He grew up in the Los Angeles area and received his undergraduate degree from California State University at Los Angeles and his MBA from the Anderson School at UCLA. He began his career as a sales representative in South Central Los Angeles working for Zeneca Pharmaceuticals. Ultimately, he became a regional business director, responsible for sales, marketing and national accounts for the western regional business unit.
After Zeneca, he joined Biogen, in 1995, where he worked with the team that developed a commercial model for Biogen’s first product, Avonex for multiple sclerosis. He eventually led the U.S. neurology business before leaving to join Cubist. At Cubist, he says, they saw a potential in Cubicin that no one else saw.
“I have always worked at companies that have had to compete against larger firms with more resources, so the hallmark of all the businesses that we’ve built has been our ability to learn quickly,” Perez said. “I try to find people and develop processes that allow our team to gain a competitive advantage by listening to those closest to the customer, and by then making incremental changes to the business based on this feedback.”
Q: Share with me a brief history of Cubist Pharmaceuticals and some of the important milestones of the company.
A: The company was founded in 1992, and, in the fall of 1996, Cubist completed its initial public offering. To date, Cubicin (daptomycin for injection) has been used to treat more than a million patients and Cubist is well on its way to surpassing $1 billion in U.S. annual net revenues.
The history of Cubist is a great story that is really about the people who have collectively advanced the science and the business to where we are today, a successful pharmaceutical company. At Cubist we don’t fear failure and that is a large part of what has made us successful. Our culture is one that rewards success, but, at the same time, we view failure as an opportunity to learn. The best example of this at Cubist was the “rescuing” of daptomycin after the Phase 3 results from community-acquired pneumonia were known. Daptomycin failed to meet statistical noninferiority criteria in a clinical trial for severe community-acquired pneumonia. We needed to understand why it did not work in the lungs and we launched an effort to isolate the effect. We discovered the reason and published the results. We ended up with a drug approved in the U.S. for complicated skin and skin structure infections in 2003, and, three years later, received an expanded U.S. label for Cubicin for the treatment of S. aureus bloodstream infections (bacteremia), including right-sided infective endocarditis caused by MRSA and MSSA.
More recently, 2011 was a transformational year for Cubist with positive Phase 2 results for two of our antibiotic candidates, propelling them into Phase 3 — one program already enrolling patients and the other expected to start this year. Also in 2011, we partnered with Optimer Pharmaceuticals to co-promote their therapy, Dificid, for the treatment of clostridium-dificile associated diarrhea (CDAD). We capped off the year with a business development deal to acquire Adolor Corporation, adding a new U.S. commercial product in Entereg and a promising pipeline candidate in CB-5945, also on a path to begin Phase 3 trials in 2012.
Q: What are some of your biggest goals for the upcoming year?
A: The transformational year I just mentioned has put a lot on our plate for 2012. We are going to be focused on executing our business plan aimed at continued momentum in Cubicin sales and putting more marketing muscle behind our newly acquired drug Entereg toward our goal of achieving peak annual sales of $100 million. Also, our sales force will continue to co-promote Dificid as part of our strategic partnership with Optimer.
In the clinic, we expect to have three Phase 3 programs up and running this year. There is a great and growing unmet medical need for antibiotics to treat serious infections, and two of the three programs are focused on antibiotics. The third program we acquired through the Adolor acquisition focuses on a therapy to treat a gastrointestinal side effect of opioid pain management.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing developers of novel antibiotics today?
A: The challenges we face today started appearing on the horizon several years ago. Despite the remarkable public health success of anti-infective agents, there is a trend toward increasing numbers of bacterial infections that exhibit resistance to new and standard antimicrobials, with 70 percent of hospital-acquired infections caused by bacteria that are resistant to at least one antimicrobial. At the same time, many pharmaceutical companies have backed away from research and development of new antimicrobials because of increased incentives to develop drugs in other therapeutic areas and because of contradicting market forces within the antimicrobial marketplace. As a consequence, anti-infective research has virtually dried up, leaving very few new anti-infective agents in the near term. Cubist is one of the few companies with a promising pipeline in this area. Some public health leaders have identified the challenge and are prompting government action. Now is the time to identify and implement appropriate incentives that will drive antimicrobial research and development.
Recommended incentives have recently been manifested in the Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now (GAIN) Act, which has now been introduced in both the Senate and the House. Dr. Barry Eisenstein, senior vice president of scientific affairs for Cubist, was invited to testify at a congressional subcommittee hearing on the topic. The bi-partisan legislation calls for the enactment of specific economic and market incentives to entice pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics to treat the growing number of serious infections caused by multi drug-resistant (MDR) bacteria. For example, the legislation’s provision for extending the exclusivity granted to some badly needed antibiotics is designed to have the same impact on antibiotic R&D as the Orphan Drug Act had on drugs to treat rare diseases, which now enjoy a healthy pipeline. CHI recently released a report on the subject, available here.
Another challenge that we are working through with others in industry is clear guidance from FDA in defining new regulatory approaches to facilitate antimicrobial development and approval. Recent meetings on this front have been promising, and we look forward to working closely with FDA to ensure more therapies are approved for patients battling sometimes life-threatening infectious diseases. More on this topic can be found at a website sponsored by Cubist: http://www.battlingsuperbugs.com/
Q: What is the most rewarding part of developing products that address unmet medical needs in the acute care environment?
A: We know that Cubicin has been used to treat more than a million patients and we know that if our pipeline of much needed therapies is someday approved, millions more could benefit from much needed therapies. We use the term patients, but these are people who are moms and dads, children, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Everyone at Cubist comes to work each and every day with the goal of contributing to the advancement of therapies and leaves at the end of the day knowing that somewhere that day Cubist made a difference in someone’s life.
Q: When you’re not working, where do you like to spend your time?
A: I have three great passions outside of work. First and foremost is my family. My wife and I take such great pleasure in watching our kids’ many interests/activities. Second, I enjoy spending time trying to make a difference in the lives of kids who don’t have the educational opportunities that my kids have been blessed with. Finally, my one vice is basketball. I am admittedly a “hoop junkie.” I play with friends whenever I can (although at my age it is not really basketball, but something closely resembling the sport that I love) and also avidly follow the Lakers, and UCLA basketball. There are a lot of demands on my time, but setting priorities helps me maintain a healthy balance in life. For our corporate intranet I publish a blog sharing musings about the business/industry and observations from a personal perspective — I repurpose part of my blog posts on my twitter account @robperez32.
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