Steve Butts and Bill Wofford, teammates in building biotech companies for a decade, have struck again with the high-profile launch of Arrivo Bioventures.They have raised $49 million in committed capital from three major investors and are eyeing as many as six potential drug candidates, providing investors with more “shots on goal.”

Butts, who is CEO of Arrivo, talked with WRAL TechWire about the new venture, why he and Wofford, who is general counsel and head of corporate development, chose to launch a new company, what makes their partnership work, and about their plans.

  • Why did you and Mr. Wofford decide to launch another venture? Why not just retire after selling previous companies? What’s the driving desire?

We have been in the start-up biopharma world since 2006. We continue to be energized by the value we can bring to the drug development process. We continue to have great opportunities with our model to help patients and efficiently move projects along the clinical and regulatory path to reward investors.

  • This is the fourth firm you have launched as partners. What makes this partnership work?

Bill and I have been working together since 2006. The key is to build a team of people that you enjoy working with because start-ups are not easy. 

We have added to great partners to this venture in Dr. Mike Ackermann and Dr. Jed Black. Mike and Jed bring extensive pharmaceutical development and commercial experience to the team in addition to a great level of energy. 

Additionally, our operating team is the best I have ever seen. They are real reason we have been successful over the years.

  • Why this particular focus for your newest venture? What about the science excites you and indicates possible success?

As with the previous companies, Arrivo will look for development programs that improve patient care and provide opportunities to minimize the clinical development and regulatory risks. The team leverages clinical expertise and knowledge of the drug development process to identify drug candidates with high probabilities of success and clear development and regulatory paths for approval.

The advantage for investors with the new Arrivo model is having more shots on goal.

  • One of the four co-founders is from Jazz Pharmaceuticals – your lead investor. He also will be a science advisor. How did this process work – partnering with you (is he a part owner?) while also helping convince the VC firm for which he works to be an investor? Did Jazz actually have an idea for a new company and asked you and Mr. Wofford to run it?

Jed Black is the therapeutic area head for sleep at Jazz Pharmaceuticals. He will serve as a founding member and scientific adviser of Arrivo. We believe that Jed’s extensive expertise in sleep will be important in helping to identify and acquire pre-proof of concept molecules that may offer important new therapeutic options for patients in the future.

The founders had the original idea to form the company. Because of our history, it seemed a natural choice to approach Jazz to participate.  We are thrilled to have Jazz as an investor.

  • How did you secure the other investors? What sold them on your idea?

We are very fortunate to have an outstanding core group of investors that have been with us from the beginning. In addition, we have established an excellent working relationship with Jazz Pharmaceuticals since the Aerial BioPharma transaction.

Our model is attractive to our investment group because it maintains the strategic focus on the types of development projects where we have traditionally seen success, while offering more opportunities for a successful outcomes by targeting 4-6 assets over the next five years.

  • $49 million is a lot of money for such an early-stage venture. I understand that this can be drawn on as needed. But how did you convince investors to commit such a large total on a speculative venture? Based on your experiences with previous companies, were you able to estimate the capital you would need?

We are very fortunate to have a great group of investors that trust us to find the right projects and efficiently use the capital. We are fortunate to have worked with most of the investors for a long time and have built a relationship of trust.

We will continue to work diligently to find the right drug candidates and limit the risk in the clinical and regulatory processes. This team has proven that we do that successfully, efficiently move drugs along the regulatory pipeline and reward investors.

Profiling the biotech duo

  • Stephen E. Butts, Manager and Chief Executive Officer

Steve is a co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Arrivo Management LLC. He has over 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry as an executive as well as various commercial roles including brand leadership, new product planning, business development and sales management.  Prior to founding the Company, Steve was the co-founder, President and COO of Aerial BioPharma LLC (“Aerial”), a drug development company that sold its lead drug for narcolepsy to Jazz Pharmaceuticals in 2014. Prior to Aerial, Steve was co-founder and Executive Vice President of Neuronex Inc. (“Neuronex”), a successful drug development company focused on developing treatments for patients with certain seizure disorders. Acorda Therapeutics acquired Neuronex in December 2012. Additionally, he was an original member of the executive team at Addrenex Pharmaceuticals (“Addrenex”), a specialty pharmaceutical development company. Steve served as Vice President of Commercial Operations and played a key role in the company’s sale to Shionogi Pharma in 2009. He has also served as Vice President of Sales & Marketing at BioBehavioral Diagnostics Company, as well as assignments at Eli Lilly and Company and Braintree Laboratories.

Steve is currently the Chairman of the Board of Directors of EnviCor Enterprises LLC, a manufacturing company located in Smithfield, NC, focused on developing products for the restaurant industry. He is also a member of the Board of Directors for Otologic Pharmaceutics, a privately held pharmaceutical company focused on the development of products to treat and prevent hearing loss. Steve serves on two not-for-profit boards.  He is a member of the Board of Advisors of the Morehead Planetarium at UNC-Chapel Hill and Board of Directors of the Triangle Futbol Club, a not-for-profit youth soccer club. Steve holds a BS degree in Business Administration and an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business at UNC-Chapel Hill.

  • William N. Wofford, Manager, General Counsel and Head of Corporate Development

Bill is a co-founder and General Counsel and Head of Corporate Development for Arrivo Management LLC. Bill has been the primary corporate counsel for Aerial, Neuronex and Addrenex. He has been the lead attorney on all in- licensing, out-licensing, M&A and financings for each of these companies. In addition, Bill leads the biopharmaceutical and life sciences practice at Hutchison PLLC, a leading corporate law firm for start-up and growth stage businesses in the Southeast. His legal practice focuses on structuring and negotiating transactions for drug development, biotechnology, medical device, and other companies. Bill assists growing and established companies raise capital, acquire and out-license technology, collaborate with strategic partners and engage in mergers and acquisitions.  Since 1997, he has served the Research Triangle’s entrepreneurial community. As a principal of the Company, Bill focuses on designing and executing strategic transactions intended to improve patient care and to reward our partners, investors and team.

Source: Arrivo