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Interview: Brains and medicine

October 24, 2018 By Adrian Murdoch

Interview with HealthInvestor Asia and Cerecin President and CEO Charles Stacey

Dementia remains one of the biggest chronic medical issues to face families. A determination to treat the illness is a challenge that Charles Stacey, president and CEO of Singapore-based Cerecin, has grasped with both hands.

Both the company and Stacey himself have had a remarkably busy year. In the last few months he has changed the name of the company from Accera to Cerecin – a portmanteau of "cerebellum" and "medicine" – and moved the organisation from Colorado in the US to Singapore.

Stacey himself is a CEO who has walked-the-walk. Chief executive since 2014, as an undergraduate at King's College London he studied Alzheimer's disease and then worked as an orthopaedic and reconstructive surgeon for eight years in the city. After an MBA from the London Business School and the Wharton School, and stints at a number of startups, he moved to Inventages, the life sciences and healthcare-focused private equity fund backed by the Nestlé Group with US$1.5 billion under management. There he managed all stages of the investment life cycle: deal sourcing, due diligence and supporting portfolio companies.

The desire to move the company and to change its name makes perfect sense. "The surprise is perhaps that it didn't come sooner," Stacey says. "The opportunity in our core business is in Asia; our lead therapeutic production is in Asia; and the patients we want to target are here."

And given that the company was starting a new chapter of its history, a name change made sense too. "As a company we see ourselves at the next stage of our growth. We had no presence in Asia and we are expanding into other areas of neurology," he says. "The name change embodies our brain health ambitions," he adds.

He admits that the company did look to set up in China at the same time that it was considering Singapore, but in the end decided against it. "I don't think that it is as friendly an environment, and let's not forget. Singapore gives us access to China anyway".

It is difficult enough to move a family across the world, but Stacey makes the corporate move sound remarkably straightforward. "There was no push back to the move [from the board] and from a company perspective it makes absolute sense," he says. Stacey and his chief medical officer have already physically relocated while, at the time of writing, a couple more members of the executive team are spending their time on airplanes, flying back and forth. "The rest [of the company] is being rebuilt here," he says.

As soon as he comes on the telephone, Stacey's tone alone gives a sense of how dynamic the region is. While it might seem natural to ask him whether he has any regrets about the move, such is his enthusiasm that the question is immediately redundant. "We are close to our manufacturing partners here," he says. Many of the raw materials for Cerecin's products come from Asia. "Commercially it makes sense and we feel that the fundamentals are in Asia for growth and innovation. There is the opportunity to be part of a vibrant eco-system here thanks to the number of opportunities that exist. And there is the talent, good science and capital."

Perhaps crucially, the financial support that the company can access is significant in the region. At the beginning of October, Cerecin closed funding led by new investor, Wilmar Ventures, a subsidiary of SGX-listed agribusiness Wilmar International, with co-investment from Cerecin's long-term investor Inventages. This first close was composed of both equity investment and non-dilutive grants totalling US$50 million.

It says much for the company that Inventages came on as an investors in 2004, only three years after it was founded and has continued to support it ever since. "It speaks to their belief in the technology. Good investors realise that it takes time," says Stacey.

Adding a bluechip like Wilmar as an investor is also a coup. "We are excited to be investing in Cerecin and see this as a strong investment and strategic opportunity for Wilmar. With a rapidly aging population in Asia Pacific, and in particular China, we recognise the increasing importance of dementia and brain health as priorities on healthcare agendas throughout the region. There are many potential synergies between Wilmar, Cerecin and Nestlé that span manufacturing, r&d and commercialisation," says Gurpreet Singh Vohra, head of business development at Wilmar International.

So what next for Cerecin? Stacey politely dodges questions about a flotation ("We are always looking; my team is looking. An IPO is one of a number of options," he says) but focuses instead on the group's global ambitions.

Over the next three to four years his aims are clear. Cerecin's Alzheimer drug is heading into large stage three testing, Stacey wants to move into traditionally derived therapeutics, and is currently developing a medical food for the dietary management of persons living with Alzheimer's disease. In short, he wants "to develop the company's footprint across Asia".

This post was first published on HealthInvestor Asia and has been reproduced with permission. Read the article on HealthInvestor Asia here: http://www.healthinvestorasia.com/ShowArticle.aspx?ID=4638

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