In the May issue of NeuroPerspective, there was a sidebar entitled ‘Triage Time at Targacept,’ written in the wake of what has undoubtedly been the most trying time in that Company’s history. The sidebar ended with this:
“Now Targacept is sorting out its strategy for recovering its credibility and momentum. They continue to have immense resources and expertise on hand, but also have major clinical trial cost obligations, and thus are engaging in painful cost-cutting. Targacept is now looking at widening their scope of activity beyond CNS, both inhouse and via the acquisition of external assets for development, the latter being a step that Targacept has eschewed to this point. They remain fully and solely committed to the nicotinic cause, which has stirred some debate amongst its stakeholders. It does not appear that the Company will turn to inlicensing to diversify their CNS assets; their belief, which has yet to be confirmed or disconfirmed, is that the nicotinic repertoire they have developed is better than anything available externally. Perhaps it is, but given the inexpensive assets out there, and the pitfalls of predicting outcomes, it might be wished that Targacept felt a little less certain about this.

Apparently the BOD also had some qualms about Targacept’s direction, because the Company today announced that President and CEO Don deBethizy would step down immediately, and the Company will launch a search for a successor. On the one hand, it is regrettable that deBethizy’s departure comes at the lowest ebb for a company that, just a year ago, could be counted as among the most successful of small biotechs, neuro and otherwise. Certainly, the partnerships achieved over the years, and the resources still on hand for Targacept, speak to a strategy that has been well executed in many ways. But as our May comment had noted, there was a level of corporate certainty about the superiority of the nicotinic approach that was unsettling–nothing is that sure in the neuroscience area.
Targacept’s adherence to a single approach is matched by just a handful of its neurotherapeutics peers: Cortex and Ampakines, Prana and metal-binding, Allon and its ADNP/ADNF derived factors, and Addex‘s allosteric mGluR modulators are a few that come to mind as having been so singly focused over a long period of time. So far, it has not turned out well for Cortex; Addex has gone through its own painful period of introspection and change; Prana has taken what seems like an eternity to make limited progress; and the outcome for Allon will be clear by year-end.
One of the many lessons to be learned from the past fifteen years is that nothing is certain in neurotherapeutics. This is the time that Targacept must step back from the focus in which it was formed, shaped, and matured, and decide whether diversification might be prudent– we do not refer to the application of nicotinics beyond CNS. NIR has been suggesting this for a couple of years now, and it may indeed require the perspective of someone who did not come of age in nicotinics to objectively assess what level of prioritization that platform should occupy going forward.

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