RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – The final chapter in the career of Dr. Dani Bolognesi has yet to be written even though he is no longer chief executive officer at Trimeris, the biopharmaceutical firm he co-founded in 1993.
While the company said in a press release on Thursday that Bolognesi will remain involved with the company, this is the second time he has been replaced as CEO. He did not take questions from the media on Thursday and did not return a call from WRAL Local Tech Wire seeking comment on what he plans to do next.
On Friday, as Trimeris stock was hammered, losing 29 percent of its value in the wake of the management changes and an ending of a new drug development program with Roche, Bolognesi could at least take comfort in what he and his associate, Dr. Tom Matthews, had accomplished in 14 years.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Bolognesi for Raleigh Metro Magazine as one its Who’s Who after the HIV drug Bolognesi and Matthews brought to market – Fuzeon – was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. They both have fought AIDS for three decades. When Fuzeon was approved in the U.S. and Europe in 2003, Bolognesi savored the moment.
“It’s a feeling that is indescribable because of what the patients are up against and their response to Fuzeon,” said Bolognesi. “We now have a large number of patient testimonials that indicate in no uncertain terms that without this drug they would be in a much different situation.”
Fuzeon is a new type of AIDS treatment called a fusion inhibitor. Bolognesi and Matthews, who helped discover the first AIDS drug known as AZT while working at Duke University, determined that part of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, could be used to prevent viral reproduction through viral fusion. The compound they discovered in the early 1990s was known as T-20, now Fuzeon. It is targeted primarily at patients whose drug regimen is no longer effective against HIV. While expensive (more than $20,000 a year) and painful (it must be injected) to take, the drug is saving lives. It has never met commercial expectations due to costs and method of delivery. But those factors won’t erase Bolognesi’s memories of discovery.
“Tom came racing into my office to tell me about the discovery,” Bolognesi said in the Metro interview. “He didn’t do that very often. I saw that glint in his eye that said I really think we’ve got something here.”
Encouraged by investors, the two launched Trimeris. It went public in 1997.
As T-20 advanced through drug trials, expectations grew.
“I will never forget the day we got the envelope with the results from the Phase III trial,” Bolognesi recalled. “We knew Fuzeon had done well, but to see the data certainly data is what drivesapproval. To me, that was a bigger day than when the FDA approved it.”
In the turmoil of management shuffle, layoffs, restructuring and other changes that have rocked Trimeris over the past few months, Bolognesi could recall such moments of discovery, resultsand approval with pride.