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Biotech Startup Sienna Makes Early Acquisition

Just months after receiving $46 million in Series A financing, startup Sienna Biopharmaceuticals Inc. of Westlake Village has acquired complimentary pharmaceutical company Creabilis plc. While it’s common for mature companies such as Amgen Inc. to buy businesses, it’s another matter for a new player without a commercial product such as Sienna. The startup biotech plans to utilize its all-star team, consisting of former employees from Westlake Village-based Kythera Biopharmaceuticals Inc., which was acquired for $2.1 billion by Allergan plc in 2015. With expertise in the drug regulatory process, Sienna focuses on late-stage technologies for skin treatments and brings them to market. “Our strategy from day one was to build the company and pipeline rapidly,” said Sienna Chief Executive Dr. Frederick Beddingfield III, who helped develop brands like Botox, Latisse, Juvederm and most recently Kythera’s Kybella injectable double-chin fat reducer. “We have looked at over 140 opportunities, and this was one that we identified fairly early on as a potential game-changer.” U.K.-based Creabilis develops topical treatments for common inflammatory skin conditions, including psoriasis, a buildup of skin cells that form itchy, dry patches; and pruritus, severe itching of the skin, commonly associated with psoriasis and other ailments. As part of the deal, Sienna acquired two lead patented drug candidates, along with other prospects, a technology platform to develop new drugs and a lab in Ivrea, Italy. In exchange, Sienna will pay an undisclosed amount of cash and stock in addition to payments contingent on meeting certain milestones that could surpass $150 million in total. The first candidate drug, SNA-120, is a late-stage topical cream to treat pruritus. If everything goes as planned, SNA-120 could enter pivotal trials, which is the step before regulatory submission, in about two years and could hit the market in about five. “Currently, there are no topical treatments for pruritus,” Beddingfield said. “Psoriasis sufferers say that (pruritus) is their number one symptom. It’s very distressing to patients.” The second topical drug, SNA-125, is about two years behind SNA-120. Sienna launched last April after the Kythera sale with a $46 million vote of confidence from five investment funds, plus individual investors. The company proposed to develop laser treatments for acne scars and light-pigmented hair removal. Those projects are still in the development pipeline and could be commercialized in the next two to three years, Beddingfield said. Even though the laser treatments and pruritus therapies won’t be used together, they are complimentary as they are all innovative technologies in similar stages of development that target only a specific problem area of the skin with limited side effects. Scott Galer, partner at Stubbs Alderton & Markiles in Sherman Oaks and co-chair of the law firm’s mergers and acquisitions practice group, described Sienna’s buyout strategy as a roll up. “A business may roll up companies and assets in the same industry to get to a certain critical mass sooner, where a larger company may want to acquire them,” he said. Like Kythera, a buyout by a large pharma company may be in Sienna’s future, but currently the company is concentrating on its existing technologies. “The first order of business is to execute on the programs we have now,” Beddingfield said. “But frankly, people are still coming to us with external ideas, and we continue to evaluate those.”

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