WINSTON-Targacept, a privately held research and development pharmaceutical company focused on neuronal nicotinic receptor-based therapeutics, announced changes to its organizational structure today following a recent acquisition.

These changes, Targacept says, reflect the company’s product development focus and coincide with its acquisition of the marketed product Inversine from Layton Bioscience. The active ingredient in Inversine, mecamylamine HCl, is known to modulate nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, a property that Targacept believes holds promise for treating diseases of the central nervous system.

“Up through last year, Targacept had primarily been a research company, but our 2001 agreement with Dr. Falk Pharma for ulcerative colitis drugs put us squarely into the product development arena,” says Linda B. Gretton, director of communications for Targacept. “Now, we’ve hit another milestone by acquiring a marketed product.We are currently in our second round of financing, but I don’t know right now what the timing will be for that.”

Inversine is currently marketed for the management of moderately severe to severe essential hypertension and in uncomplicated cases of malignant hypertension, the company says. Targacept plans to reformulate mecamylamine HCl for clinical testing in patients with various neuropsychiatric diseases and disorders.

Under the terms of the transaction, Targacept acquired Layton’s intellectual property, regulatory documentation, contracts and inventory related to Inversine. The deal also provides Targacept with exclusive worldwide rights to sell products that exploit patented technology of the University of South Florida (USF) relating to the use of mecamylamine HCl for the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Merck & Co. introduced Inversine to the pharmaceutical market in 1956. Layton acquired Inversine from Merck in 1998 and, with the USF, initiated clinical testing of this drug in children for the treatment of Tourette’s Syndrome, but did not seek regulatory approval.

“From a strategic perspective, Inversine is an excellent fit for Targacept,” Donald deBethizy, president and chief executive officer of Targacept, said in a statement. “Not only is Inversine a marketed product with an established safety profile in patients, it’s also a product that interacts with the body’s neuronal nicotinic receptors, which is Targacept’s area of particular expertise. We believe that decades of patient use combined with our industry-leading knowledge of this new class of targets makes Inversine a very valuable asset for Targacept.”

The organizational changes resulting from the acquisition of Inversine from Layton are as follows:

  • William S. Caldwell, formerly vice president of drug discovery, was named VP of drug discovery and development. Caldwell has been with Targacept since its inception. He joined R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJRT) in 1987 as a research and development chemist and, during his tenure, has held positions of increasing responsibility. Caldwell was named VP of drug discovery in 1997, when Targacept was founded as a wholly owned subsidiary of RJRT. He continued in this role following Targacept’s spin-out as an independent company in August 2000.
  • Merouane Bencherif, formerly VP of biological sciences, has been named VP of preclinical research. Bencherif has over 25 years experience in medicine, physiology and neurochemistry research. Prior to joining RJRT in 1993, Bencherif worked as a research associate in the neurochemistry department at the Barrow Neurological Institute, part of St. Joseph Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, AZ.
  • Geoffrey C. Dunbar, formerly VP of clinical research and development, has been named VP of clinical development and regulatory affairs. Dunbar joined Targacept in June 2001 from Bristol-Myers Squibb, where he was VP of neuroscience clinical research and development. From 1990 to 1996, He served as director and VP of clinical research and development for SmithKline Beecham. Dunbar has also held positions of increasing responsibility at Organon, Wyeth Research and Beecham Pharmaceuticals.
  • Patrick M. Lippiello, formerly VP of scientific and program development, has been named VP of strategic planning and project management. Lippiello has more than 25 years of experience in biochemistry and pharmacology research, focusing on nicotinic receptor pharmacology, and more than 15 years of experience in scientific management. He joined RJRT in 1982 and has been with Targacept since its inception.
    • “In a very short period of time, Targacept has grown from a research company to a product-focused research and development company,” deBethizy said. “The new titles more accurately reflect the skills and responsibilities of these individuals and their expanding departments that now include new employees we have recruited from the pharmaceutical industry.”

      Targacept, based in Winston-Salem, has products in research and development for treating Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia, ulcerative colitis, depression, pain, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia. Targacept was established in 1997 as a wholly owned subsidiary of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. It was spun out as an independent company in August 2000, in one of the largest ($30.4 million) first-round venture capital financings in U.S. biotech history. The company has strategic alliances with Aventis Pharmaceuticals of Strasbourg, France, and Dr. Falk Pharma of Freiburg, Germany, to develop and commercialize Targacept compounds.