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Liquidia Sharpens Search For New CEO, Eyes Up To $10M In New Funding

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is actively searching not only for a new chief executive officer but also entertaining investment offers that could bring the high-tech startup an additional $10 million in financing, according to interim CEO Steve Nelson.

Nelson, managing partner of venture capital Wakefield Partners, took over as Liquidia’s chief executive last month when CEO Todd Pope was recruited away by drug giant Johnson & Johnson. Pope had joined Liquidia in April, having worked at J&J in the past. Wakefield is one of Liquidia’s investors.

“Was losing Todd a setback for us? He did such a good job, from that standpoint it was a setback,” Nelson told WRAL Local Tech Wire. “But relative to the company, we made a lot of progress while he was here, he brought in some very good people, and the science and development side of the product is going very well.

“It was a setback. We would love to have Todd. We have to find a person as great as Todd to take the baton and run with it.”

Liquidia’s technology is based on materials known as fluoropolymers that are liquids at room temperature but cure to transparent solids when exposed to lights. Liquidia has developed a material platform technology called Fluorocur, which enables the mass production of precise and uniform micro-sized and nano-sized particles. Fluorocur is based on research done at UNC Chapel Hill and NCSU by Joe DeSimone. DeSimone has been involved in entrepreneurial ventures in the past, including the launching of a chain of dry cleaners that did not rely on chemicals. In 1996, he launched Micell Technologies, which focused on using carbon dioxide as a solvent.

Liquidia closed on $6 million this spring, and outside interest is hot, Nelson said.

“Things are going great on the customer side and the development side in terms of our ability to manufacturer, but we don’t want to talk too much about that,” Nelson said, “There is a lot of national investor interest as well – national names.”

As interim CEO, Nelson said he is focused largely on fund-raising.

“We have not set a target,” he said, but added, “There’s a good chance we’ll raise $10 million.’

Helping run the company in Pope’s absence is Lowry Caudill, chairman of the board and co-founder of Magellan Laboratories, an RTP startup that was sold to Cardinal Healthcare.

The search to replace Pope will take anywhere from three to six months, Nelson added. “We’ve got some names in mind,” Nelson said.

Pope remains involved in Liquidia as a board member.

While losing Pope hurt Liquidia, Nelson said Pope had an opportunity to take a job with Johnson & Johnson where he will focus on medical devices (stents) in a multibillion-dollar industry. Liquidia had recruited Pope from Boston Scientific.

“If you put this in perspective of the job from where he came from, he probably got the top job in the world,” Nelson said. “They could have picked anyone in the world, and they picked our CEO.”

In fact, Nelson said, Johnson & Johnson Chairman and CEO William Weldon “flew into town” and personally recruited Pope for the post.

“He got the 'family jewels' job,” Nelson said. “It was just an incredible opportunity.”

Nelson, who also sits on the boards of five other companies, acknowledged that he is “quite a busy man." He’s also pursuing possible investments for Wakefield in addition to the boards and working several hours each day for Liquidia. His enthusiasm remains very high for Liquidia’s opportunities.

“The company is just great,” he said. “You’ll be reading a lot about us in the next 90 days.”