Walloon Coucke and Flemish Fornieri set the tone for Belgian pharma

  • Mithra Pharmaceuticals raises an additional 40 million euros by including Marc Coucke in its capital.
  • Marc Coucke will chair Mithra’s strategic committee in anticipation of an initial public offering in 2015.

2015 will evidently be a key year for the Mithra group which has recently announced the takeover of certain R&D projects from Utéron Pharma in early January.

The acquisition of these 4 research projects with high added value includes Estelle, a next-generation combined oral contraceptive (COC) containing a natural oestrogen, Estetrol (E4) touted as the Group’s future flagship product.

Since 2014, Mithra has also been investing in the north of the country so as to consolidate its visibility in Flanders, meeting with potential investors. Despite the fact that the two men have known about and kept up-to-date with each other’s progress for a long time, François Fornieri, the Walloon Marc Coucke, and Marc Coucke, the Flemish Fornieri, have finally met.

With input from Marc Coucke, Mithra Pharmaceuticals clearly intends to challenge the world of gynaecology with an agent like Estetrol.

Marc Coucke, who has recently invested in Bart Versluys’ property projects, had promised to invest in a business with which he was more familiar. It is therefore natural for the CEO of Omega Pharma to be interested in Mithra’s success story.

“Before committing myself, I spoke to numerous pharmacists, doctors and also bankers, and Mithra has a very good reputation,” explains Marc Coucke.

A promising project

The Flemish business man is investing 40 million euros in total. This is a sensational introduction into the Mithra shareholder team which has already managed to raise a total of 63 million euros in one year, thus making it possible to finance the construction of its future development and production centre in Flémalle.

The 40 million euros invested by Marc Coucke will mainly be injected into the Estelle™ project, a next-generation combined oral contraceptive (COC) containing a natural oestrogen, Estetrol (E4), the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic profile of which is expected to be favourable for women’s health, and for which the safety and tolerability profile represents a major breakthrough in the field of contraception. Studied in combination with a progestogen, the results of the phase II studies demonstrated both good contraceptive activity and a favourable impact on the patient bleeding profile.

“Found at high levels during pregnancy, E4 is a natural steroid produced by the human foetus. While potentially conferring protection against the risk of deep-vein thromboembolism, E4 is also said to give rise to fewer subjective side effects such as: tender breasts, weight gain, oedema, nausea, abdominal bloating, headaches and mood changes which may be encountered when taking the oral contraceptives currently on the market,” cites Professor Jean-Michel Foidart.

“E4 is the first known SERM (selective oestrogen-receptor modulator) and displays a proven anti-oestrogen activity in the field of breast cancer both at preclinical and clinical level. E4 is said to display an improved safety profile compared with standard oestrogens. Its favourable clinical profile in terms of side effects suggests a beneficial and highly favourable benefit/risk ratio for future medicinal products containing E4,” expands Professor Herjan J.T. Coelingh Bennink, CEO and Chairman of Pantarhei Bioscience, initiator and co-developer of Estelle™.

The worldwide market launch of Estelle™ is expected in 4 or 5 years. More than 100 million women are currently estimated to use regular oral contraceptives.

A strategic partnership

“We are going to benefit from Marc Coucke’s experience to broaden our Benelux portfolio, but also to open doors to new markets,” explains François Fornieri, CEO of Mithra Pharmaceuticals.

Marc Coucke will join and chair the firm’s strategic committee as from February 26, and will lend his expertise to the national and international development of the Group.

“The synergism between the Walloon Coucke and Flemish Fornieri can only be successful!” explains Marc Coucke, Mithra’s new shareholder. “I felt this from the first meeting with François Fornieri and his team. Together, we will help Mithra’s structure to evolve. In my role as chairman of the strategic committee, I will be able to intervene to varying degrees in an operational manner on issues such as budget, preparation of the IPO and the Group’s next acquisitions. Together, we will aim for astounding success. Mithra offers a unique combination with profitable business activities based on strong growth, with great potential, and a somewhat biotech business activity which could create a blockbuster. Hence, Mithra has every asset in order to achieve both short-term and long-term success. Furthermore, Mithra is investing in R&D in Wallonia, and I am delighted to be able to contribute to the economic development of Wallonia!”

“Marc Coucke and I have a great deal in common. We both put the same passion into everything we do, we both love art, football, etc., and our career paths are somewhat similar, hence, this professional partnership is very natural. It is incredible how quickly we reached an agreement. The Flemish Fornieri and the Walloon Coucke clearly speak the same language.”