offered him the position the following week. He had impressed Shaffer and other company officials the first time he interviewed in 1996, but Inspire lacked the funds to hire anyone then.

Mossinghoff did not pursue a position with Inspire out of monetary or career advancement needs. He was doing very well, thank you, as worldwide director of analysis with Glaxo in the Triangle. He joined Glaxo after a series of challenging positions at New Jersey-based Roche that included a post to Basil, Switzerland.

In the early 1980s, Mossinghoff discovered he had a flair for economic analysis and math while studying to be an engineer at the University of Virginia. Halfway through, he switched a major in economics and minored in math. Fascinated by how markets work and how they can be quantified and analyzed systematically, he developed the specialized skills that would serve him well in his career.

Something missing

With the ink still wet on his MBA in financial management and analysis from George Mason University in Washington, DC, he did a stint as an analyst and broker at Folger Nolan Fleming Douglas in Washington, DC for a few years.

“I was basically analyzing pharmaceutical companies,” he says, “although it was a hybrid position like many I’ve held, and I also managed individual portfolios.”

By the time Inspire called, he was well on his way up the corporate ladder, but something was missing. He had a taste for the entrepreneurial smaller company arena.

Not long after Mossinghoff took the position at Inspire, his friends noticed something different. “They told him, ‘there’s a spring in your step now,'” Shaffer says.

“We’re not about ‘me-too’ products,” says Shaffer. “He was interested in Inspire because we have innovative products. We’re blazing trails at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but they present blockbuster opportunities.”

Mossinghoff took the bait.

“Inspire was very intriguing from my perspective,” Mossinghoff says, pointing out that he saw a number of applications for its technology, and he thought the skills he had learned at Roche and Glaxo could help him provide strategic direction on which to pursue and which to leave behind. He also saw a good fit with Shaffer, who admits that while she is strong on the science side of the pharmaceutical company equations, the reason they called Mossinghoff was to acquire his business savvy.

Mossinghoff admits, however, that “It has been a roller coaster ride the last 24 months.”

In that time Inspire launched it’s initial public offering of stock and became a public company in August 2000 (Nasdaq: ISPH). “That was a real pressure cooker. You live and die with the market.”

Stock market roller coaster

Then, in January Inspire reported poorer than expected results from late stage clinical trials of its lead treatment that bounced its stock price up and down. It has a 52-week trading range of $1.94 to $16.59. It closed at $3.70, down a nickel, Tuesday.

Founded in 1993, Inspire’s lead products are based on technology licensed from the University of North Carolina’s Cystic Fibrosis Center. That research discovered that activating a certain cell receptor (P2Y2) could moisten airways and aid clearing mucus. Inspire discovers tiny pieces of genetic material called nucleotides that activate the receptors.

Finding ways to activate the receptor has potential applications to treat people with dry eye disease, improve early lung cancer diagnosis, and aid cystic fibrosis treatment, to name three being developed at Inspire.

The company suffered a setback earlier this year when it’s lead candidate, a product to treat dry eyes, did poorer than expected against a placebo in a late Phase III clinical trial. It’s stock price dropped precipitously.

The product had done well in previous trials, so the unexpected placebo effect had taken everyone in the company by surprise.

Fortunately, Shaffer says, previous advice from Allergan, one of Inspire’s strategic partners, gave the company leeway to reconsider the results using different analysis tools.

Key in forming partnerships

In mid-June, the company reported very good results from another Phase III trial of the dry eye treatment and its stock rebounded somewhat. The later trial showed results in line with what Inspire had expected from the previous trial. But it nevertheless does not expect to market the product before 2004 now.

To conserve cash, the company cut back on several of its development programs in January to reduce its cash outlay, but it avoided layoffs. Inspire employs about 65 people now.

The company recently said it was moving into new product development areas, including a nasal spay that may reduce the head congestion associated with colds and many other sinus ailments that current products work against only marginally well.

Inspire has been aggressive in forming strategic partnerships, and Shaffer says that while the company mounts team efforts, Mossinghoff was instrumental in arranging its creative alliance with Allergan and managing other partner relationships.

“Since Greg came here,” says Shaffer, “He’s closed five corporate partnerships. He has extremely good negotiating skills. He knows how to talk with big companies because he’s been there.” She says that he brings formidable quantitative analysis skills to his strategic planning. “He builds elaborate financial models, but he’s thoughtful and analytical, not a speculative person.”

For his part, Mossinghoff, who is 41 and married with two children, says developing Inspire’s corporate partnerships has been the most interesting part of his job at Inspire. Inspire teams with the Japanese companies Kirin Brewery, Kissei Pharmaceutical Ltd. and Santen Pharmaceutical Ltd., in addition to Allegran. In Japan, Mossinghoff says, “We went to hotels not normally open to westerners and the food alone is amazing, the species you end up eating. But if you respect their customs, they fall in love with you and visa versa.”

Both Shaffer and Mossinghoff agree that their shared values and philosophies have helped them evolve what both call a partnership in leading Inspire. “Neither of us like bureaucracies or setting up obstacles to getting things done,” says Shaffer. “This sort of dynamic duo would not work if we didn’t have similar philosophies. We raised $13 million in private investments together prior to the IPO.”

Mossinghoff concurs. “It’s a real synergy,” he says.

Named president and added to Inspire’s board in June, Mossinghoff is candid and wouldn’t suggest that he isn’t interested in commercial success for Inspire. But he also says “There’s no greener pasture than working in pharmaceuticals. What you’re working on can influence the lives of millions for the better. The reward of being able to help millions of people and make money is certainly worth the effort.”