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VOL. 127 | NO. 118 | Monday, June 18, 2012




Company Working to Tackle Dermatological Problems

By Aisling Maki

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In 2010, Dr. Lee Roberts and his son Josh Roberts co-founded Memphaceuticals LLC, a small, virtual company committed to rapidly moving to market therapeutic candidates for dermatological problems.

Josh Roberts is co-founder and operations manager of the family-owned Memphaceuticals, which focuses on moving therapeutic candidates from research to development, among other tasks. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

“Our overall mission is to really focus on development of products brought to the market fairly quickly,” said Lee Roberts, who serves as the company’s CEO. “As a result, we’re probably going to be looking at mostly dermatologicals.”

He said the startup, which operates out of his home office but maintains a P.O. Box at Memphis Bioworks Foundation, 20 S. Dudley St., is operating as a different kind of product development model – a fast-track alternative to the slower conventional model.

“Sometimes we get focused on research and development issues, and if you strip that away and just pick your best product and move it forward quickly without some of the peripheral stuff that’s involved in some of these development activities, you can move things to market much quicker,” Roberts said. “That’s really the model I wanted to build for Memphaceuticals.”

The business pursues early phase clinical development of topical pharmaceutical and biotech products, while relying on contract labs and manufacturers for preclinical and clinical supplies and studies.

“What we’re really looking for are things that were ready to go into development because we wanted to operate as a virtual company,” Roberts said. “So we weren’t really interested in hiring a lot of people to go into research and development activities. We wanted to manage projects using contract manufacturing people and contract for clinical trials and pre-clinical work – doing as much as we could with contracting without spending a lot of money up front building a large research and development group.”

Managing projects is Roberts’ specialty. Trained as an immunologist, he’s spent more than 20 years in pharmaceutical and biotech discovery research and early phase clinical development, has held senior management positions at several biotech firms and continues to do consulting work with vaccine companies.

His resume includes assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Utah’s School of Medicine; vice president of operations at ODC Therapy; vice president of research and development at PowderJect Vaccines; and senior scientist of skin biology research and revelopment at Schering-Plough HCP.

Roberts said during his tenure at Schering-Plough, he moved from the research arena into product development and management.

“A lot of my experience is in helping companies identify their lead product and move it into pre-clinical or clinical development,” he said. “Again, that’s why we decided to be a virtual company focused on development.”

Roberts said his company’s ability to help develop and move products to market faster than traditional industry methods is a recipe for growing a successful company more quickly.

“Because the truth about the investment community is that once you have one success, you’ll have more access to funding to do other things,” he said.

Roberts’ son Josh Roberts, Memphaceuticals co-founder and operations manager, brings to the company a decade of experience in consumer and physician marketing and public relations, having led marketing and public relations teams for brands such as Medtronic, FedEx and Verizon Wireless

“He brings that creative thinking around the marketing part,” Lee Roberts said. “He knows how to think about how to position the product … it’s expertise I don’t have because I’ve not really worked in that area. He understands the advertising side of things, and when we’ve developed presentations and made pitches to potential investors, he’s involved in doing the marketing side of the presentation.”

Memphaceuticals is currently working on moving to market a topical over-the-counter, first-aid product for minor burns.

Lee Roberts said the product is based on an already well-known topical drug that has an established safety profile and has been on the market for 20 years, but is currently used in other products and not for burns.

“It’s an active ingredient that’s used for treating other indications, but we’re looking at it specifically for treating burns,” he said. “This is a novel activity for this drug.”

Roberts said Memphaceuticals know the efficacy of the product “from some of the work we’ve done with it, and it’s really just a matter of doing the work required by the Food and Drug Administration so we can get a burn claim for this particular drug.”

The company is currently in negotiations with a Japanese firm to establish a partnership agreement to develop the product, which Roberts said is a low-risk, low capital investment that he hopes to see on the market within three years.

He says the company will begin clinical trials once funding is established.

“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to find local investors, but one of the challenges is finding someone who has a portfolio and an expertise in the area you’re working in,” Lee Roberts said.

Although Memphaceuticals was designed to operate as a virtual company, he said he won’t rule out the possibility of the business eventually growing to become a brick-and-mortar company with additional employees.

“As you go along, you have to be able to adapt,” he said.

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 64 87 1,429
MORTGAGES 39 60 1,107
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 8 14 204
BUILDING PERMITS 92 209 3,265
BANKRUPTCIES 42 84 837
BUSINESS LICENSES 21 23 352
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0