Publicly traded Achillion Pharmaceuticals Inc. has moved its headquarters from New Haven, Conn., to suburban Philadelphia. “We didn’t get any state aid to do this,” boasts CEO Joe Truitt. “We aren’t Amazon.”
The move to 1777 Sentry Parkway West, Blue Bell, brings to the region the head office for a $350 million (market cap) company — now between products and without revenues, but with $270 million in cash to spend building new products. The move also brings an initial 30 jobs, a modest number, but high-paying management and science posts, the boss added.
“We moved here because I needed to recruit a lot of people," Truitt told me. "We came here because of the favorability of this region, based on the most important thing — talent. Biotech development and commercialization talent.”
Achillion is developing therapies for “orphan diseases,” serious conditions that affect a few thousand Americans. Its current focus is on “alternative pathways" for factor D, an immune system enzyme whose maladjustment is associated with lethal kidney and blood diseases. The company’s therapies are going through later-stage trials in hopes of taking them to market.
Truitt had considered taking the company to eastern Massachusetts, a red-hot biotech-industry center, and a shorter move. But “Boston has become so hypercompetitive and expensive, it didn’t make sense for us."
Suburban Philadelphia, by contrast, is full of veterans of “Merck, Pfizer, GSK, and Johnson & Johnson." Truitt is a former J&J manager, who joined Achillion 10 years ago, before the company sold its hepatitis treatment to his former employer for $225 million (the company eventually stopped development as competing treatments came on the market.)
To be sure, Philadelphia had an inside track for another reason — it’s home for Truitt, who grew up in Kensington back when “my whole family worked for Philco,” the now-shuttered battery, radio, and TV manufacturing pioneer. He graduated from what was then LaSalle College (one of his kids now attends the affiliated LaSalle College High School), and, like so many frontline drug marketing managers, got his master’s from St. Joseph’s pharma marketing program. After a decade with Achillion, he became CEO last year.
Truitt’s chief medical, operations, and regulatory officers are among the Achillion staffers already recruited in the Philadelphia area. “Some of them were commuting to Boston on planes every week. They are thrilled to go to a mature biotech company, doing Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials, and well-capitalized, with $270 million on the balance sheet,” mostly from the J&J deal, he added.
“We have planted the flag, and we are off to the races.”