"Capital aligning with progress."
That was the response from Brian Lian, Ph.D., founder, president, and CEO of Viking Therapeutics, when asked how his company has been able to achieve success at a time when the broad capital market contends with much tighter access to capital and stricter capital expenditures.
Viking Therapeutics is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the development of novel therapies for the treatment of metabolic and endocrine disorders, including obesity, diabetes, and the lesser-known non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). NASH is a type of fatty liver disease and is estimated to be present in about 5% of the entire U.S. population. Dr Lian founded Viking in 2013, and in 2015, Viking was taken public. Through a series of follow-on offerings, Dr. Lian believes Viking stands well-capitalized and is at the forefront of solving some of the world's greatest metabolic illness challenges.
A large part of our clinical success has been in our ability to solve for the big questions as early as possible so that we can achieve a value inflection as quickly as we can," Lian says. "We are a nimble operation, so it is critically important that our operations are as efficient as possible.
BRIAN LIAN, Ph.D., founder, president, and CEO of Viking Therapeutics
Biotech companies like Viking provide critical services to the healthcare industry. They conduct pre-commercial, cutting-edge clinical research that is then, once FDA-approved, brought to market through partnership or agreement with traditional, larger-cap pharmaceutical companies.
The clinical research process at an early stage is capital intense, which is why some can consider the biotech industry to be speculative. However, Viking's Dr Lian's past experiences as a clinical research scientist-turned-analyst have given him a unique perspective on his company's success within the industry.
Lian believes that his scientific training and knowledge in pharmaceutical research, combined with his experience in equity research, provide him with a unique lens into the biotech industry. As a sell-side analyst, he followed companies and saw what made certain ones successful.
"From early on in my career," Lian says, "I have always sought to clear through the minutia and focus on the right details—not just the outcomes but the paths and impacts of each potential outcome.
He further explains that this critical thinking emanates throughout the company, and it is why he believes Viking's operations have thrived.
"A large part of our clinical success has been in our ability to solve for the big questions as early as possible so that we can achieve a value inflection as quickly as we can," Lian says. "We are a nimble operation, so it is critically important that our operations are as efficient as possible."
Recently, Viking has seen breakthroughs in its latest NASH and obesity treatments. While some of the potential treatment implications are directed toward other illnesses, the potential impact on therapies is significant.
"In the early 2000s, a lot of research was conducted on a protein called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), primarily in the diabetes arena," Lian says. "Over time, it was discovered that GLP-1 not only influences glucose levels in people with diabetes but also causes weight loss, including people who don't have diabetes. And in non-diabetics, this can occur without significant changes to blood glucose, which is a unique characteristic of this mechanism – it lowers glucose when glucose is high but doesn't do much when glucose is in a normal range. However, it seems to negatively impact appetite in a way that's unrelated to glucose. These findings started the path to what is now a new wave of weight-loss and obesity treatments. It's a bit of serendipity."
Lian is leveraging this area's extensive research and patient experience to develop next-generation compounds.
"We must ensure that our capital expenditures are properly aligned with achieving quality, valid clinical data," Lian says. “I’m pleased to say that we have been successful in this regard.” The treatments Viking seeks to solve for will help millions of individuals live better lives. For Dr. Lian and Viking, that is the big picture.
The company has also been able to raise capital when needed due to positive clinical data from its obesity and NASH drug candidates.
“Viking has been fortunate,” Lian says. “We’ve seen that, over the last five to six years, capital has been relatively available in the biotech industry, with some exceptions when macroeconomic headwinds reduce risk appetite.”
Using the recent enthusiasm around the healthcare and biotech industries, Viking is set to drive business growth.
“I think as long as we’re able to compile strong clinical data and continue to demonstrate shareholder value, the capital markets should remain open for companies like us,” Lian says. “I believe we’re in a good position with the results of our Phase 2 trials.”
Lian’s ability to look ahead and evaluate the efficacy of treatment not only for its intended purpose but derivations that could lead to bigger breakthroughs, drives his pursuit of making Viking one of the biggest, under-the-radar biotech companies in the coming years.