Evolving with Esperion: CFO Rick Bartram

May 7, 2019

Esperion CFO Rick Bartram highlights his involvement in the young organization's success over the last six years and discusses the company mission means to him.

Founded in 2008, Esperion (Ann Arbor, MI) is a company specializing in developing and commercializing non-statin, once-daily, oral therapies for the treatment of patients with elevated low-­density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C). The company has two therapies in late-stage development, both with defined global, pivotal, Phase 3 clinical development plans. In January this year, the company announced that it had entered into a licensing agreement with Daiichi Sankyo Europe (DSE), providing DSE with exclusive rights to commercialize bempedoic acid and the bempedoic acid/ezetimibe combination pill in the European Economic Area and Switzerland.

Rick Bartram joined Esperion as Controller in February 2013, moving to the position of Vice President of Finance in 2015 and then Chief Financial Officer in January 2018. Pharm Exec caught up with Rick to chart his involvement in Esperion’s success over the last six years and to discuss the company mission means to him.

Pharm Exec: Can you tell me a bit about your background in the life sciences industry?

Rick Bartram: My background prior to Esperion was principally based in finance accounting. I’m a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) by training; I was at PwC in their assurance services practice here in the Detroit area. The Greater Detroit area is of course highly dependent on the automotive and consumer products industries, so many of the publicly traded companies that I served at PwC were not in the life sciences.

Joining Esperion was a case of love at first sight, really. I knew it was a pretty unique opportunity, as there are not too many life sciences companies in the Greater Detroit area, but, moreover, the passion that the organization has for what it is focused on-developing and commercializing oral, LDL-C-lowering therapies for patients with hypercholesterolemia- is something that resonates with me personally. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the US, it touches nearly everyone somehow, and it runs pretty deep in my family history.

When I joined six years ago, Esperion was a small, privately-held organization with less than a dozen or so colleagues, but they were looking to do big things in the lipid lowering space, which has been historically dominated by big pharma. I knew straight away that this was an organization I wanted to be part of.

What were your priorities upon joining Esperion as CFO?

I joined in 2013 in the role of the company’s Controller. Given my background in public accounting, I was tasked in that first 90-day period to ensure that the organization’s financial processes really supported its aspirations to file for an initial public offering of common stock later that year. I was deeply focused on the financial management and supporting the scientific team as needed. Over the last six years, my role has evolved along with the company. My priorities continue to be focused on the financial strategy, making sure that we have the capital to execute on the current and future plans, but I’ve also had the chance to wear other hats, for example, being able to step in and assist the organization in areas that are typically outside the foundation of finance, for example, human resources, legal, and IT upgrades and initiatives. I try to be a business partner for each of the functional areas and be connected with them. not just internally but also externally to vendors and suppliers. We have to have very strong relationships to execute our corporate goals and I like to view and be involved with our vendors and suppliers and really form partnerships with them as opposed to just transactional relationships.

Was it a struggle in the early days, going against big pharma with this kind of drug candidate?

Fortunately, we have been blessed with very good clinical data. When the clinical team delivers a very powerful value proposition it does make the fundraising activities a little easier than if you have challenging data, of course. We have been very successful over the last six years in attracting the capital we’ve needed to execute on the plan and really run a program that rivals big pharma, for example, in terms of attracting talent to the organization.

What do you count as your key achievements at Esperion, and what are your aspirations for the company going forward?

Taking the company from an early phase to an R&D stage organization, having our end of Phase 2 meeting the FDA and then moving forward through a global Phase 3 program with over 4000 patients over a two-and-a-half-year timeframe-that was exceptional.  It involved the entire organization to get to that outcome late last year; it definitely was a full team effort.

Early this year has been really significant for the organization-we submitted our first two NDAs-but we have more work to do to accomplish our mission and really validate the reason why so many of us are here at Esperion. We’ve got to get the therapies we’re developing to physicians and patients. If we do that then all of our hard work is completely worth it, and we will have created significant stakeholder and shareholder value along the way.

As for what this organization and this role brings to me personally, there’s not one day I go home and think that I didn’t add value. If that ever stops then perhaps I’d look around, but I don’t expect that that value creation is going to change here at Esperion. We still have a lot more to do and a lot of things that I’m excited to be a part of.