Alimera Sciences launch a brainchild of former Novartis execs


Alpharetta, GA-A new company forged by four former executives with Novartis and its related groups has pocketed nearly $27 million in venture capital and plans to launch a line of novel eye-care products.

Alpharetta, GA-A new company forged by four former executives with Novartis and its related groups has pocketed nearly $27 million in venture capital and plans to launch a line of novel eye-care products.

Alimera Sciences Inc. is the brainchild of Dan Myers, Daniel White, Mark Testerman, and Dave Holland, all of whom found themselves looking for work-along with 170 others-when Novartis AG decided to consolidate its eye-care products business. The pharmaceutical and consumer health giant closed the Duluth, GA-based Novartis Ophthalmics and relocated some jobs to New Jersey.

The four regrouped last year, raised a regional record-setting amount of venture capital, and are planning their September debut with Soothe, a new over-the-counter dry-eye product designed to restore the lipid layer of the tear film.

Myers said he was not ready to retire when he severed his ties with Novartis Ophthalmics at age 50. Six weeks later, while visiting with friends at the ASCRS meeting in San Francisco, he learned about some new products that offered too little profit for the big companies but that might find a niche within the industry.

"The more I began to talk to people, I literally went back to the room one night and said, 'there's a place here for a firm like Alimera,'" Myers recalled. "Nobody was really going to be paying attention to the smaller market opportunities that doctors would like to see in their office, that would help patients, but would never meet the hurdle rate of a big financial profile. I had witnessed it personally at Novartis. When you're a company the size of those, you need blockbuster products to attract attention." By comparison, he said, a dry-eye product that generates $20 million would be sufficient for a smaller company to create value for its shareholders.

He immediately contacted venture capital firms to discuss his plans for a smaller company that would develop and market innovative products with a lower price tag than would be acceptable for companies like Pfizer Inc. and Novartis. Their response was encouraging, he said.

"I [told them] 'we are not a start-up,'" Myers said. "We are an MRO-that means, management relocation opportunity."

He gathered White, Testerman, and Holland to a meeting in his basement, where, while scribbling on a flip chart, they plotted the course for their new business. They determined to be a research and development company-"with a small 'r' and a big 'd'," Myers clarified-that can use its collective management expertise to hit the ground running with a host of over-the-counter products in the first 18 months.

The company plans to go into phase III trials with two products for the anterior segment, which it hopes will achieve FDA approval and hit the market by late 2007 or early 2008. It expects to be profitable within 5 years. Alimera has 12 employees, and expects to hire five sales representatives by next month. It plans to boost that number to 55 sales representatives within 3 years.

"We think we can build a $100 million company in the next 5 years, between OTC products and some prescription drugs we're bringing out," Myers said.

The guiding principle, though, is to do the right thing and know the right thing to do. Myers said he wants to have those words inscribed on the wall of the new building, which sits just 8 miles from the old Novartis Ophthalmics headquarters. In fact, the company's name reflects its commitment to truth.

While sitting with the flip chart in the basement, the foursome turned to ancient Greek for inspiration. They came up with "alithea," which means "truth," and "mera," which means "day."

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