Must watch: Documentary 'Acerta's Pharmaceutical Journey of Discovery'

About fifteen years ago, a special molecule was born in Oss at the current Pivot Park. However small, a few years later this molecule would form the beginning for a drug drom Acerta Pharma against a certain form of blood cancer. A drug that would herald a better life for thousands of leukemia patients worldwide.

A documentary was made on behalf of BOM (Brabantse Ontwikkelings Maatschappij) that tells this story from a unique perspective. Founders and early adopters look back on this meaningful biotech startup rollercoaster. With a deal worth almost 6.5 billion, Acerta was a financially successful investment with a major social impact. On Tuesday, May 21, the documentary premiered in Oss.

Layoffs at Organon

A wonderful insight into the special history of Acerta Pharma. Because Acerta Pharma’s pharmaceutical adventure once started with the major layoffs (2500! Jobs) at Organon. Initially a tragedy for Noord-Brabant, but also the start of something beautiful. It was also the moment when various parties, including the Ministery of Economic Affairs, the province of Noord Brabant, the municipality of Oss and BOM, joined forces to come up with a rescue plan. Ultimately, this led to the establishment of the Pivot Park life sciences campus.

Part of this rescue plan also included ‘scouting’ innovative ideas and innovative entrepreneurs in Organon’s workforce. A task of BOM. One of the ‘finds’ was the duo Allard Kaptein (valued member of the LS@W advisory board) and Tjeerd Barf. They were already working with many colleagues at Organon on the development of a candidate drug for the treatment of autoimmune diseases and certain forms of blood cancer. Due to strategic choices within MSD, the work was not continued at the end of 2009.

Allard Kaptein: “Drawing up a research plan is very different from setting up a company based on a scientific idea. With the help of BOM and its network, we were able to convert our ideas into a business plan. That has helped us enormously to valorize our scientific ideas.”

Promising results

In 2013, BioGeneration Ventures and BOM joined through the Life Sciences & Health Fund B.V. as shareholders of Acerta Pharma, including a financial injection from three American investors. Acerta Pharma continues to work and test, conducts clinical studies. The company is seeing promising results in the first patients, which confirms what they always thought: this drug candidate works.

To scale up, large pharmaceutical companies are needed, and soon a number of them were showing interest. In 2015, the Acerta Pharma team decided to sell (part of) their company to the Swedish/British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. To get the product towards registration as quickly as possible. AstraZeneca ultimately acquires the company for $6.5 billion. An excellent deal, not only because of the financial return, but also because it is good news for all the people who by then worked there, and for Oss as a talent magnet.

Ria Hein, program manager BOM: “As development partner and investor from the very beginning, we are proud of the development that Acerta Pharma – and other young ex-Organon companies such as Innatos, Bioconnection and Glycostem and Bionovion – are undergoing at Pivot Park in Oss.”

In late October 2017, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Acerta's drug for the treatment of patients with mantle cell lymphoma and in 2019 for the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. As of February 1, 2023, the drug has been included in the basic package of health insurances in the Netherlands for the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. By now, the drug is used to treat tens of thousands of patients worldwide.

In 2024, more than 110 people are working in R&D at Acerta Pharma, focusing on developing new medicines for hematological developments. Entrepreneurs Tjeerd and Allard are no longer involved with Acerta Pharma nowadays, but they are still actively using their entrepreneurship and ideas, including in the Brabant Life Science & Health innovation ecosystem. Allard is currently actively involved in three startups, all three located at Pivot Park in Oss, one of which is co-financed by BOM. Tjeerd is also involved in various startups, especially in Leiden and Oss.

Source: BOM (translated)

Screenshot of the documentary, with the title on screen

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