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Close-up: Bassam Damaj

New Apricus CEO helped turn company around

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It’s amazing what can happen in a year.

Back in December 2009, Bassam Damaj took over as president, chairman and chief executive officer of Apricus Biosciences. The company had just been created out of the merger between the contract research organization Bio-Quant and NextMed USA, makers of a drug delivery system called NexACT.

Just before the merger, NextMed had about $500,000 in the bank and was trading around 17 cents a share. Today, Apricus has $10 million in the bank and its stock is trading at around $4 a share. It has 13 products in its pipeline, and partnerships with some major pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis (NYSE: NVS).

“We’ve turned the company around pretty well,” Damaj said.

Bio-Quant and NextMed are still in operation, as wholly owned subsidiaries of Apricus. Damaj, who was born in Lebanon and grew up in Canada, had come to San Diego more than 10 years ago to run Bio-Quant, and after the merger, the Apricus board asked him to run the new company.

Bio-Quant still operates as a contract research organization, or CRO, conducting research for both Apricus and other companies, generating revenue. NextMed focuses on the NexACT drug delivery system, which helps small molecules penetrate skin or organ tissue, making drugs more efficient.

Apricus is working on its own treatments involving NexACT, as well as licensing it to other companies to pair with their own drugs. The company recently had an erectile dysfunction drug approved in Canada, and is working on getting other drugs approved in the United States and all over the world. The company has filed the Phase III protocol with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its liver cancer treatment PrevOnco.

Bassam Damaj

Apricus is working on its own treatments involving NexACT, as well as licensing it to other companies to pair with their own drugs. The company recently had an erectile dysfunction drug approved in Canada, and is working on getting other drugs approved in the United States and all over the world. The company has filed the Phase III protocol with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its liver cancer treatment PrevOnco.

“Our business model is to go and get it approved everywhere,” Damaj said. “So we’ve done Canada, the U.S., we’ve started in Europe, we’re doing Latin America now, the Gulf, Middle East, Africa, we’re really pushing it hard.”

Damaj began his career as an immunologist and has worked at some of the biggest life sciences companies in the world, including Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) and Genentech (NYSE: DNA). But he also has a business background, having founded four companies: Celtic Biotechnology, Mina Holdings, BioSignature Diagnostics and R&D Healthcare Inc.

He said he didn’t think he could ever go back to working for a large biotech firm again.

“I actually couldn’t work anymore for big pharma,” he said. “You work for big pharma for so long, and there’s a lot of bureaucracy to get something approved. It takes forever to go through different data approval and it was just a nightmare. I just couldn’t take it anymore. So I decided just to go on my own.”

Damaj said his strong science background, mixed with business know-how, helped him turn Apricus around after two other CEOs struggled with NextMed.

“If you want to do drug discovery and development, you’ve got to have a good core,” he said. “I have done this many times. I have drugs approved under my belt. The market knows who I am and what I have done before, and with the right understanding I brought in the right team.”

Damaj said he is a very active CEO, and is personally involved in many aspects of the company.

Eventually, Damaj said he might be open to selling the company to a bigger organization, but for now he is focused on growing Apricus. He is actively looking for more partnerships, and investing resources in getting more drugs approved.

“My goal with Apricus is really to have the technology of drug delivery out there,” Damaj said.”

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Apricus Biosciences Inc.

Company Website

11975 El Camino Real Ste., 300
San Diego, CA 92130

Apricus Biosciences Inc. Executive(s):

Bassam Damaj

  • Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, President