Founders’ Story

Don Kiepert, Executive Chairman & CEO

Don Kiepert, Executive Chairman and CEO of Seropeutics, has a track record of starting 12 successful healthcare companies that have advanced patient care either through breakthrough service offerings or new agents to treat an under-serviced patient population. Two priorities have marked his dynamic career. His entrepreneurial passion to create businesses based on novel healthcare technologies coupled with a compelling track record for turning those opportunities into successful businesses. As a result, he has a garnered a reputation among the life science investment community as a leader. The second priority has been starting and building companies that create economic value.

Don hails from Johnstown, Pennsylvania and left home on a full football scholarship to Purdue University. There he played quarterback, and was enrolled in the school of Pharmacy. Don graduated from Purdue with a MS in clinical pharmacy and was recruited to be Director of Pharmacy at Lafayette Home Hospital a 400 bed hospital that was affiliated with Purdue University. He continued his education at Purdue studying for a PhD in clinical pharmacy and was once again recruited by Baxter Travenol’s marketing department in their parenteral products division. During his five years at Baxter, he ramped up their Home Infusion Division to become the industry market leader.

Entrepreneur

The first startup Don founded was West Penn Cares, a joint venture company in Pittsburgh between a tertiary care hospital and a 165-member IPA. What follows is a history of finding nascent healthcare related companies and either driving their market growth or creating superior partnerships that established highly visible market presence. He also has been instrumental in turning around companies with under performing metrics, by revitalizing their strategy as well as devising and executing a tactical approach that created the turnaround success.

Don ran a home infusion therapy division of Healthdyne, a public medical device company that was not performing well. Within two years under his direction profits grew by 83% and revenue by 42% which helped position the company to go public. He then started Chartwell Home Therapies, a home infusion company owned by Massachusetts General and New England Medical Center. While at Chartwell he developed and implemented a novel and unique strategy of partnering with academic medical centers across the country to build their home infusion service capabilities. He led the partnering process with AMCs like Duke, UCSF, Brigham and Women’s and Yale University and helped orchestrate a successful exit to Welch, Carson, Anderson, and Stowe, a successful private equity firm for a 77 times appreciation on the hospitals initial investment.

CEO

Don went on to found Point Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company, with a professor of biochemistry at Tufts University. At Point, Don managed all the financing rounds both private and public totaling over $100 million. Point advanced their lead immunotherapy cancer product candidate through five Phase II trials and far into a phase III trial for Stage 3B/Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. Point completed a phase III interim analysis and unfortunately we were not hitting their end points. Don made the call and decided a merger with Dara Biosciences would be the next step.

While wrapping Point, a director at Point and a former senior executive from J&J and operating partner at Avista Capital, asked Don to assist him in completing the diligence for the acquisition of Bristol Meyer Squibb’s medical imaging division. In January 2008 the acquisition was completed and Don was appointed CEO of the global radiopharmaceutical business which became Lantheus Medical Imaging. Lantheus came with nine commercial products and three very promising pipeline agents which required an investment rate of $40 million per year. He was involved in providing oversight for the clinical trials and all communications with the FDA. He also raised $400 million through the sale of high yield bonds which enabled Avista to receive a dividend on their equity. In 2010, he received the CEO of the Year award from Avista out of all of their portfolio companies.

Visionary

Don departed Lantheus Medical Imaging in 2013 and began working for Bain Capital as a full time advisor to evaluate health care opportunities. During the last three years he has advised multiple PE firms on deals they were evaluating, and recently became board member of IBA Molecular the leading European radiopharmaceutical company. Recently as director at IBA M he played a central role in performing the diligence and negotiation processes on acquiring the Mallinckrodt’s Nuclear Phaceutical division division for $690M.

Don was introduced to the Director of Technology transfer at University of Florida, who has a strong reputation for being successful in starting biopharmaceutical companies based on their leading edge technology transfer process. Don was asked to assist in the evaluation of three technologies to determine which had the best opportunity for commercialization. One of the technologies was focused on using drugs to modulate serotonin receptors in the brain that play a crucial role in normal neuronal functioning and that become unbalanced in some CNS diseases.

Don began meeting with Ray Booth PHD, a prominent investigator, who was by then on the faculty at Northeastern University to discuss the exciting new drug leads he was developing. They quickly bonded over the project. Don recognized the intrinsic value of the proposition, while Ray was excited that a seasoned technology entrepreneur was interested in his technology. Don went back to the University of Florida along with Ray acquired the licensing rights to enable creation of a start up, now known as Seropeutics.

From there, these two life science business entrepreneurs began exploring how best to move Ray’s technology forward. What have emerged are two first-in-class chemotypes that have unique therapeutic profiles with exciting potential to eliminate some of the side effects associated with this class of drugs. After additional lab work and considering multiple options, Don and Ray landed on Fragile X syndrome as Seropeutics’ lead indication. With no approved drugs for this disease, there is a tremendous need for new therapies that address the multiple symptoms that appear in children with FXS. In addition to the compelling need there was a strong business rationale for moving forward since it is possible to achieve orphan drug status for the lead product candidates, and the primary endpoints for the pivotal clinical trials are objective and easily measured. This suggests there is a direct path to approval if the drugs are safe and efficacious.

But there’s more to the story. Fragile X is one of many Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diseases. Don has a son who has Asperger’s syndrome, which is a form of autism. So for him the mission is twofold: develop a drug to help his son as well as other ASD/Fragile X patients, and to create a highly valued commercial organization for his investors and partners.

Ray Booth, PhD Scientific Founder and Chief Scientist

Ray Booth, Scientific Founder and Chief Scientist of Seropeutics, grew up in New England and attended Northeastern University in Boston where he majored in hospital clinical pharmacy. Ray has always been intrigued by the drug discovery and development process, and like all scientist entrepreneurs decided early on he would rather design and make his own drugs rather than dispense someone else’s. Northeastern is well-known for its faculty members who went down this pathway. As an undergraduate, Ray gained significant experience in drug discovery and development for neurological (movement) disorders and neuropsychiatric disorders at Northeastern. He practiced briefly as a pharmacist at Boston Children’s Hospital and then went to the University of California at San Francisco to take-up doctoral-level research in the pharmaceutical sciences.

While a graduate student at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), he worked on research projects related to the pathophysiology and pharmacotherapy of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. There Ray synthesized novel drug candidates designed to have neuroprotective effects. The lab Ray trained in laid the foundation for the now routine use of neuroprotective agents to slow the onset and progression of Parkinson’s disease.

After obtaining his PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from UCSF in 1989, Ray moved back to Boston for postdoctoral research training at Harvard Medical School and its affiliate, McLean Psychiatric Hospital. Ray received broad research and clinical training in neuropsychiatric diseases such as anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, dementia, depression, addiction, and what is now known as autism spectrum disorder and Fragile X syndrome. In addition, his laboratory conducted drug discovery research to treat neurological disorders that often co-exist with these neuropsychiatric disorders, sometimes, as a result of medicines used in their treatment.

In 1990, Ray began his independent drug discovery and development research career at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he ultimately became a tenured professor of medicinal chemistry and toxicology at a time when —environmental toxicological links were becoming known to be involved in the etiology of some central nervous system disorders. His research involved development of novel drugs to treat neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders by restoring appropriate balance of neurotransmitters that are dysregulated in central nervous system diseases. Ray’s research program broke new ground by combining in the same laboratory several aspects of the drug discovery process, including:

  • biological target structure-based drug design,
  • medicinal chemical synthesis of candidate drug molecules,
  • in vitro molecular pharmacological characterization of drug molecules,
  • and in vivo translational studies of novel drug candidates using appropriate rodent models of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders.

It was during this time period Ray began teaching clinical chemistry and pharmacology to undergraduate pharmacy students. It’s noteworthy that Ray received the ‘best professor’ award 8 years in a row!

After 15-years at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ray moved to the University of Florida in 2005, where he was appointed tenured professor of medicinal chemistry (in the College of Pharmacy) and professor of pharmacology (in the College of Medicine). The Office of Technology and Licensing at the University of Florida is world-class (e.g., Gatorade®) and that office supported his research regarding drug discovery and development for neuropsychiatric disorders. Like most successful entrepreneurs, Ray paid close attention to protecting the intellectual property he was generating. Patents were filed to protect the composition of matter regarding novel chemical entities synthesized in his laboratory and also their therapeutic uses in neuropsychiatric disorders, cardiovascular, and metabolic diseases such as obesity.

Nearly all the legal work and commercialization efforts surrounding Ray’s drug technology at University of Florida were led by firms headquartered in Boston and it. wasn’t  long before he moved his research and drug development programs up to his alma mater, Northeastern University, which had launched a successful Center for Drug Discovery. Thus, in 2012, Ray was appointed tenured professor of pharmaceutical sciences (College of Health Sciences) and chemistry and chemical biology (College of Science), as well as, associate director of the Center for Drug Discovery. It was in  Boston, that he connected with the experienced drug development entrepreneur Don Kiepert as well as the legal and scientific advisory team members that soon became the nascent Seropeutics start-up.

In addition to Northeastern University and University of Florida, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, and other agencies provided significant funding (now in excess of $10M) for the basic research in Ray’s laboratories. Ray leveraged the basic research findings to invent and develop the SERx 400 and 500 molecular scaffolds for treatment of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders, including, Fragile X syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, compulsive/impulsive behavioral disorders, dementia, psychoses, addiction, and movement disorders.

As part of the Seropeutics team, Ray is has now well positioned to bring important new medicines into clinical development to treat the orphan indication, Fragile X, and other indications in the future. Ray’s original dream of designing and making drugs will soon become reality and hopefully have a positive impact on the health and well-being of Fragile X patients around the world.

Read on about how Seropeutics will transform the lives of Fragile X patients and their families.