The pain pill that saved Horizon Pharma

January 08, 2015

With Duexis, Tim Walbert knew he had a pill unlike others in the pain relief market. The drug, which reduces arthritic pain while being kind to a patient’s stomach, was backed by four venture capitalists and was ready for the clinical trials. Then the market crashed.

It was fall 2008 and Horizon Pharma was forced to put the product on hold until it could drum up enough capital to move forward. Three years later, Walbert finally was able to take his Deerfield-based company public, raising almost $250 million. “There were probably four or five times where we had a week or two left of money and weren’t sure we were going to survive,” he says. “It was a rather depressing time.”

Today, thanks to Duexis and Vimovo, another pain pill that doesn’t damage stomachs, Horizon finished 2014 with an estimated $290 million in revenue, four times its 2013 net sales of $74.0 million. Analysts forecastrevenue will rise to $439 million this year, with Duexis topping $100 million. Horizon’s headcount has grown to 500 employees.

George Tidmarsh, a pediatric oncologist, developed Duexis when he launched the company in 2005. (He now isCEO of La Jolla Pharmaceutical and an associate professor at Stanford University’s School of Medicine.) The drug’s pain fighter is ibuprofen, which is combined with famotidine to avoid stomach ulcers. Vimovo, which Horizon acquired for $35 million from AstraZeneca in November 2013, uses naproxen with esomeprazole magnesium to protect a patient’s stomach lining.

Walbert, 47, was hired as CEO in February 2008 to give Duexis flight in the marketplace. He says he was drawn to the pharmaceutical industry after learning, as a junior at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., that he has autoimmune diseases similar to rheumatoid arthritis. “Typically folks in pharma focus on sales and marketing, but having several of those diseases, I’ve always taken a strong interest in the science side of it,” he says.


Before Horizon, Walbert helped launch two of the world’s biggest-selling pain relievers—Celebrex from Pfizer and Humira from Abbott Laboratories and its pharmaceutical-maker spinoff, AbbVie. “I personally benefited from many of the drugs I’ve been able to take to market,” Walbert says. “I’m a patient, too.”

Dr. Sarfaraz Niazi, CEO of Therapeutic Proteins International, a biotech company in Deerfield, says Horizon has created a “marketing niche that is critical for any upstart company to stand out in such a large market.”

Horizon’s breakthrough in 2014 wasn’t in the lab or a pharmacy; it was in finance. The company shifted its corporate address to Dublin through a $660 million acquisition of Vidara Therapeutics International, enabling it to reduce income taxes.

Outside the office, Walbert coaches basketball and soccer for his kids, a 14-year-old daughter, and two sons, ages 15 and 7. He worries he may have passed his autoimmune disorders on to them. “My hope is none of them get the diseases I have,” he says. “And, if they do, they’ll get the right treatments.”

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