MGI Pharma vet takes DiaMedica reins

February 23, 2009

Reggie Bowerman saw the doors close at MGI Pharma Inc.’s former headquarters late last year. Now, he’s aiming to open some new doors in biotech for a Canadian startup setting up shop in Minnesota.

DiaMedica Inc., a Winnipeg, Manitoba-based company developing drugs to treat type-2 diabetes, named Bowerman its CEO earlier this month. Bowerman, a former vice president of operations at MGI, plans to establish a Twin Cities presence for the company, hiring between four and 10 employees over the next year or so.

DiaMedica is entering the Twin Cities market on the heels of some other pharmaceutical companies’ departure. MGI Pharma, formerly of Bloomington, shut down its local operation after being acquired by New Jersey-based Eisai Inc. for $3.9 billion. In 2007, 3M Co. sold the last piece of its pharmaceutical business for $20 million; it sold off the majority of its pharma unit for $2.1 billion in the prior year.

Pharma’s presence in the Twin Cities is “getting thin,” said Bowerman, who worked at MGI from 2000 through 2009. But the state remains fertile ground for recruiting biotechindustry employees, he said.

DiaMedica is a publicly traded company with about six full-time employees. It’s raised about $11 million in capital and has enough funding on hand to take it at least through the end of the year, Bowerman said.

The company has completed second-phase clinical trials for two of the three products it has under development. The drugs target a nerve signal, reducing blood-sugar levels. However, DiaMedica likely won’t be selling its first drug until about 2015, Bowerman said.

The market for diabetes treatments is growing along with the prevalence of the disease. About 13 percent of people age 20 or older have diabetes, according to a study released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While DiaMedica is years off from marketing its first drug, the arrival of a new biotech startup in Minnesota is good news for the region, said Lisa Jansa, CEO of Exsulin Corp. Jansa’s Burnsville firm is developing drugs to treat type-1 diabetes. “It looks like they have very promising compounds,” she said, noting that members of DiaMedica’s scientific advisory board are well-known in the field. 

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