UNITED STATES

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

WASHINGTON, D.C. 20549

 

FORM 10-K

 

ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(D) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

 

For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2020

 

TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(D) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

 

Commission File Number: 001-33004

 

ACER THERAPEUTICS INC.

 

(Exact Name of Registrant as Specified in Its Charter)

 

 

Delaware

 

32-0426967

(State or Other Jurisdiction of

Incorporation or Organization)

 

(IRS Employer

Identification No.)

 

One Gateway Center, Suite 351, 300 Washington Street, Newton, MA

 

02458

(Address of Principal Executive Offices)

 

(Zip Code)

 

Registrant’s Telephone Number, Including Area Code: (844) 902-6100

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:

 

Title of Each Class

Trading Symbol

Name of Each Exchange on Which Registered

Common Stock, $0.0001 par value per share

ACER

The Nasdaq Stock Market LLC

 

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None

 

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.    Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act.    Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports) and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.    Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).    Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.

 

Large accelerated filer

 

  

Accelerated filer

 

Non-accelerated filer

 

☑  

  

Smaller reporting company

 

 

 

 

 

Emerging growth company

 

If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report.

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act).    Yes       No  

The aggregate market value of the voting and non-voting common equity held by non-affiliates of the registrant as of June 30, 2020, based upon the closing price as of such date was $20,699,045.

As of February 15, 2021, 14,310,244 shares of the registrant’s common stock, par value $0.0001 per share, were outstanding.

 

 

 


 

 

Table of Contents

 

Page

 

 

 

Forward-Looking Statements

1

`

 

 

 

 

 

Summary Risk Factors

1

`

 

 

 

PART I

 

 

4

 

 

 

 

Item 1.

 

Business

4

 

 

 

 

Item 1A.

 

Risk Factors

38

 

 

 

 

Item 1B.

 

Unresolved Staff Comments

83

 

 

 

 

Item 2.

 

Properties

83

 

 

 

 

Item 3.

 

Legal Proceedings

84

 

 

 

 

Item 4.

 

Mine Safety Disclosures

85

 

 

 

 

PART II

 

 

86

 

 

 

 

Item 5.

 

Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

86

 

 

 

 

Item 6.

 

Selected Financial Data

86

 

 

 

 

Item 7.

 

Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

87

 

 

 

 

Item 7A.

 

Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk

96

 

 

 

 

Item 8.

 

Financial Statements and Supplementary Data

97

 

 

 

 

Item 9.

 

Changes in and Disagreements with Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure

121

 

 

 

 

Item 9A.

 

Controls and Procedures

121

 

 

 

 

Item 9B.

 

Other Information

121

 

 

 

 

PART III

 

 

122

 

 

 

 

Item 10.

 

Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance

122

 

 

 

 

Item 11.

 

Executive Compensation

125

 

 

 

 

Item 12.

 

Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters

129

 

 

 

 

Item 13.

 

Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence

131

 

 

 

 

Item 14.

 

Principal Accountant Fees and Services

132

 

 

 

 

PART IV

 

 

134

 

 

 

 

Item 15.

 

Exhibits and Financial Statement Schedules

134

 

 

 

 

Item 16.

 

Form 10-K Summary

138

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signatures

139

 

Unless otherwise indicated, references in this report to “Acer,” the “Company,” “we,” “us” and “our” refer to the business of Acer Therapeutics Inc. “ACER THERAPEUTICS,” “EDSIVO” and the Acer logo are trademarks of Acer Therapeutics Inc. We do not intend our use or display of other companies’ trade names, trademarks or service marks to imply relationships with, or endorsements or sponsorship of us by, these other companies.

 

 

i


 

Forward-Looking Statements

This Annual Report on Form 10-K contains forward-looking statements which are made pursuant to the safe harbor provisions of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. Statements contained in this report, other than statements of historical fact, constitute “forward-looking statements.” The words “expects,” “believes,” “hopes,” “anticipates,” “estimates,” “may,” “could,” “intends,” “exploring,” “evaluating,” “progressing,” “proceeding” and similar expressions are intended to identify forward-looking statements.

These forward-looking statements do not constitute guarantees of future performance. Investors are cautioned that statements which are not strictly historical statements, including, without limitation, statements regarding current or future financial payments, costs, returns, royalties, performance and position, plans and objectives for future operations, plans and objectives for product development, plans and objectives for present and future clinical trials and results of such trials, plans and objectives for regulatory approval, litigation, intellectual property, product development, manufacturing plans and performance, management’s initiatives and strategies, and the development of our product candidates, including ACER-001 (sodium phenylbutyrate), EDSIVO™ (celiprolol), ACER-801 (osanetant), and ACER-2820 (emetine), constitute forward-looking statements. Such forward-looking statements are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties that could affect our ability to successfully implement our business strategy and cause actual results to differ materially from those anticipated. You should carefully consider all of the information in this report and, in particular, the following principal risks and all of the other specific factors further discussed in Item 1A of this report, “Risk Factors,” before deciding whether to invest in our company:

Summary Risk Factors

 

Substantial doubt exists as to our ability to continue as a going concern

 

We will require additional financing to complete development and seek to obtain marketing approval of our product candidates and, if approved, to commercialize our product candidates, and a failure to obtain this necessary capital when needed on acceptable terms, or at all, could force us to delay, limit, reduce or terminate our product development, other operations or commercialization efforts

 

We may not be able to successfully negotiate and enter into a definitive agreement with Relief Therapeutics Holding AG (“Relief”) for the potential collaboration and license of ACER-001 on the terms outlined in the option agreement, on other mutually acceptable terms, or at all. If we do not enter into a definitive agreement with Relief, we may not be able to repay the $4.0 million 12-month loan we received from Relief, which is secured by all of our assets

 

Funding from our purchase agreement with Lincoln Park Capital Fund, LLC (“Lincoln Park”) may be limited or be insufficient to fund our operations or implement our strategy

 

Funding from our “at-the-market” (“ATM”) facility with JonesTrading Institutional Services LLC (“Jones Trading”) and Roth Capital Partners, LLC (“Roth Capital”) may be limited or be insufficient to fund our operations or to implement our strategy

 

We have a limited operating history and have incurred significant losses since our inception and anticipate that we will continue to incur losses for the foreseeable future and may never achieve or maintain profitability. The absence of any commercial sales and our limited operating history make it difficult to assess our future viability

 

We currently have no source of product sales revenue and may never be profitable

 

In light of the United States (“U.S.”) Food and Drug Administration’s (“FDA’s”) Complete Response Letter regarding our New Drug Application (“NDA”) for EDSIVOTM, we halted precommercial activities while we work toward our goal of approval for EDSIVOTM. Neither resubmission nor approval of our NDA for EDSIVOTM is assured. We may decide at any time not to continue development of EDSIVOTM

1


 

We face risks related to health epidemics including but not limited to the COVID-19 pandemic which could adversely affect our business

 

The marketing approval processes of the FDA and comparable foreign authorities are lengthy, time-consuming and inherently unpredictable, and if we are ultimately unable to obtain marketing approval for our product candidates, our business will be substantially harmed

 

If we are unable to obtain approval under Section 505(b)(2) of the FFDCA or if we are required to generate additional data related to safety or efficacy in order to seek approval under Section 505(b)(2), we may be unable to meet our anticipated development and commercialization timelines, and could decide not to pursue further development, depending on the expected time, cost, and risks associated with generating any such additional data

 

Marketing approval may be substantially delayed or may not be obtained for one or all of our product candidates if regulatory authorities require additional or more studies to assess the safety and efficacy of our product candidates. We could decide not to pursue further development of one or all of our product candidates, depending on, among other things, the expected time, cost, and risks associated with generating any such additional data

 

Clinical drug development involves a lengthy and expensive process with an uncertain outcome. Clinical development of product candidates for rare diseases carry additional risks, such as recruiting patients in a very small patient population

 

Clinical failure can occur at any stage of clinical development. Because the results of earlier clinical trials are not necessarily predictive of future results, any product candidate we advance through clinical trials may not have favorable results in later clinical trials or receive marketing approval

 

As an organization, we have limited experience in designing and completing clinical trials, and may be unable to do so efficiently or at all for our current product candidates or any product candidate we develop

 

Our product candidates may cause undesirable adverse effects or have other properties that could delay or prevent their marketing approval, limit the commercial profile of an approved label, or result in significant negative consequences following marketing approval, if obtained

 

We may not be able to win government, academic institution or non-profit contracts or grants, which could affect the timing or continued development of one or more of our product candidates, and emetine in particular

 

Even if we obtain the required regulatory approvals in the U.S. and other territories, the commercial success of our product candidates will depend on, among other factors, market awareness and acceptance of our product candidates

 

If we fail to enter into strategic relationships or collaborations, our business, financial condition, commercialization prospects and results of operations may be materially adversely affected

 

We face substantial competition, which may result in others discovering, developing or commercializing products for our targeted indications before, or more successfully, than we do

 

We rely on third-party suppliers and other third parties for manufacture of our product candidates and our dependence on these third parties may impair or delay the advancement of our research and development programs and the development of our product candidates

2


 

We plan to rely on third parties to conduct clinical trials for our product candidates. If these third parties do not successfully carry out their contractual duties or meet expected deadlines, it may cause delays in commencing and completing clinical trials of our product candidates or we may be unable to obtain marketing approval for or commercialize our product candidates

 

Our proprietary rights may not adequately protect our technologies and product candidates

 

We are a party to license or similar agreements under which we license intellectual property, data, and/or receive commercialization rights relating to ACER-001, EDSIVOTM, osanetant, and emetine. If we fail to comply with obligations in such agreements or otherwise experience disruptions to our business relationships with our licensors, we could lose license rights that are important to our business; any termination of such agreements would adversely affect our business

 

Our share price is very volatile, may not reflect the underlying value of our net assets or business prospects, and you may not be able to resell your shares at a profit or at all

 

We are a defendant in securities litigation, which may be costly and time-consuming to defend

 

Future sales of our common stock could cause dilution, and the sale of such common stock, or the perception that such sales may occur, could cause the price of our stock to decline

 

We may issue debt and equity securities or securities convertible into equity securities, any of which may be senior to our common stock as to distributions and in liquidation, which could negatively affect the value of our common stock

Forward-looking statements speak only as of the date made. We assume no obligation or undertaking to update any forward-looking statements to reflect any changes in expectations with regard thereto or any change in events, conditions or circumstances on which any such statement is based. You should, however, review additional disclosures we make in the reports we file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), including but not limited to the Risk Factors associated with our business.

3


PART I

Item 1.

Business.

Overview

We are a pharmaceutical company focused on the acquisition, development, and commercialization of therapies for serious rare and life-threatening diseases with significant unmet medical needs. Our pipeline includes four programs: ACER-001 (sodium phenylbutyrate) for the treatment of various inborn errors of metabolism, including urea cycle disorders (“UCDs”) and Maple Syrup Urine Disease (“MSUD”); EDSIVO™ (celiprolol) for the treatment of vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (“vEDS”) in patients with a confirmed type III collagen (COL3A1) mutation; ACER-801 (osanetant) for the treatment of induced Vasomotor Symptoms (“iVMS”); and ACER-2820 (emetine), a host-directed therapy against a variety of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Our product candidates are believed to present comparatively de-risked programs as evidenced by having one or more of the following: favorable safety profile, clinical proof-of-concept data, mechanistic differentiation, and/or accelerated pathways for development through specific programs and procedures established by the United States (“U.S.”) Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”).

Our current product candidate pipeline is summarized in the chart below:

 

 

 

$

Additional capital resources required to fund these programs going forward

 

*

In response to a Complete Response Letter from the FDA for our New Drug Application (“NDA”) for EDSIVO™ for the treatment of patients with vEDS with a confirmed COL3A1 mutation, we submitted a Formal Dispute Resolution Request which was denied in March 2020 by the FDA’s Office of New Drugs. However, the Office of New Drug’s denial described possible paths forward for Acer to explore that could provide the substantial evidence of effectiveness needed to support a potential resubmission of the EDSIVO™ NDA

4


 

ACER-001 (sodium phenylbutyrate)

 

o

Signed an Option Agreement with Relief Therapeutics Holding AG (“Relief”) on January 25, 2021, providing Relief with exclusivity until June 30, 2021 for the right to pursue a potential collaboration and license agreement for worldwide development and commercialization for ACER-001. In return, Acer received an upfront nonrefundable payment of $1.0 million and a $4.0 million secured loan from Relief  

 

o

Announced in February 2021 topline results from Acer’s bioequivalence (“BE”) trial in which ACER-001 showed similar relative bioavailability compared to BUPHENYL® (sodium phenylbutyrate) under fed conditions

 

o

Targeting a pre-NDA meeting with FDA in the second quarter of 2021, assuming successful and timely completion of the ongoing development activities

 

o

Submission of an ACER-001 NDA for treatment of patients with UCDs is anticipated in mid-2021, provided that no additional data is requested by the FDA during Acer’s pre-NDA meeting and ongoing development activities are successfully completed (including evaluation of long-term product stability data)

 

EDSIVO™ (celiprolol)

 

o

Submitted Type B meeting request to FDA in February 2021 to discuss Acer’s proposed plan to collect additional data in support of celiprolol’s potential benefit in treating COL3A1-positive vEDS patients

 

o

If FDA discussions are successful, and resulting data is positive, could potentially satisfy the substantial evidence of effectiveness needed to support a possible resubmission of the EDSIVO™ NDA (although neither EDSIVO™ NDA resubmission nor approval is assured)

 

ACER-801 (osanetant)

 

o

Investigational New Drug Application (“IND”) submission for osanetant is anticipated in the third quarter of 2021

 

o

Initiation of a Phase 2 clinical trial of osanetant in BRCA-positive patients who have undergone a prophylactic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (“PBSO”) is expected in the fourth quarter of 2021, dependent upon successful IND filing and subject to additional capital

 

ACER-2820 (emetine)

 

o

Further advancement of the emetine program in COVID-19 and other infectious diseases is dependent on our ability to raise non-dilutive capital

 

o

We believe that most of the emetine IND-enabling work is in-progress or complete, and we intend to minimize future emetine spending as we continue to work with federal agencies and private research organizations toward the goal of securing non-dilutive funding

Our Strategy

Our goal is to become a leading pharmaceutical company that acquires, develops and commercializes therapies for the treatment of serious rare and life-threatening diseases with significant unmet medical needs. The key elements of our strategy include:

 

focus on serious rare and life-threatening diseases with significant unmet needs

 

accelerate development timelines and lower costs, while reducing risk

 

provide differentiated products that create value

 

protect our assets via intellectual property protections and regulatory and market exclusivities

 

commercialize our products in geographies that make strategic sense

We plan to continue evaluating external opportunities to acquire or license product candidates in order to enhance our pipeline and leverage our business development, clinical development, regulatory and commercial expertise. We believe our management team has the capability and experience to continue to execute this business model.

5


Product Candidates

ACER-001 (sodium phenylbutyrate)

Background

Sodium phenylbutyrate (“NaPB”) is currently approved in the U.S. and the European Union (“EU”) to treat patients with UCDs. Our product candidate ACER-001 is a proprietary powder formulation of NaPB. The formulation is designed to be both taste-masked and immediate release. ACER-001 is being developed using a microencapsulation process for the treatment of various inborn errors of metabolism, including UCDs and MSUD.

Urea Cycle Disorders

The urea cycle is a series of biochemical reactions that occur primarily in the liver, which converts toxic ammonia produced by the breakdown of protein and other nitrogen-containing molecules in the human body into urea for excretion. UCDs are a group of disorders caused by genetic mutations that result in a deficiency in one of the six enzymes that catalyze the urea cycle, which can lead to an excess accumulation of ammonia in the bloodstream, a condition known as hyperammonemia. Acute hyperammonemia can cause lethargy, somnolence, coma, and multi-organ failure, while chronic hyperammonemia can lead to headaches, confusion, lethargy, failure to thrive, behavioral changes, and learning and cognitive deficits. Common symptoms of both acute and chronic hyperammonemia also include seizures and psychiatric symptoms.

Diagnosis and Incidence

The diagnosis of UCDs is based on clinical observations, confirmed by biochemical and molecular genetic testing. A plasma ammonia concentration of 150 μmol/L or higher associated with a normal anion gap and a normal plasma glucose concentration is an indication for the presence of UCDs. Plasma quantitative amino acid analysis and measurement of urinary orotic acid can distinguish between the various types of UCDs. A definitive diagnosis of UCDs depends on either molecular genetic testing or measurement of enzyme activity. Molecular genetic testing is possible for all urea cycle defects. Studies suggest that the incidence of UCDs in the U.S. is about 1 in 35,000 live births.1 Approximately 2,000 patients suffer from UCDs in the U.S.

Current Treatment Options for UCDs

The current treatment of UCDs consists of dietary management to limit ammonia production in conjunction with medications that provide alternative pathways for the removal of ammonia from the bloodstream. Dietary protein must be carefully monitored, and some restriction is necessary; too much dietary protein causes excessive ammonia production. However, if protein intake is too restrictive or insufficient calories are consumed, the body will break down lean muscle mass to obtain the amino acids or energy it requires, which can also lead to excessive ammonia in the bloodstream. Dietary management may also include supplementation with special amino acid formulas developed specifically for UCDs, which can be prescribed to provide approximately 50% of the daily dietary protein allowance. Some patients may also require individual branched-chain amino acid supplementation.

Medications for UCDs primarily comprise nitrogen scavenger drugs, which are substances that provide alternative excretion pathways for nitrogen by bypassing the urea cycle. The use of these alternative pathways for nitrogen removal is important for the management of acute episodes of hyperammonemia and are also included as part of a long-term treatment regimen for UCDs patients. Current nitrogen scavenger treatments for UCDs are based on phenylbutyrate or benzoate, which conjugate with glutamine or glycine, respectively, allowing for urinary excretion of nitrogen as phenylacetylglutamine or hippurate, respectively.

According to a 2016 study by Shchelochkov et al., published in Molecular Genetics and Metabolism Reports2, while nitrogen scavenging medications are effective in helping to manage UCDs, non-compliance with treatment is common. Reasons given for non-compliance include the unpleasant taste associated with available medications, the frequency with which medication must be taken and the high cost of the medication.

6


Phenylbutyrate is available as both NaPB, which is marketed as BUPHENYL®, and glycerol phenylbutyrate (GPB), which is marketed as RAVICTI®. While a study provided by Horizon Therapeutics, Inc. in the RAVICTI® package insert involving 46 adults with UCDs demonstrated that BUPHENYL® and RAVICTI® were similarly effective in controlling the blood level of ammonia over a 24-hour period, many patients who take their medicine orally prefer RAVICTI®, as it is significantly more palatable than BUPHENYL®. However, the average annual cost of RAVICTI® is $900,000 (based on patient weight), which is often prohibitively expensive.2

In cases where dietary management or medication is not effective, patients with UCDs may require a liver transplant.

Rationale for ACER-001 Treatment in UCDs

ACER-001 is a powder formulation of NaPB. The formulation is designed to be both taste-masked and immediate release. BUPHENYL®, a non-taste-masked formulation of NaPB, has been approved by the FDA for UCDs with demonstrated efficacy and safety in UCDs patients of all ages. We believe that if it is approved, ACER-001’s taste-masked properties will make it an alternative to existing NaPB-based treatments, as the unpleasant taste associated with NaPB is cited as a major impediment to patient compliance with those treatments.

Bridging Studies

 

1.

Under Fasted Conditions

In February 2020, we reported the completion and final data from our clinical trial evaluating the bioavailability and bioequivalence of ACER-001 to BUPHENYL® (sodium phenylbutyrate) both under fasted conditions. The trial was a single-center, single-blind, randomized, single-dose crossover study designed to show bioequivalence of ACER-001 compared to BUPHENYL® in 36 healthy adult subjects under fasted conditions. Data showed ACER-001 to have similar pharmacokinetic (“PK”) profiles for both phenylbutyrate (“PBA”) and phenylacetate (“PAA”) compared to BUPHENYL® under fasted conditions.

7


This trial also included an arm of ACER-001 administered under fed conditions. When the fed and fasted arms of the study were compared, it was shown that administration of ACER-001 in a fasted state achieved more than two times the maximum concentration (Cmax) of PBA compared to administration of the same dose of ACER-001 in a fed state. These results are consistent with previously published data by Nakano, et al3 that evaluated PK of NaPB in patients with progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis, also demonstrating that administration of NaPB in a fasted state significantly increased PBA peak plasma concentration compared to administration of NaPB in a fed state.

 

*Based on data comparison of ACER-001 under fed conditions vs. published data of NaPB under fed conditions

1 ACER-001 BE/BA Study (Part B) in healthy volunteers

2 Sci Rep 9, 17075 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-53628-x

Currently approved therapies for UCDs, including BUPHENYL®4 and RAVICTI®5, are required to be administered with food. BUPHENYL® is required to be administered in a fed state due to its aversive odor and taste, with side effects including nausea, vomiting and headaches, which can lead to discontinuation of treatment.6 Additionally, prescribing information states that the BUPHENYL® food effect is unknown. RAVICTI® PK and pharmacodynamic (“PD”) properties were determined to be indistinguishable in fed or fasted states.7 ACER-001 is uniquely formulated with its multi-particulate, taste-masked coating to allow for administration in a fasted state, while still allowing for rapid systemic release.

8


Based on the results from the food effect study within the first ACER-001 BE trial, we commissioned Rosa & Co. LLC to create a PhysioPD® PK model to evaluate the potential food effect on exposure, tolerability and efficacy of ACER-001 in UCDs patients. Results from this in silico model suggested that administration of ACER-001 in a fasted state required approximately 30% less PBA to achieve comparable therapeutic benefit in a fed state. In addition, the model predicted that administration of ACER-001 in a fasted state compared to administration of BUPHENYL® or RAVICTI® (same amounts of PBA) in their required fed states would be expected to result in higher peak blood PBA, PAA and PAGN concentrations, predicting a 43% increase in urinary PAGN levels (a negative correlation between blood ammonia area under the curve and 24-hour urinary PAGN amount has been demonstrated).8

 

 

 

1.

Under Fed Conditions

In February 2021, we announced topline results from our bioequivalence trial in which ACER-001 showed similar relative bioavailability to BUPHENYL® (sodium phenylbutyrate) under fed conditions. The single-center, single-blind, randomized, single-dose crossover trial evaluated BE of ACER-001 compared to BUPHENYL® when administered under fed conditions in 36 healthy adults. The topline data from this trial showed ACER-001 to have similar PK profiles for both PBA and PAA compared to BUPHENYL® under fed conditions.

9


Registration Plan

We intend to seek FDA approval in the U.S. to market ACER-001 for administration initially under fed conditions for the treatment of UCDs using a regulatory pathway established under section 505(b)(2) of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”) that allows applicants to rely at least in part on third party data for approval, which may expedite the preparation, submission, and approval of a marketing application. We also intend to seek EMA approval in the European Union and potentially other territories outside the U.S., after the 505(b)(2) NDA for treatment of UCDs is filed. Because the FDA has approved an NDA for BUPHENYL®, which is referred to as the reference listed drug (“RLD”), we intend to rely on the RLD’s preclinical and clinical safety and efficacy data, while supplementing the data with a bridging study that shows similar relative bioavailability of ACER-001 to BUPHENYL®.

In August 2020, the FDA provided further clarity on our proposed regulatory paths forward for administration of ACER-001 under fed or fasted (pre-meal) conditions. In its feedback, the FDA stated that because BUPHENYL® is labeled for administration with food and a food effect has been observed with ACER-001, we should conduct an additional BE trial under fed conditions. As presented above, we therefore conducted a BE trial comparing the PK of BUPHENYL® and ACER-001, both under fed conditions. The results of this BE study will be included as a part of our planned NDA submission under the Section 505(b)(2) regulatory pathway for ACER-001 in the treatment of UCDs, where ACER-001 is administered with food. We are targeting a pre-NDA meeting with FDA in the second quarter of 2021, assuming successful and timely completion of the ongoing development activities. We intend to submit an ACER-001 NDA for treatment of patients with UCDs in mid-2021, provided no additional data is requested by the FDA during our pre-NDA meeting and ongoing development activities are successfully completed (including evaluation of long-term product stability data).

In parallel or after initial potential FDA approval for administration under fed conditions, and subject to additional capital, we also plan to evaluate potential development of ACER-001 for administration under fasted (pre-meal) conditions, which will likely require additional nonclinical and clinical studies in order to provide the necessary evidence of safety and efficacy of ACER-001 to be considered for FDA approval for administration under fasted (pre-meal) conditions.

ACER-001 is an investigational drug in the U.S. and is not currently FDA approved for UCDs.

Maple Syrup Urine Disease

Background

MSUD is a rare inherited disorder caused by defects in the mitochondrial branched-chain ketoacid dehydrogenase complex, which results in elevated blood levels of the branched-chain amino acids (“BCAA”), leucine, valine, and isoleucine, as well as the associated branched-chain ketoacids (“BCKA”) in a patient’s blood. Left untreated, this can result in neurological damage, mental disability, coma or death. The most severe presentation of MSUD, known as “classic” MSUD, accounts for 80% of cases and can result in neonatal onset with encephalopathy and coma. Although metabolic management of the disease is possible via a highly restrictive diet, the outcome is unpredictable, and a significant portion of affected individuals are mentally impaired or experience neurological complications.

Diagnosis and Incidence

MSUD is typically diagnosed at birth via newborn screening. Studies indicate that MSUD affects an estimated 1 in 185,000 infants worldwide. The disorder occurs more frequently in the Old Order Mennonite population, with an estimated incidence of about 1 in 380 newborns, and the Ashkenazi Jewish population, with an estimated incidence of 1 in 26,000. Approximately 3,000 patients suffer from MSUD worldwide, of whom approximately 1,000 patients are located in the U.S.9

10


Current Treatment Options in MSUD

There are currently no approved pharmacologic therapies in the U.S. or the European Union for MSUD. Treatment of MSUD consists primarily of a severely restricted diet to limit the intake of BCAA, with aggressive medical interventions when blood-levels of BCAA or BCKA become elevated.

Rationale for ACER-001 Treatment in MSUD

Therapy with NaPB in UCD patients has been associated with a selective reduction in BCAA despite adequate dietary protein intake.10

Based on this clinical observation, investigators at Baylor College of Medicine (“BCM”) explored the potential of NaPB treatment to lower BCAA and their corresponding BCKA in patients with MSUD. The investigators found that BCAA and BCKA were both significantly reduced following NaPB therapy in control subjects and in patients with MSUD, although there was no simple correlation between the patients’ levels of residual enzymatic activity with the response of plasma BCAA and their BCKA to NaPB. NaPB showed a statistically significant reduction of leucine in all three healthy subjects and in three out of the five MSUD patients who participated in the trial. The reduction in leucine, the most toxic of the BCAAs, in the three responsive MSUD patients ranged between 28-34%, which is considered by clinicians to be a clinically meaningful response.

Investigators at BCM further explored the mechanistic rationale for NaPB lowering BCAA/BCKA levels. NaPB was found to be an allosteric inhibitor of the branched-chain keto acid dehydrogenase complex kinase (“BCKD-kinase”), and enzyme that regulates the activity of the branched-chain keto acid dehydrogenase complex (“BCKDC”) enzyme that is responsible for the normal metabolism of BCKAs.11 By inhibiting the BCKD-kinase, the BCKDC is constitutively activated, thus the increased activity results in a reduction in the plasma levels of BCAA and BCKA in all people, including those with MSUD, suggesting that NaPB may be an effective treatment for people with MSUD, who experience elevated BCAA levels.9,11

In November 2020, study results evaluating the effect of NaPB in the management of acute MSUD attacks in pediatric patients (n=10) were published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism showing a significant reduction in leucine levels in MSUD patients experiencing an acute attack.12 The results suggested that NaPB can be safely administered in combination with emergency protocol and may provide additional clinical benefit beyond emergency protocol alone. However, verifying this outcome would require additional validation in a controlled trial. If ACER-001 is approved for the treatment of chronic MSUD, we believe patients will not be required to interrupt their therapy in the event of an acute crisis.

Registration Plan

We anticipate initiation of clinical studies evaluating ACER-001 in MSUD to occur in late 2021, subject to additional capital. If these clinical studies are successful, we plan to seek FDA approval to market ACER-001 for the treatment of MSUD in the U.S. by submitting a 505(b)(2) NDA incorporating data from BUPHENYL’s® NDA (the reference listed drug) while supplementing our intended NDA for ACER-001 with additional PK, PD, efficacy and safety data specifically in the MSUD population, subject to our ability to generate sufficient capital resources to fund this program. We also intend to seek approval in the European Union and other territories outside the U.S. after the 505(b)(2) NDA for treatment of MSUD is filed.

ACER-001 is an investigational drug in the U.S. and is not currently FDA approved for MSUD.

Option Agreement with Relief Therapeutics Holding AG

On January 25, 2021, we and Relief entered into an option agreement pursuant to which we granted Relief an exclusive option to pursue a potential collaboration and license agreement with us for the development, regulatory approval and commercialization for ACER-001 for the treatment of UCDs and MSUD. The option agreement provides a period of time up to June 30, 2021 for the parties to perform additional due diligence and to work toward negotiation and execution of a definitive agreement with respect to the potential collaboration for ACER-001.  In

11


consideration for the grant of the exclusivity option, (i) we received from Relief an upfront nonrefundable payment of $1.0 million, (ii) Relief provided to us a 12-month secured loan in the principal amount of $4.0 million, as evidenced by a promissory note we issued to Relief, and (iii) we granted to Relief a security interest in all of our assets to secure performance of the promissory note, as evidenced by a security agreement. The note is repayable in one lump sum within 12 months from issuance and bears interest at a rate equal to 6% per annum. If a definitive agreement with respect to the potential collaboration is not executed by the parties on or before June 30, 2021, the exclusivity option will terminate and the note is repayable by us upon maturity. The note contains certain customary events of default (including, but not limited to, default in payment of principal or interest thereunder or a material breach of the security agreement). Under the terms of the proposed collaboration and license agreement, the key terms of which are set forth in the option agreement, if a definitive agreement is executed pursuant to these terms and closed by June 30, 2021, we will receive $14.0 million in cash (which can be offset at Relief’s option by the outstanding balance of the $4.0 million loan from Relief to us). In addition, Relief will agree to pay up to $20.0 million in U.S. development and commercial launch costs for the UCDs and MSUD indications. Further, we will retain development and commercialization rights in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Turkey and Japan. The companies will split net profits from Acer’s territories 60%:40% in favor of Relief. Relief will also license the rights for the rest of the world, where we will receive from Relief a 15% net sales royalty on all revenues received in Relief’s territories. We could also receive a total of $6.0 million in milestones based on the first European marketing approvals for UCDs and MSUD. There can be no assurance, however, that a definitive agreement will be successfully negotiated and executed between the parties on these terms, on other mutually acceptable terms, or at all. Except for the $1.0 million upfront payment to us and the $4.0 million 12-month secured loan from Relief to us, the remaining proposed terms of the collaboration are not binding and are subject to change as a result of further diligence by Relief and negotiation of a definitive collaboration and license agreement between the parties. If we are unsuccessful in negotiating and executing a definitive agreement with Relief, we will be free to negotiate with third parties for partnering ACER-001 or to continue to develop and commercialize independently.

EDSIVO™ (celiprolol)

Background

EDSIVO™ is a selective adrenergic modulator (“SAM”) and, if approved for marketing by the FDA, would be a New Chemical Entity (“NCE”) in the U.S. Celiprolol is currently approved in the European Union for the treatment of hypertension and angina. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (“EDS”) is an inherited disorder caused by mutations in the genes responsible for the structure, production, or processing of collagen, an important component of the connective tissues in the human body, or proteins that interact with collagen. EDS is a spectrum disorder where patients present with various forms, the most serious of which is vEDS, also known as vEDS type IV, which is generally caused by a mutation in the COL3A1 gene. vEDS causes abnormal fragility in blood vessels, which can give rise to aneurysms, abnormal connections between blood vessels known as arteriovenous fistulas, arterial dissections, and spontaneous vascular ruptures, all of which can be potentially life-threatening. Gastrointestinal and uterine fragility or rupture also commonly occur in vEDS patients. Spontaneous arterial rupture has a peak incidence in the third or fourth decade of life in vEDS patients but may occur earlier and is the most common cause of sudden death in vEDS patients. Arterial rupture or dissection events occur in about 25% of patients before the age of 20 but increase to roughly 90% of patients by the age of 40. The median survival age of vEDS patients in the U.S. is 51 years, with arterial rupture being the most common cause of sudden death.13

Pregnancy-related complications also occur in women with vEDS and include arterial dissection or rupture, uterine rupture, hemorrhage, premature rupture of membranes, lacerations, and complications during and after surgery.

12


Diagnosis and Incidence

vEDS is diagnosed through clinical observation, which is usually confirmed by mutational analysis of the COL3A1 gene. In the absence of a family history of the disorder, however, most vEDS patients are not diagnosed until the occurrence of an arterial aneurysm or dissection, bowel perforation, or organ rupture. As a result, it has been difficult to precisely measure the incidence or prevalence of vEDS in any population. Studies estimate the prevalence of vEDS as ranging from approximately 1 in 90,000 to 1 in 250,000.13 In 2017, we commissioned a patient-finder study that phenotypically identified 4,169 vEDS patients in the U.S. from an analysis of a commercially available patient claims database, with data of approximately 190 million unique patient lives. Based on that information, we estimate the prevalence of phenotypically-defined vEDS in the U.S. could be greater than 1 in 45,000.

Current Treatment Options for vEDS

Currently, there are no approved pharmacologic therapies anywhere in the world for vEDS. However, celiprolol, off label, has become the standard of care therapy for vEDS in Europe.14 Medical intervention for vEDS focuses on surgery, symptomatic treatment, genetic counseling and prophylactic measures, such as avoiding intense physical activity, scuba diving, and violent sports. Arterial, digestive or uterine complications in vEDS patients typically require immediate hospitalization, observation in an intensive care unit, and sometimes surgery. Pregnant women with vEDS are considered to be at risk and receive special care.

While vEDS patients are encouraged to take steps to minimize the chances of an arterial rupture or dissection, there are no pharmacologic options to reduce the likelihood of such an event, and accordingly current treatments for vEDS focus on the repair of arterial ruptures or dissection. Therefore, patients must adopt a “watch and wait” approach following any confirmed diagnosis. Unfortunately, many of these arterial events have high mortality associated with them, and thus, a pharmacologic intervention that reduces the rate of events would be clinically meaningful.

Rationale for EDSIVO™ (celiprolol) Treatment in vEDS

In 2004, researchers at Assistance Publique—Hôpitaux de Paris, Hôpital Européen Georges Pompidou (“AP-HP”) in Paris, France, published data on vEDS patients, observing that an abnormally low intima-media thickness generates a higher wall stress than in control subjects at the site of an elastic artery, which may increase the risk of arterial dissection and rupture. Based on this observation, the investigators aimed to assess the preventive effect of celiprolol for major cardiovascular events in patients with vEDS via a multicenter, prospective, randomized, open trial with blinded evaluation of clinical events, which is referred to herein as the BBEST trial. Results from the BBEST trial were published on October 30, 2010 in The Lancet. The BBEST trial was funded by the French Ministry of Health, and the principal investigator for the study was Professor Pierre Boutouyrie.15

Fifty-three participants were enrolled in the BBEST trial and randomized at eight centers in France and one center in Belgium. Patient ages ranged from 15 to 65 (with a mean age of 35), with a female-to-male ratio of 2-to-1. Patients were randomly assigned to a five-year intervention, receiving either celiprolol or no treatment with important phenotype characteristics equally balanced between the celiprolol group and the control group.15 Celiprolol was administered twice daily to patients in the celiprolol group and the dosage was up-titrated every six months by 100 milligrams per day to a maximum of 400 milligrams per day. Patients assigned to the control group received the same attention as those assigned to the celiprolol group but did not receive celiprolol or any beta blocker. Thirty-three of the 53 patients participating in the study had proven mutations in the COL3A1 gene. Of those patients with proven mutations, demographic and arterial characteristics did not differ from those of the study population as a whole. The duration of follow-up was five years or until the first qualifying cardiac or arterial event. The primary endpoint was a composite of cardiac or arterial events (rupture or dissection, fatal or not) during follow-up. Secondary endpoints were gastrointestinal or uterine rupture. The study was ended early after a consensus decision of the safety monitoring board, the methodologist of AP-HP, and the principal investigator because significant differences were recorded between the treatment group and the control group after 64 months. Mean duration of follow-up was 47 months prior to trial halt. As described in the tables below, in 5 of 25 patients on celiprolol a primary endpoint was recorded, compared with 14 of 28 patients in the control group. The hazard ratio

13


(“HR”) for event-free survival, was 0.36, (95% CI 0.15—0.88; p=0.040), meaning that with celiprolol the risk of having a cardiac or arterial event was reduced by 64% compared to control. Combined primary and secondary endpoints affected 6 patients on celiprolol and 17 patients in the control group, (HR 0.31; 95% CI 0.14—0.71; p=0.0097):

 

14


As described in the figure below, in the 33 patients with COL3A1 mutations, the primary endpoint was noted in 2 of the 13 patients in the treatment group, compared with 11 of the 20 patients in the control group, (HR 0.24; 95% CI 0.08—0.71; p=0.0406). Combined primary and secondary endpoints were recorded in 3 of 13 patients on celiprolol and 14 of the patients in the control group, (HR 0.25; 95% CI 0.10—0.64; p=0.0167), correlating to a three times reduction in arterial events among treated patients compared to non-treated patients. The results in the trial did not vary significantly between those patients who had a confirmed mutation in the COL3A1 gene versus the overall 53-patient population:

 

 

Figure 3: Kaplan-Meier curves of event-free survival in 33 patients with positive COL3A1 mutation

15


Primary endpoint (A). Primary and secondary endpoints (B).

AP-HP granted us an exclusive right to access and use the data generated by the BBEST trial. We have conducted a retrospective, source-verified analysis of that data, including the primary and secondary endpoints, which confirmed the published results of the BBEST trial.

In addition to the BBEST trial, in April 2019, long-term data from a cohort of COL3A1-positive vEDS patients was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (“JACC”). The publication, entitled “Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome: Long-Term Observational Study,” was authored by Michael Frank, MD, Xavier Jeunemaitre, MD, PhD, and Pierre Boutouyrie, MD, PhD, et al.16 This published study describes outcomes in 144 COL3A1-positive vEDS patients clinically monitored and treated at the French National Referral Center for Rare Vascular Diseases (Paris, France) between 2000 and 2017. Patients were followed for a median of 5.3 years, and up to 20 years. At the initial work up, 50% of patients were not treated regularly and only 33.3% were taking celiprolol; by the end of the study period, the majority (90.3%) were treated with celiprolol alone or in combination with other medications. Once the maximum tolerated dose of celiprolol was reached, 90 (62.5%) patients remained at this dose throughout their follow-up. Only five (3.5%) patients required dose reduction due to fatigue, and no serious drug-related adverse event was recorded.

16


Patients had a lower mortality rate than that expected from the natural history of the disease as described in previous U.S. reports17. Survival curve analysis showed that those not treated with celiprolol had a significantly worse outcome than celiprolol-treated patients: survival was 80.7% (95% CI 67.8%–93.6%) in those treated with celiprolol versus 48.5% (95% CI 19.7%–77.4%) in those not treated (p<0.001) after 11.1 years of follow-up. Survival was significantly higher in patients treated with a median dose of celiprolol of 400mg/day (n=83) vs. patients treated with a lower median dose of 217mg/d [100-300mg/day] (n=27), suggesting a dose effect and that 400mg/day should be considered the optimal dose. The authors also observed a relative decrease in hospitalization rates for acute arterial events during the time period in which the majority of patients were on celiprolol, suggesting a positive effect of celiprolol on the incidence and/or severity of new arterial events. The authors concluded that in this large, long-term cohort study, vEDS patients had a higher survival rate than expected relative to the known natural history of the disease and a lower annual occurrence of arterial complications, and that celiprolol use was potentially associated with these significant improvements in clinical outcomes.

 

17


 

 

In May 2019, results were presented and published at the Society for Vascular Medicine (“SVM”) 2019 Annual Scientific Sessions from a pilot study designed to evaluate the effect of antihypertensive therapy on the rates of clinical events in patients with vEDS.17 The goal of this pilot study was to better understand the extent of use of antihypertensive medications in vEDS patients in the U.S., and their potential benefit in reducing the rate of vEDS-related clinical events. There are currently no approved medications to treat vEDS in the U.S.; however, antihypertensive medications are used by some physicians in vEDS patients with hopes of lowering the occurrence of clinical events.18

Researchers conducted a retrospective analysis of U.S. insurance claims (Truven MarketScan®) identifying vEDS patients over a four-year period from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2017. The insurance claims-based information was then stratified based on insurance claims for antihypertensive medications and no antihypertensive medication. Researchers then calculated and compared the clinical event rate, including arterial rupture and aneurysm, and other hollow organ rupture, for each group. Of the 3,614 vEDS patients identified, 2,371 (65.6%) were determined not to be taking any antihypertensive medication and 1,243 (34.4%) were determined to be taking antihypertensive medications. There was no statistically significant difference between rate of clinical events in patients taking any of the antihypertensive medications compared to patients not taking an antihypertensive medication.

18


Celiprolol is a selective adrenergic modulator, acting as a cardioselective beta1 adrenoceptor antagonist with partial beta2 adrenoceptor agonist activity, beta3 agonist activity, and alpha2 antagonist activity and with intrinsic sympathomimetic and vasodilating properties. 

The potential benefit of celiprolol in vEDS is thought to be mediated through a combination of agonist activity at beta2 and beta3 adrenergic receptors, and antagonist activity at alpha2 adrenergic receptors. While the exact mechanism is not fully understood, it has been proposed that it could exert its effects through vascular smooth muscle relaxation and dilatation, thereby decreasing the mechanical stress on collagen fibers in the arterial wall. Celiprolol has also been shown to increase the expression of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (“eNOS”) messenger ribonucleic acid (“mRNA”) and protein, and to activate phosphorylation of eNOS through the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (“PI3K”)-Akt signaling pathway. eNOS is known to catalyze the synthesis of nitric oxide (“NO”) in blood vessels, and NO plays a critical role in maintaining blood pressure (“BP”) homeostasis and vascular integrity. Celiprolol’s potential effect in vEDS is not thought to be substantially mediated via antagonist activity at the beta1 adrenergic receptor, as vEDS patients are typically normotensive, and as brachial systolic and diastolic blood pressures have been shown to not decrease in vEDS patients after treatment with celiprolol. Thus, the potential protective effect of celiprolol in vEDS patients is believed to be independent of any effect on BP lowering. We do not believe that there are any other drugs approved or in development in the U.S. or Europe that have a similar mechanism of action to celiprolol:

 

 

In November 2020, long-term data from COL3A1-positive vEDS patients was published in the European Journal of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery (“EJVES”), “Celiprolol treatment in patients with vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.”19

19


This published study describes outcomes in 40 patients with COL3A1-positive vEDS that were clinically monitored and treated with celiprolol in a single center retrospective study at Uppsala University Hospital, a national referral center for vEDS patients in Sweden, between the years 2011 and 2019. Patients were followed for a median of 22 months (range 1-98 months) with a total follow up of 106 patient years. Assessments were conducted by a multidisciplinary team, including vascular surgeons, angiologists and clinical geneticists. Celiprolol was administered twice daily and titrated up by 100 mg steps to a maximum of 400 mg per day. Some patients were treated concomitantly or separately with other medications. Sixty-five percent of the patients reached the target dose of 400 mg and the medication was generally well tolerated.

The annual risk of a major vascular event was 4.7% in this study, noted as being similar to that observed in the celiprolol treatment-arm of the BBEST trial (5%) and lower than in the BBEST trial control arm (12%). Five patients suffered major vascular events, four of which were fatal. No significant predictor of vascular events was identified by the authors.

 

 

Registration Plan

Celiprolol has not been approved for any indication in the U.S. Celiprolol has been approved for the treatment of hypertension in the European Union since 1984. An NDA for celiprolol for the treatment for hypertension was submitted to the FDA by Rorer (subsequently acquired by Aventis Pharma SA (“Aventis”)) in June 1987 but was withdrawn prior to FDA review and therefore never approved. We have obtained the exclusive right in North and South America from Aventis to reference the celiprolol data included in the marketing authorization dossier filed with and approved by the U.K. Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (“MHRA”). We have also licensed from AP-HP exclusive worldwide rights to the data from the BBEST trial. EDSIVO received FDA Orphan Drug Designation for the treatment of vEDS in 2015.

We submitted our NDA for EDSIVO™ in October 2018 and it was accepted for filing and substantive review by the FDA in December 2018, with priority review status. In June 2019, we received a Complete Response Letter (“CRL”) from the FDA regarding our NDA for EDSIVO for the treatment of vEDS using the data obtained from the BBEST trial15 as the basis of approval. The CRL stated that it will be necessary to conduct an adequate and well-controlled trial to determine whether celiprolol reduces the risk of clinical events in patients with vEDS. In December 2019, we submitted a Formal Dispute Resolution Request to the FDA’s Office of New Drugs appealing the FDA’s decision as outlined in the CRL. In March 2020, we received a response to our Formal Dispute Resolution Request from the Office of New Drugs of the FDA stating that it had denied our appeal of the CRL. In its

20


Appeal Denied letter, the Office of New Drugs described possible paths forward for Acer to explore that could provide the substantial evidence of effectiveness needed to support a potential resubmission of the EDSIVO NDA for the treatment of patients with vEDS with a confirmed COL3A1 mutation. The Office of New Drugs referred to the FDA Guidance document issued in December 201920, where substantial evidence of effectiveness can be provided by two or more adequate and well-controlled studies demonstrating efficacy, or a single positive adequate and well-controlled study plus confirmatory evidence.

We believe we have identified a plan to collect additional data that supports the results from the COL3A1-positive analysis from the BBEST trial and could help meet the standard set forth in the FDA Guidance document issued in December 2019. In February 2021, we submitted a meeting request to the FDA to discuss Acer’s proposed plan to provide sufficient confirmatory evidence. If successful, we believe that data provided under our proposal could potentially satisfy the additional confirmatory evidence needed to support a resubmission of our NDA, assuming the additional data analysis is positive. There can be no assurance that FDA will accept our plan or, if accepted, that the resulting data would be adequate to support resubmission, filing or approval of our NDA. We may also conclude at any point that the cost, risk and uncertainty of obtaining that additional data does not justify continuing with the development of EDSIVO™.

EDSIVO™ is an investigational drug in the U.S. and is not currently FDA approved for any indication.

ACER-801 (osanetant)

Background

Osanetant is a clinical-stage, selective, non-peptide tachykinin NK3 receptor antagonist. NK3R is the main receptor for neurokinin B (“NKB”), a tachykinin peptide primarily found in the arcuate nucleus (“ARC”) of the hypothalamus. In December 2018, we entered into an exclusive license agreement with Sanofi to acquire worldwide rights to osanetant.

Hot flashes, flushing, and night sweats are known as Vasomotor symptoms (“VMS”), and most often occur in women who are entering or in menopause. VMS are causally related to decreasing estradiol concentrations, mainly in the serum and subsequently also in the temperature regulating center located in the hypothalamus. The lack of estrogen alters neurotransmitter activity, especially in the serotonergic and noradrenergic pathways.

Vasomotor symptoms that are induced by either chemical or surgical intervention are referred to as iVMS. For example, patients receiving tamoxifen treatment for breast cancer, men receiving leuprolide treatment for prostate cancer, and women who are BRCA-positive who elect to have bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (“BSO”)21,22 may exhibit severe iVMS.

In women with Hormone Receptor positive (“HR+”) Breast Cancer (“CaB”) receiving tamoxifen: 23

 

84% of women experienced hot flashes

 

80% experienced night sweats

 

60% experienced severe symptoms

 

Symptoms persisted throughout 5 years of treatment and were mainly attributed to tamoxifen

 

After 4.5 years, 46% of women had discontinued tamoxifen

In men with HR+ Prostate Cancer (“CaP”) receiving leuprolide: 24

 

80% of men experience hot flashes

21


 

 

15-27% of patients consider hot flashes the most distressing side effect

 

30-40% experienced moderate-to-severe symptoms

 

20% discontinued or disrupted treatment

In women who are BRCA+ and have BSO:

 

67% of women have symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes25

 

Up to 35% complain of “extremely bothersome” symptoms up to two years after their surgery26

iVMS are well documented with the use of cancer therapies and certain surgical procedures. Symptoms such as hot flashes can appear immediately and be severe. Non-adherence to therapy can be associated with side effects that can increase the mortality risk or shorten the time to recurrence.

iVMS Diagnosis and Incidence

Rationale for Osanetant Treatment for iVMS

NKB/NK3R is implicated in a variety of human functions and affects the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal axis, which plays a critical part in the development and regulation of a number of the body’s systems, such as the reproductive and immune systems. Clinical proof of concept studies with other NK3R antagonists have demonstrated rapid and clinically-meaningful improvement in vasomotor symptoms and polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Osanetant was originally developed by Sanofi for the treatment of symptoms associated with schizophrenia. Development was discontinued in 2005. Osanetant was studied in 16 Phase 1 studies in 387 healthy subjects and 822

22


patients with the following disorders: depression, panic disorder, schizophrenia, asthma, or Parkinson’s disease. Clinical and laboratory safety data has been collected from 23 completed Phase 1 and Phase 2 studies. No major safety concerns were identified from these studies after single-dose and repeated-dose administration of up to 400mg once daily for up to 21 days, and 200mg once daily for up to six weeks.27 Osanetant is orally bioavailable and readily crosses the blood-brain barrier. We believe that several disorders involving the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal axis could benefit from treatment with an NK3R antagonist.

Registration Plan

Osanetant, if approved for marketing by the FDA, would qualify as an NCE in the U.S., and as such, would be eligible for five years of market exclusivity following potential FDA approval. Additional exclusivity would depend on the indications selected and the development pathway that is chosen. We anticipate submitting an IND for osanetant with the FDA in the third quarter of 2021. We plan to explore treatment with osanetant in a Phase 2 clinical trial in BRCA-positive patients who have undergone a prophylactic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (“PBSO”) that would evaluate the efficacy and safety of the drug at various doses. Initiation of this trial, planned for the fourth quarter of 2021, is subject to successful IND submission and FDA clearance, and our ability to raise sufficient capital.

Osanetant is an investigational drug in the U.S. and is not currently FDA approved for any indication.

ACER-2820 (emetine)

Background

In May 2020, we announced that we had entered into a research collaboration agreement with the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, or NCATS, one of the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, to develop emetine hydrochloride as a potential treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infection, a virus that causes COVID-19. Emetine is an active pharmaceutical ingredient of syrup of ipecac, given orally to induce emesis, and has also been formulated as an injectable to treat thousands of individuals with amebiasis. Several independent emetine in vitro studies have demonstrated nanomolar potency against both DNA and RNA-replicating viruses, including Zika virus, Ebola virus28, Rabies Lyssavirus, human cytomegalovirus, human immunodeficiency virus 1, influenza A virus, Rift Valley fever virus, echovirus 1, human metapneumovirus, and herpes simplex virus type 229. Clinically, emetine has been used to treat approximately 700 patients (including pediatrics) with viral hepatitis30 and varicella-zoster virus31. Additionally, emetine is a potent inhibitor of multiple genetically-distinct coronaviruses and demonstrated in vitro the strongest anti-coronavirus activity in one study that screened and identified approved compounds with broad-spectrum efficacy against the replication of four coronaviruses32 and specifically against SARS-CoV-2. 33

Registration Plan

Further advancement of the emetine program in COVID-19 and other infectious diseases is dependent on our ability to raise non-dilutive capital. Initiation of a proposed Phase 2/3 COVID-19 clinical trial is also subject to successful IND submission and FDA clearance. Emetine is an investigational drug in the U.S. and is not currently FDA approved for any indication.

Citations

 

1.

Batshaw ML, Tuchman M, Summar M, Seminara J; Members of the Urea Cycle Disorders Consortium. A longitudinal study of urea cycle disorders. Mol Genet Metab. 2014 Sep-Oct;113(1-2):127-30. doi: 10.1016/j.ymgme.2014.08.001. Epub 2014 Aug 10. Review.

 

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Shchelochkov et al. Molecular Genetics & Metabolism Reports 8 (2016) 43-47.

 

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Nakano S, et al. Effect of food on the pharmacokinetics and therapeutic efficacy of 4-phenylbutyrate in progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis. Sci Rep 9, 17075 (2019).

 

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https://www.hzndocs.com/BUPHENYL-Prescribing-Information.pdf

 

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https://www.hzndocs.com/RAVICTI-Prescribing-Information.PDF

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Pena-Quintana L, et al. Profile of sodium phenylbutyrate granules for the treatment of urea-cycle disorders: patient perspectives. Patient Preference and Adherence Volume 11:1489-1496, September 2017.

 

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United States Patent number US8642012B2.

 

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Lee et al. Phase 2 Comparison of A Novel Ammonia Scavenging Agent With Sodium Phenylbutyrate In Patients With Urea Cycle Disorders: Safety, Pharmacokinetics And Ammonia Control. Mol Genet Metab. 2010 July; 100(3): 221–228.

 

9.

Strauss KA, et al. Maple Syrup Urine Disease. In: Pagon RA, Adam MP, Ardinger HH, al. e, eds. GeneReviews® [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK1319/: University of Washington, Seattle; 2006. Accessed March 22, 2017

 

10.

Muelly 2011 Neuropsychiatric and Neurochemical Sequelae of MSUD.

 

11.

Danner DJ, et al. Molecular genetic basis for inherited human disorders of branched-chain alpha-keto acid dehydrogenase complex. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1989;573:369-377.

 

12.

Tanyel Zubarioglu, et al. “Impact of sodium phenylbutyrate treatment in acute management of maple syrup urine disease attacks: a single-center experience” https://doi.org/10.1515/jpem-2020-0356

 

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Pepin, et al. Survival is affected by mutation type and molecular mechanism in vascular Ehlers–Danlos syndrome (EDS type IV). Genet Med. 2014 Dec;16(12):881-8.

 

14.

FightvEds.org

 

15.

Ong KT, et al. Effect of celiprolol on prevention of cardiovascular events in vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome: a prospective randomised, open, blinded-endpoints trial. Lancet. 2010;376(9751):1476-1484

 

16.

Frank M, et al. Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome: Long-Term Observational Study. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2019 Apr, 73 (15) 1948–1957

 

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Tetali S, et al. Pilot Study to Evaluate Effect of Antihypertensive Therapy on the Rates of Clinical Events in Patients with Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Society for Vascular Medicine 30th Annual Scientific Sessions. May 2019.

 

18.

Byers PH et al. Am J Med Genet Part C Semin Med Genet. 2017;175C:40-47.

 

19.

Björck M, et al. Celiprolol Treatment in Patients with Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. European Journal of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery. November 20, 2020.

 

20.

FDA guidance “Demonstrating Substantial Evidence of Effectiveness for Human Drug and Biological Products,” December 2019.

 

21.

Kotsopoulos J, Huzarski T, Gronwald J, Moller P, Lynch HT, Neuhausen SL, et al. Hormone replacement therapy after menopause and risk of breast cancer in BRCA1 mutation carriers: a case-control study. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 2016;155(2):365–73.

 

22.

Guidozzi F. Hormone therapy after prophylactic risk-reducing bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy in women who have BRCA gene mutation. Climacteric 2016;19(5): 419–22.

 

23.

Moon, Z. et al., Journal of Pyschosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2017 VOL. 38, NO. 3, 226–235.

 

24.

Challapalli, A, et al., Clinical and Translational Radiation Oncology 10 (2018) 29–35.

 

25.

L. Johnson, et al. American Society for Reproductive Medicine, 2014 Vol 102 No. 3, Supplement, e249.

 

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Robson M, Hensley M, Barakat R, et al. Quality of life in women at risk for ovarian cancer who have undergone risk-reducing oophorectomy. Gynecol Oncol 2003;89(2):281–7.

 

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Meltzer H, et al. Placebo-controlled evaluation of four novel compounds for the treatment of schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. June 2004; 161(6):975-84.

 

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Yang S, et al. Emetine inhibits Zika and Ebola virus infections through two molecular mechanisms: inhibiting viral replication and decreasing viral entry. Cell Discov (2018) 4:31. doi:10.1038/s41421-018-0034-1

 

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Andersen, P.I., et al. Novel Antiviral Activities of Obatoclax, Emetine, Niclosamide, Brequinar, and Homoharringtonine. Viruses 2019, 11, 964

 

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Del Puerto et al. Pren. méd. argent., 55: 818, 1968

 

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Annamalai et al. Emetine Hydrochloride in the Treatment of Herpes Zoster. 1968

 

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Shen L, et al. High-Throughput Screening and Identification of Potent Broad-Spectrum Inhibitors of Coronaviruses. J Virol. 2019 May 29;93(12)

 

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Choy et al. Remdesivir, lopinavir, emetine, and homoharringtonine inhibit SARS-CoV-2 replication in vitro. Antiviral Res. 2020 Jun; 178: 104786

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Commercialization Strategy

Assuming the FDA approves ACER-001 and/or EDSIVOTM, we expect that the majority of UCDs, MSUD and/or vEDS patients would be treated at tertiary care centers, and therefore could be addressed with a targeted sales force. UCD and MSUD patients are primarily managed by metabolic geneticists and dietitians, while vEDS patients would primarily be treated by vascular medicine or cardiology specialists. We intend to build our own commercial infrastructure in the U.S. to target these centers and will evaluate whether to commercialize in other geographies ourselves or with an experienced partner.

We are in the process of formulating our commercialization strategy for osanetant and emetine.

Competition

The pharmaceutical industry is highly competitive. We face competition from major pharmaceutical companies, specialty pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology companies worldwide. Given the significant unmet medical needs for novel therapies to treat UCDs, MSUD, vEDS, iVMS, and COVID-19, many companies, public and private universities and research organizations are actively engaged in the discovery, research and development of product candidates to treat these conditions. As a result, there are and will likely continue to be extensive resources invested in the discovery and development of new products to treat these unmet medical needs. We anticipate facing intense and increasing competition as new products enter the market and advanced technologies become available.

We are not aware of any other companies that are in clinical development with a treatment for vEDS, although we are aware of studies that are currently enrolling vEDS patients at AP-HP, including one that adds irbesartan, an angiotensin II receptor blocker, with celiprolol, to provide supplemental vascular protection and thus reduce recurrence of arterial events in vEDS patients.

Our potential competitors and the related stage of development for their product candidates in our other target indications for ACER-001 and osanetant include the following:

 

UCDs: Horizon Pharma plc / Immedica Group (Marketed); Aeglea BioTherapeutics Inc. (Phase 3); Ultragenyx (Phase 1/2); Kaleido (Phase 2)

 

MSUD: Synlogic, Inc. (preclinical)

 

iVMS: Veru (Phase 2); Que Oncology (Phase 2)

Many of our competitors, either alone or with strategic partners, have or will have substantially greater financial, technical and human resources compared with us. Accordingly, our competitors may be more successful in developing or marketing products and technologies that are more effective, safer or less costly. Additionally, our competitors may obtain regulatory approval for their products more rapidly and may achieve more widespread market acceptance. These companies also compete with us in recruiting and retaining qualified scientific and management personnel, establishing clinical study sites and patient registration for clinical studies and acquiring technologies complementary to, or necessary for, our programs. Smaller or early-stage companies may also prove to be significant competitors, particularly through collaborative arrangements with large and established companies.

There are other non-pharmaceutical therapeutic approaches that are used or may be used for our targeted indications. For example, liver transplantation may be used in some cases to treat UCDs or MSUD in pediatric patients who have developed acute liver failure.

We believe that the key competitive factors that will affect the development and commercial success of our product candidates are efficacy, safety and tolerability profile, convenience in dosing, product labeling, price, and the availability of reimbursement.

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Licenses

Baylor College of Medicine

In April 2014, we obtained exclusive rights to intellectual property relating to ACER-001 and preclinical and clinical data, through a license agreement with BCM related to MSUD. Under the terms of the agreement, as amended, we have worldwide exclusive rights to develop, manufacture, use, sell and import products incorporating the licensed intellectual property. The license agreement requires us to make upfront and annual payments to BCM, reimburse certain of BCM’s legal costs, make payments upon achievement of defined milestones, and pay low single-digit percent royalties on net sales of any developed product over the royalty term.

Aventis Pharma SA

In June 2016, we entered into an agreement with Aventis Pharma SA (now Sanofi) granting us the exclusive access and exclusive right to use the data included in the marketing authorization application dossier filed with and approved by the MHRA in 1986 for the treatment of mild to moderate hypertension pursuant to the UK regulatory approval procedure, for the sole purpose of allowing us to further develop, manufacture, register and commercialize celiprolol in the U.S. and Brazil for the treatment of EDS, Marfan syndrome and Loeys-Dietz syndrome. We have paid in full for the exclusive access and right to use the data. Subsequently we amended our agreement with Sanofi to provide the same rights to data access and use for potential marketing approval in all North and South America.

Assistance Publique—Hôpitaux de Paris, Hôpital Européen Georges Pompidou (AP-HP)

In August 2016, we entered into an agreement with AP-HP granting us the exclusive worldwide rights to access and use data from a multicenter, prospective, randomized, open trial related to the use of celiprolol for the treatment of vEDS. We utilized this clinical data to support an NDA filing for EDSIVOTM for the treatment of vEDS. The agreement requires us to make certain upfront payments to AP-HP, reimburse certain of AP-HP’s costs, make payments upon achievement of defined milestones, and pay low single-digit percent royalties on net sales of celiprolol over the royalty term.

In September 2018, we entered into an additional agreement with AP-HP to acquire the exclusive worldwide intellectual property rights to three European patent applications relating to certain uses of celiprolol including (i) the optimal dose of celiprolol in treating vEDS patients, (ii) the use of celiprolol during pregnancy, and (iii) the use of celiprolol to treat kyphoscoliotic Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (type VI). We are no longer pursuing the type VI patent application. Pursuant to the agreement, we will reimburse AP-HP for certain costs and will pay annual maintenance fee payments. Subject to a minimum royalty amount, we will also pay royalty payments on annual net sales of celiprolol during the royalty term in the low single digit percent range, depending upon whether there is a valid claim of a licensed patent. Under the agreement, we will control and pay the costs of ongoing patent prosecution and maintenance for the licensed applications. We subsequently filed three U.S. patent applications on this subject matter in October 2018. Of those, two applications remain in prosecution and the third, relating to type VI EDS, has been returned to AP-HP. We may choose to limit our pursuit of patent applications to specific territories, in which case AP-HP would have the right to revise our territorial license rights accordingly.

Sanofi

In December 2018, we entered into an exclusive license agreement with Sanofi granting us worldwide rights to osanetant, a clinical-stage, selective, non-peptide tachykinin NK3 receptor antagonist. The agreement required us to make a certain upfront payment to Sanofi, make payments upon achievement of defined development and sales milestones, and pay royalties on net sales of osanetant over the royalty term. We plan to initially pursue development of osanetant as a potential treatment for iVMS.

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Research Collaboration

On May 11, 2020, we announced that we entered into a research collaboration agreement with the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (“NCATS”), one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to develop emetine hydrochloride as a potential treatment of SARS-COV-2 infection. Under the terms of the agreement, We and NCATS are collaborating to accelerate the clinical development of emetine.

Manufacturing

We contract with third parties for the manufacture, testing, and storage of our product candidates and intend to continue to do so in the future. We do not own and have no plans to build our own manufacturing capabilities for clinical or commercial supply. We have hired both internal resources and consultants with extensive technical, manufacturing, analytical, regulatory and quality assurance and control experience to oversee contract manufacturing and testing activities, and to compile manufacturing and quality information for our regulatory submissions.

Intellectual Property

ACER-001

We obtained exclusive rights to certain patents and other intellectual property from BCM for the use of NaPB for the treatment of inborn errors of BCAA metabolism, including MSUD.

The licensed patents cover methods and compositions for treating humans (and animals) with various formulations and prodrugs of NaPB for inborn errors of BCAA metabolism, including MSUD, and the latest expires in 2032. We made filings in the geographic regions that represent the largest incidence and prevalence of MSUD: the U.S., selected countries in Europe (including Turkey), and Brazil. BCM has been issued three patents in the U.S. and one in the European Union with respect to ACER-001, each of which was exclusively licensed to us pursuant to our agreement with BCM.

We filed a formulation patent application with respect to ACER-001 in March 2016 and are seeking patent protection in major markets, including the U.S. and the European Union.

We also expect to benefit from potential commercial exclusivity afforded to the first drug approved after obtaining Orphan Drug designation for the treatment of MSUD. Orphan Drug exclusivity provides, upon the approval by the FDA of a drug intended to treat a rare condition, seven years of marketing exclusivity, during which time the FDA will not approve the same drug for the same indication unless it demonstrates clinical superiority. Orphan Drug exclusivity does not prevent the FDA from approving the same drug for a different indication, or a different drug for the same indication. We were granted Orphan Drug designation for ACER-001 for the treatment of MSUD by the FDA in August 2014.

Furthermore, we may qualify to receive an additional six months of pediatric exclusivity in the U.S., which runs consecutively to an existing exclusivity, if we conduct a successful pediatric study approved by the FDA for this purpose.

EDSIVO™

We intend to protect our commercial rights to EDSIVOTM in the U.S. via multiple pathways. We believe that we will be eligible for NCE exclusivity for EDSIVOTM, which provides upon approval of an NCE five years of marketing exclusivity, during which time the FDA will not approve another drug with the same active ingredient, regardless of the indication for use, in the U.S. In January 2015, the FDA granted EDSIVOTM Orphan Drug Designation, which provides upon the approval of a drug intended to treat a rare condition seven years of marketing exclusivity during which time the FDA will not approve the same drug for the same indication, unless it demonstrates clinical superiority. Orphan Drug exclusivity does not prevent the FDA from approving the same drug

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for a different indication, or a different drug for the same indication. NCE exclusivity and Orphan Drug exclusivity run concurrently. Furthermore, EDSIVOTM may qualify for an additional six months of pediatric exclusivity in the U.S., which requires the submission of one or more studies in pediatric subjects that meet requirements to be specified by the FDA in a written request for pediatric studies. Pediatric exclusivity can be obtained either before or after NDA approval. Pediatric exclusivity is attached to the end of an existing exclusivity and runs consecutively. We may also consider making modifications to the formulation to seek to obtain additional intellectual property. While unapproved drugs may be imported into the U.S. under specified circumstances, such as for use in clinical studies under a valid and effective IND or for further manufacture into an IND drug or an approved drug, we intend to aggressively assert our rights, via regulatory and legal means, to limit the importation of non-FDA approved versions of celiprolol. We intend to provide a robust patient assistance program (“PAP”) to offset costs associated with a high priced therapeutic to minimize the incentive for vEDS patients in the U.S. to seek to obtain celiprolol elsewhere.

In October 2018, we filed three U.S. patent applications relating to certain uses of celiprolol including (i) the optimal dose of celiprolol in treating vEDS patients, (ii) the use of celiprolol during pregnancy, and (iii) the use of celiprolol to treat kyphoscoliotic Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (type VI). We are no longer pursuing the type VI patent application.

Osanetant

We intend to explore various pathways to protect our commercial rights to osanetant in multiple rare and life-threatening neuroendocrine disorders, including evaluating filing patent applications and acquiring existing intellectual property.

Emetine

We intend to explore various pathways to protect our commercial rights to emetine in multiple infectious diseases, including but not limited to COVID-19, including evaluating filing patent applications and acquiring existing intellectual property.

Government Regulation and Product Approval

Government authorities in the U.S. at the federal, state and local level and in other countries extensively regulate, among other things, the use of unapproved drugs, preclinical and clinical studies, development, testing, quality control, manufacture, packaging, storage, recordkeeping, labeling, advertising, promotion, distribution, import, and export of pharmaceutical products such as those we are developing. The process for obtaining approvals or authorizations to market a drug product in the U.S. and in foreign countries and jurisdictions, along with pre- and post-approval compliance with applicable statutes and regulations, require the expenditure of substantial time and financial resources. This section discusses, in general terms, the typical approval process. Our product candidates must be approved by the FDA before they may be legally marketed in the U.S. and by the appropriate foreign regulatory agency before they may be legally marketed in foreign countries. Generally, our activities in other countries will be subject to regulation that is similar in nature and scope as that imposed in the U.S., although there can be important differences. Additionally, some significant aspects of approval requirements within the European Union are addressed uniformly, while country-specific requirements must also be met.

U.S. Drug Approval Process. In the U.S., the FDA regulates drugs under the FFDCA and the FDA’s implementing regulations. Drugs are also subject to other federal, state and local statutes and regulations. The process of obtaining marketing approvals and pre- and post-approval compliance with applicable federal, state, and local statutes and regulations requires the expenditure of substantial time and financial resources. Failure to comply with the applicable U.S. requirements at any time before or after approval, may subject an applicant to a variety of administrative or judicial sanctions, such as the FDA’s refusal to approve a pending NDA, withdrawal of an approval, imposition of a clinical hold on a clinical study or studies, issuance of a warning letter or untitled letter, product recall, product seizure, total or partial suspension of production or distribution, injunction, fines, refusals or cancellation of government contracts, restitution, disgorgement, or civil or criminal penalties.

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The standard process required by the FDA before a drug may be marketed in the U.S. generally involves the following:

 

completion of preclinical laboratory tests, animal studies and formulation studies in compliance with the FDA’s current good laboratory practice (“cGLP”) regulations

 

submission to the FDA of an IND to which the FDA has no objections and which must become effective before clinical trials in the U.S. may begin

 

approval by an institutional review board (“IRB”) for each clinical site before each trial may be initiated

 

performance of adequate and well-controlled human clinical trials to establish the safety and efficacy of the drug candidate for each proposed indication in accordance with the FDA’s current Good Clinical Practice (“cGCP”) regulations, IND regulations, and human subject protection regulations

 

meet Pediatric Research Equity Act (“PREA”) requirements, if applicable

 

submission to the FDA of an NDA

 

satisfactory review by an FDA advisory committee, if applicable

 

satisfactory completion of an FDA inspection of the manufacturing facility or facilities at which the product is produced to assess compliance with the FDA’s current Good Manufacturing Practices (“cGMP”) regulation and to assure that the methods used in, and the facilities and controls used for, manufacture, processing, and packing are adequate to preserve the drug’s identity, strength, quality and purity

 

FDA review and approval of the NDA

Preclinical Studies. Preclinical studies include laboratory evaluation of product chemistry, toxicity and formulation, as well as animal studies to assess the characteristics and potential safety and efficacy of the product. An IND sponsor must submit, directly or by cross-reference, the results of the preclinical tests, together with manufacturing information, analytical data, any available clinical data or literature and a proposed clinical trial protocol, among other things, to the FDA as part of an IND. Some preclinical testing may continue even after the IND is submitted. An IND automatically becomes effective 30 days after receipt by the FDA, unless before that time the FDA raises questions or concerns, including concerns that human research subjects will be exposed to unreasonable health risks, related to one or more proposed clinical trials and places the trial on a clinical hold. In such a case, the IND sponsor and the FDA must resolve any outstanding concerns before the clinical trial can begin. As a result, submission of an IND may not result in the FDA allowing clinical trials to commence.

Clinical Trials. Clinical trials involve the administration of the investigational new drug to subjects or patients under the supervision of qualified investigators in accordance with IND regulations and human subject protection regulations as well as cGCP standards, which include the requirement that all research patients undergo an informed consent process and provide their informed consent for participation in any clinical trial and that an IRB approve each study before it begins. Clinical trials are conducted under protocols detailing, among other things, the objectives of the clinical trial, the parameters to be used in monitoring safety and the effectiveness criteria to be evaluated. A protocol for each clinical trial and any subsequent protocol amendments must be submitted to the FDA as part of the IND. In addition, an IRB for each institution participating in the clinical trial must review and approve each protocol and protocol amendment for any clinical trial before it commences at that institution. Information about certain clinical trials must be submitted within specific timeframes to the National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) for public dissemination on their ClinicalTrials.gov website.

Human clinical trials are typically conducted in three or four sequential phases, which may overlap or be combined:

Phase 1: The drug is initially introduced into a small number of healthy human subjects and tested for safety, dosage tolerance, absorption, metabolism, distribution, and excretion or, on occasion, in patients with severe problems or life-threatening disease to gain an early indication of its effectiveness.

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Phase 2: The drug is administered to a limited patient population to preliminarily evaluate the efficacy of the product for a specific targeted disease, gather additional safety information and to determine dosage tolerance, optimal dosage, and method of delivery.

Phase 3: The drug is administered to a larger patient population, generally at geographically dispersed clinical trial sites, in well-controlled clinical trials to generate enough data to statistically evaluate the efficacy and safety of the product to determine effectiveness, to establish the overall risk-benefit profile of the product, and to provide adequate information for the labeling of the product and ultimately to support approval.

Phase 4: In some cases, the FDA may condition approval of an NDA for a product candidate on the sponsor’s agreement to conduct additional clinical trials after NDA approval. In other cases, a sponsor may voluntarily conduct additional clinical trials post-approval to gain more information about the drug. Such post-approval trials are typically referred to as Phase 4 clinical trials.

Progress reports detailing the results of the clinical trials must be submitted at least annually to the FDA and more frequently if serious and unexpected adverse reactions occur. Trial sponsors must monitor other information including published as well as unpublished scientific papers, reports from foreign regulatory authorities and reports of foreign commercial marketing experience for the investigational drug and notify the FDA and clinical trial investigators of certain information. Phase 1, Phase 2 and Phase 3 clinical trials may fail to be completed successfully within a specified period, or at all. Furthermore, the FDA may impose a clinical hold on one or more or all of the clinical studies or the sponsor may suspend or terminate a clinical trial or development of an investigational product at any time for a variety of reasons, including a finding that the research patients are being exposed to an unacceptable health risk. Development, or the aspects of development, that are affected by the clinical hold may not continue unless and until the sponsor addresses all of the FDA’s concerns and has been notified that the hold is removed. Similarly, an IRB can suspend or terminate its approval of a clinical trial at its institution if the clinical trial is not being conducted in accordance with the protocol or the IRB’s requirements or if the drug has been associated with unexpected serious harm to patients. Nearly all Phase 3 trials and some other trials are overseen by a Data and Safety Monitoring Board (“DSMB”) which is composed of doctors, statisticians, and others who are independent of the clinical trial sponsor. Similar to IRBs, the DSMBs review the progress of a clinical trial and participant safety, but they also review data on the effectiveness of the drug being studied. DSMB members can stop a trial early if safety concerns arise or if they determine that the trial should be stopped due to “futility” meaning that the trial will not be able to answer the question or questions it set out to explore, or due to ethical considerations.

Concurrent with clinical trials, companies may need to complete additional animal trials and must develop information about the chemistry and physical characteristics of the drug and finalize a process for manufacturing the drug in commercial quantities in accordance with cGMP requirements. The manufacturing process must be capable of consistently producing quality batches of the drug candidate and, among other things, the manufacturer must develop methods for testing the identity, strength, quality and purity of the final drug product. Additionally, appropriate packaging must be selected and tested and stability studies must be completed to establish an expiration date and demonstrate that the drug candidate does not undergo unacceptable deterioration prior to the expiration date.

The NDA Approval Process. Assuming successful completion of the required clinical testing, the results of the preclinical studies and clinical trials, including negative or ambiguous results as well as positive findings, together with detailed information relating to the product’s chemistry, manufacture, controls and proposed labeling, among other things, are submitted to the FDA as part of an NDA to support approval to market the product for one or more indications. Under standard approval processes, in most cases, the submission of an NDA is subject to a substantial application user fee.

The FDA is required to conduct a preliminary review of an NDA within the first 60 days after submission, before accepting it for filing, to determine whether it is sufficiently complete to permit substantive review. The FDA may accept the NDA for filing, potentially refuse to file the NDA due to deficiencies but work with the applicant to rectify the deficiencies (in which case the NDA is filed upon resolution of the deficiencies) or refuse to file the NDA. The FDA must notify the applicant of a refusal to file a decision within 60 days after the original receipt date of the application. If the FDA refuses to file the NDA the applicant may resubmit the NDA with the deficiencies addressed. The resubmitted NDA is considered a new application subject to a new six- or ten-month review goal, as

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described below. If the NDA is resubmitted for the same product (by the same person) a new application fee will not be required. The resubmitted application is also subject to the 60-day review before the FDA accepts it for filing. Once an NDA is accepted for filing, the FDA begins an in-depth substantive review. Under the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (“PDUFA”) and the FDA’s commitments under the current PDUFA Reauthorization Act, the FDA has a goal of reviewing and acting on 90% of standard non-priority NDA applications within six or ten months from the filing date of the NDA.

The FDA reviews an NDA to determine, among other things, whether the drug is safe and effective for its intended use and whether the facility in which it is manufactured, processed, packaged or stored meets standards designed to assure the product’s continued safety, quality and purity. The FDA is required to refer an application for a novel drug or class to an advisory committee or explain why such referral was not made. An advisory committee is a panel of independent experts, including clinicians and other scientific experts, that reviews, evaluates and provides a recommendation in response to specific questions raised by the FDA, which may include whether the application should be approved and under what conditions. The FDA is not bound by the recommendations of an advisory committee, but it considers such recommendations carefully when making decisions.

Before approving an NDA, the FDA inspects the facility or facilities where the product is manufactured. The FDA will not approve an application unless it determines that the manufacturing processes and facilities are in compliance with cGMP requirements and adequate to assure consistent production of the product within required specifications. Additionally, before approving an NDA, the FDA will typically inspect and audit data at one or more clinical sites to evaluate the integrity of the data and confirm compliance with cGCP.

After the FDA evaluates the NDA and conducts its inspections, it may issue an approval letter or a Complete Response Letter. An approval letter authorizes commercial marketing of the drug subject to specific prescribing information for specific indication(s) and, if applicable, specific post-approval requirements. A Complete Response Letter indicates that the review cycle of the application is complete but the application is not ready for approval. After receiving a Complete Response Letter, the applicant must decide within twelve months (subject to extension), if it plans to resubmit the NDA addressing the deficiencies identified by the FDA in the Complete Response Letter, withdraw the NDA, or request an opportunity for a hearing to challenge the FDA’s determination. A Complete Response Letter may require additional clinical data and/or an additional pivotal Phase 3 clinical trial(s), and/or other significant, expensive and time-consuming requirements related to clinical trials, nonclinical studies or manufacturing. Even if such data are submitted, the FDA may ultimately decide that the data in the NDA does not satisfy the criteria for approval. Data from clinical trials are not always conclusive and the FDA may interpret this data differently than we interpret the data.

The FDA also may require implementation of a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (“REMS”) to mitigate any identified or suspected serious risks. The REMS plan could include medication guides, physician communication plans, assessment plans and elements to assure safe use, such as restricted distribution methods, patient registries or other risk minimization tools.

The drug testing and approval process requires substantial time, effort and financial resources, and may take several years to complete. Data obtained from clinical activities are not always conclusive and may be susceptible to varying interpretations, which could delay, limit or prevent marketing approval. The FDA may not grant marketing approval on a timely basis, or at all.

Even if the FDA approves a product, it may limit the approved indications for use for the product. The FDA requires that the approved product labeling include information regarding contraindications, warnings or precautions. It may also require that post-approval studies, including Phase 4 clinical trials, including a long-term registry, be conducted to further assess a drug’s safety after approval, require testing and surveillance programs to monitor the product after commercialization, or impose other conditions, including distribution restrictions or other risk management mechanisms, which can materially affect the potential market and profitability of the product. The FDA may prevent or limit further marketing of a product based on the results of post-marketing studies or surveillance programs. After approval, some types of changes to the approved product, such as adding new indications or data to the labeling or manufacturing changes, may be subject to further testing requirements and FDA review and approval. Also, after approval, the FDA may require labeling changes as new information becomes known, particularly if new risks are identified following commercial use, such as unexpected adverse events. The FDA has the authority to prevent or limit further marketing of a drug based on the results of these post-marketing studies and programs or other information that may become known after approval.

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Hatch-Waxman Amendments and Exclusivity. The Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984, referred to as the Hatch-Waxman Amendments, amended the FFDCA and established abbreviated pathways to market, as well as incentives for the development of new drug products. The Hatch-Waxman Amendments established section 505(b)(2) of the FFDCA that provides an alternative pathway for submission of an NDA, referred to as the 505(b)(2) application, when some or all of the safety and efficacy investigations relied on for approval were not conducted by or for the applicant and for which the applicant has not obtained a right of reference, but for which the information is publicly available. The Hatch-Waxman Amendments also established the abbreviated new drug application (“ANDA”) approval pathway, which provides an expedient route for generic drugs that have the same active ingredient as a previously approved drug. At the same time, to incentivize continued pharmaceutical innovation, the Hatch-Waxman Amendments authorized periods of market exclusivity to protect certain approved new drugs from competition for five- or three-year periods.

Under the Hatch-Waxman Amendments, a new drug containing an active ingredient that had never before been approved in any other NDA, ANDA, or 505(b)(2) NDA is provided five years of market exclusivity upon approval. The FDA refers to this exclusivity as NCE exclusivity. During the NCE exclusivity period, the FDA cannot approve an ANDA or a 505(b)(2) application for a drug containing the same active ingredient. For NCE exclusivity, the FDA regulations interpret “active ingredient” to mean “active moiety,” which is defined as “the molecule or ion, excluding those appended portions of the molecule that cause the drug to be an ester, salt . . . , or other noncovalent derivative . . . of the molecule, responsible for the physiological or pharmacological action of the drug substance.” Although the FDA may not approve an ANDA or 505(b)(2) NDA with the same active ingredient during the five-year NCE exclusivity period, an ANDA or 505(b)(2) NDA may be submitted to the FDA after four years if it contains a certification of patent invalidity or non-infringement.

The Hatch-Waxman Amendments also provide three years of market exclusivity for an NDA, a 505(b)(2) NDA, or a supplement to either of these applications for a drug product containing an active moiety that has been previously approved, if new clinical investigations, other than bioavailability studies, that were conducted or sponsored by the applicant, are deemed by the FDA to be essential to the approval of the application. During this three-year exclusivity period, the FDA will not make effective the approval of any ANDA or 505(b)(2) NDA for the same active moiety for the same conditions of use. Five-year and three-year exclusivity will not delay the submission or approval of a new drug containing the same active moiety if it is the subject of a full NDA for which the applicant conducted, sponsored, or obtained a right of reference to all of the preclinical studies and adequate and well-controlled clinical trials necessary to demonstrate safety and effectiveness.

Other Regulatory Requirements. Drugs manufactured or distributed pursuant to FDA approvals are subject to pervasive and continuing regulation by the FDA, including, among other things, annual establishment registration and product listing and associated user fees, compliance with the cGMP, recordkeeping, periodic reporting, product sampling and distribution, advertising and promotion, and adverse drug experience monitoring and reporting with the product. After approval, most changes to the approved product labeling, such as adding new indications are subject to prior FDA review and approval. Also, any post-approval changes in the drug substance, drug product, production process, quality controls, equipment, or facilities that have a substantial potential to have an adverse effect on the identity, strength, quality, purity, or potency of the drug product is subject to FDA review and approval. Any such changes that have a moderate potential to have an adverse effect on the identity, strength, quality, purity, or potency of the drug product must be submitted to the FDA for review 30 days prior to implementation. All manufacturing facilities, as well as records required to be maintained under FDA regulations, are subject to inspection or audit by the FDA. In addition, manufacturers are required to pay annual user fees for establishment registration and user fees for the submission of each new or supplemental application with clinical data.

The FDA may impose a number of post-approval requirements as a condition of approval of an NDA. For example, the FDA may require post-approval testing, including Phase 4 clinical trials, and surveillance to further assess and monitor the product’s safety and effectiveness after commercialization. The Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007 gave the FDA the authority to require a REMS from drug manufacturers to manage a known or potential serious risk associated with the drug and to ensure that the benefits of a drug outweigh its risks. Examples of a REMS include, but are not limited to, a Medication Guide, a patient package insert to help mitigate a serious risk of the drug, and a communication plan to health care providers to support the implementation of an element of the REMS.

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In addition, drug manufacturers and other entities involved in the manufacture and distribution of approved drugs are required to register their establishments with the FDA and register or obtain permits or licenses in states where they do business, and are subject to periodic unannounced inspections by the FDA and state regulatory authorities with jurisdiction over their activities to determine compliance with regulatory requirements. A drug manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that its third-party contractors operate in compliance with applicable laws and regulations including the cGMP regulation. The failure of a drug manufacturer or any of its third-party contractors to comply with federal or state laws or regulations may subject the drug manufacturer to possible legal or regulatory action, such as an untitled letter, warning letter, recall, suspension of manufacturing or distribution or both, suspension of state permit or license, seizure of product, import detention, injunctive action, civil and criminal penalties.

Changes to the manufacturing process are strictly regulated and often require prior FDA approval before being implemented. FDA regulations also require a drug manufacturer to conduct investigations and implement appropriate corrective actions to address any deviations from cGMP requirements and impose reporting and documentation requirements upon the manufacturer and any third-party contractors (including contract manufacturers and laboratories) involved in the manufacture of a drug product. Accordingly, manufacturers must continue to expend significant time, money and effort to maintain and ensure ongoing cGMP compliance and to confirm and ensure ongoing cGMP compliance of their third-party contractors.

Once an approval is granted, the FDA may withdraw the approval if there is new information or evidence that the drug is unsafe or not shown to be safe for use under the conditions of its approval, or that new information shows there is a lack of substantial evidence of effectiveness, or that the approved application contained an untrue statement of material fact, or that the required patent information was not submitted within 30 days after receiving notice from the FDA of the failure to submit such information. Later discovery of previously unknown problems with a product, including adverse events of unanticipated severity or frequency, or with manufacturing processes, or failure to comply with regulatory requirements, may result in revisions to the approved labeling to add new safety and risk information; imposition of a post-market study requirement to assess new safety risks; or implementation of a REMS that may include distribution or other restrictions.

The FDA closely regulates drug advertising and promotional activities, including promotion of an unapproved drug, direct-to-consumer advertising, dissemination of scientific information about a drug not on the approved labeling, off-label promotion, communications with payors and formulary committees, industry-sponsored scientific and educational activities, and promotional activities involving the internet and social media. A company’s promotional product claims must be true and not misleading, provide fair balance, provide adequate risk information, and be consistent with the product label approved by the FDA. Failure to comply with these requirements can lead to regulatory actions including, among other things, warning letters, corrective advertising, injunction, violation and related penalties under the False Claims Act and result in reputational and economic harm.

Physicians may prescribe FDA-approved drugs for uses that are not described in the product’s labeling and that differ from those uses tested by the manufacturer. Such off-label uses are common across medical specialties. Physicians may believe that such off-label uses are the best treatment for many patients in varied circumstances. The FDA does not regulate the behavior of physicians in their choice of treatments for their individual patients. The FDA does, however, regulate manufacturers’ communications about their drug products and interprets the FFDCA to prohibit pharmaceutical companies from promoting their FDA-approved drug products for uses that are not specified in the FDA-approved labeling. Companies that market drugs for off-label uses have been subject to warning letters, related costly litigation, criminal prosecution, and civil liability under the FFDCA and the False Claims Act.

In addition, the distribution of prescription pharmaceutical products is subject to the Prescription Drug Marketing Act (“PDMA”) which regulates the distribution of drug and drug samples at the federal level, and sets minimum standards for the registration and regulation of wholesale drug distributors by the states.

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Orphan Designation. The Orphan Drug Act of 1983 provides incentives, including marketing exclusivity, user fee waivers and tax benefits, to companies that undertake development and marketing of products to treat rare diseases, which are defined as diseases for which there is a patient population of fewer than 200,000 persons in the U.S. or a patient population greater than 200,000 in the U.S. where there is no reasonable expectation that the cost of developing the drug will be recovered from sales in the U.S. A drug that receives Orphan Drug designation may receive up to seven years of exclusive marketing in the U.S. for that indication, which means the FDA may not approve any other application to market the same drug for the same indication for a period of seven years, except in limited circumstances, such as a showing of clinical superiority over the product with orphan exclusivity or where the manufacturer is unable to assure sufficient product quantity. A drug may be entitled to an additional six months of exclusive marketing if it satisfies the requirements for pediatric exclusivity.

The European Medicines Agency (“EMA”) Committee for Orphan Medicinal Products (“COMP”) grants Orphan Drug designation to promote the development of products that are intended for the diagnosis, prevention or treatment of life-threatening or chronically debilitating conditions affecting not more than five in 10,000 persons in the European Union Community and for which no satisfactory method of diagnosis, prevention, or treatment has been authorized (or the product would be a significant benefit to those affected). Additionally, designation is granted for products intended for the diagnosis, prevention, or treatment of a life-threatening, seriously debilitating or serious and chronic condition and when, without incentives, it is unlikely that sales of the drug in the European Union would be sufficient to justify the necessary investment in developing the medicinal product. In the European Union, Orphan Drug designation entitles a party to financial incentives such as reduction of fees or fee waivers and ten years of market exclusivity is granted following medicinal product approval. This period may be reduced to six years if the Orphan Drug designation criteria are no longer met, including where it is shown that the product is sufficiently profitable not to justify maintenance of market exclusivity.

New Legislation and Regulations. From time to time, legislation is drafted, introduced and passed in Congress that could significantly change the statutory provisions governing the testing, approval, manufacturing, and marketing of products regulated by the FDA. In addition to new legislation, FDA regulations and policies are often revised or interpreted by the agency in ways that may significantly affect our business and product candidates. It is impossible to predict whether further legislative changes will be enacted or FDA regulations, guidance, policies or interpretations will be changed, or what the impact of such changes, if any, may be.

Pharmaceutical Coverage, Pricing, and Reimbursement. Significant uncertainty exists as to the coverage and reimbursement status of any drug products for which we may obtain marketing approval. Sales of any of our product candidates, if approved, will depend, in part, on the extent to which the costs of the products will be covered by third-party payors, including government health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, commercial health insurers and managed care organizations. The process for determining whether a third-party payor will provide coverage for a drug product typically is separate from the process for establishing the reimbursement rate that a payor will pay for the drug product once coverage is approved. Some third-party payors may limit coverage to specific drug products on an approved list, also known as a formulary, which might not include all of the approved drugs for a particular indication.

In order to obtain coverage and reimbursement for any product that might be approved for sale, we may need to conduct expensive pharmacoeconomic studies in order to demonstrate the medical necessity and cost-effectiveness of the product, in addition to the costs required to obtain FDA or other comparable regulatory approvals. Whether or not we conduct such studies, our product candidates may not be considered medically necessary or cost-effective. A third-party payor’s decision to provide coverage for a drug product does not imply that an adequate reimbursement rate will be approved. Further, one payor’s determination to provide coverage for a product does not assure that other payors will also provide coverage, and adequate reimbursement, for the product. Third-party reimbursement may not be sufficient to enable us to maintain price levels high enough to realize an appropriate return on our investment in product development.

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The containment of healthcare costs has become a priority of federal, state and foreign governments, and the prices of drugs have been a focus in this effort. Third-party payors are increasingly challenging the prices charged for medical products and services, examining the medical necessity and reviewing the cost-effectiveness of drug products and medical services and questioning safety and efficacy. Emphasis on managed care in the U.S. has increased and we expect will continue to increase the pressure on drug pricing. If third-party payors do not consider our products to be cost-effective compared to other available therapies, they may not cover the products for which we receive FDA approval or, if they do, the level of payment may not be sufficient to allow us to sell our products at a profit.

The U.S. government, state legislatures, and foreign governments have shown significant interest in implementing cost-containment programs to limit the growth of government-paid healthcare costs and drug prices in general, including for therapies for rare diseases. These measures include price controls, transparency requirements triggered by the introduction of new high-cost drugs into the market, drug re-importation, restrictions on reimbursement and requirements for substitution of generic products for branded prescription drugs. Some laws and regulations have already been enacted in these areas, and additional measures have been introduced or are under consideration at both the federal and state levels. Additionally, legislation that affects reimbursement for drugs with small patient populations could be adopted, limiting payments for pharmaceuticals such as our product candidates, which could adversely affect our potential future net revenue and results.

In addition, in the U.S., the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“the Affordable Care Act”) contains provisions that have the potential to substantially change healthcare delivery and financing, including impacting the profitability of drugs. For example, the Affordable Care Act revised the methodology by which rebates owed by manufacturers for covered outpatient drugs are calculated under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program, extended the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program to utilization of covered drugs dispensed to individuals enrolled in Medicaid managed care organizations and subjected manufacturers to new annual fees for certain branded prescription drugs. Given the complexity of the Affordable Care Act and the substantial requirements for regulation thereunder, the impact of the Affordable Care Act on our financial conditions and operations cannot be predicted, whether in its current form or as amended or repealed.

Pricing and reimbursement methodologies vary widely from country to country. Some countries require that drug products may be marketed only after a reimbursement price has been agreed. Some countries may require the completion of additional studies that compare the cost-effectiveness of a particular product candidate to currently available therapies. For example, the European Union provides options for its member states to restrict the range of drug products for which their national health insurance systems provide reimbursement and to control the prices of medicinal products for human use. European Union member states may approve a specific price for a drug product or they may instead adopt a system of direct or indirect controls on our profitability in placing the drug product on the market. Other member states allow companies to fix their own prices for drug products, but monitor and control company profits. The downward pressure on healthcare costs in general, particularly prescription drugs, has become intense. As a result, increasingly high barriers are being erected to the entry of new products. In addition, in some countries, cross-border imports from low-priced markets exert competitive pressure that may reduce pricing within a country. Any country that has price controls or reimbursement limitations for drug products may not allow favorable reimbursement and pricing arrangements for any of our products.

Coverage policies, third-party reimbursement rates, and drug pricing regulation may change at any time, and there is the potential for significant movement in these areas in the foreseeable future. Even if favorable coverage and reimbursement status is attained for one or more products for which we receive marketing approval, less favorable coverage policies and reimbursement rates may be implemented in the future.

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Healthcare Law and Regulation. Healthcare providers, physicians and third-party payors play a primary role in the recommendation and prescribing of any product candidates for which we may obtain marketing approval. Our business operations and arrangements with investigators, healthcare professionals, consultants, third-party payors and customers may expose us to broadly applicable fraud and abuse and other healthcare laws. These laws may constrain the business or financial arrangements and relationships through which we research, manufacture, market, promote, sell and distribute our products that obtain marketing approval. Restrictions under applicable federal and state healthcare laws include, but are not limited to, the following:

 

the federal healthcare Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits, among other things, persons or entities from knowingly and willfully soliciting, offering, receiving or paying any remuneration (including any kickback, bribe or rebate), directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, in cash or in kind, to induce or reward either the referral of an individual for, or the purchase, lease, order or recommendation of, any good, facility, item or service, for which payment may be made, in whole or in part, under a federal healthcare program such as Medicare and Medicaid

 

the federal False Claims Act and civil monetary penalties law impose penalties and provide for civil whistleblower or qui tam actions against individuals or entities for, among other things, knowingly presenting, or causing to be presented, to the federal government, claims for payment or approval that are false or fraudulent or making a false record or statement to avoid, decrease or conceal an obligation to pay money to the federal government

 

the civil monetary penalties statute, which imposes penalties against any person or entity who, among other things, is determined to have presented or caused to be presented a claim to a federal health program that the person knows or should know is for an item or service that was not provided as claimed or is false or fraudulent

 

the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) among other things, imposes criminal liability for knowingly and willfully executing, or attempting to execute, a scheme to defraud any healthcare benefit program or knowingly and willfully falsifying, concealing or covering up a material fact or making any materially false statement in connection with the delivery of or payment for healthcare benefits, items or services

 

HIPAA, as amended by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act and its implementing regulations, also imposes certain obligations, including mandatory contractual terms, with respect to safeguarding the privacy, security and transmission of individually identifiable health information without proper written authorization

 

the federal transparency requirements under the Affordable Care Act requires manufacturers of drugs, devices, biologicals and medical supplies to annually report to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) information related to payments and other transfers of value provided to physicians and teaching hospitals and certain ownership and investment interests held by physicians and their immediate family members

 

analogous state and foreign laws, such as state anti-kickback and false claims laws, which may apply to sales or marketing arrangements and claims involving healthcare items or services reimbursed by non-governmental third-party payors, including private insurers; state and foreign laws that require pharmaceutical companies to comply with the pharmaceutical industry’s voluntary compliance guidelines and the relevant compliance guidance promulgated by the federal government or otherwise restrict payments that may be made to healthcare providers; state laws that require drug manufacturers to report information related to payments and other transfers of value to physicians and other healthcare providers or marketing expenditures; and state and foreign laws governing the privacy and security of health information in certain circumstances, many of which differ from each other in significant ways and often are not preempted by HIPAA, thus complicating compliance efforts

Further, the Affordable Care Act, among other things, amended the intent requirement of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute and certain criminal statutes governing healthcare fraud. A person or entity no longer needs to have actual knowledge of the statute or specific intent to violate it. In addition, the Affordable Care Act provided

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that the government may assert that a claim including items or services resulting from a violation of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute constitutes a false or fraudulent claim for purposes of the False Claims Act.

Efforts to ensure that our business arrangements with third parties will comply with applicable healthcare laws will involve substantial costs. It is possible that governmental authorities will conclude that our business practices may not comply with current or future statutes, regulations or case law involving applicable fraud and abuse or other healthcare laws. If our operations are found to be in violation of any of these laws or any other governmental regulations that may apply to it, we may be subject to significant administrative, civil, and/or criminal penalties, damages, fines, disgorgement, individual imprisonment, exclusion from government funded healthcare programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, and the curtailment or restructuring of our operations. If any of the physicians or other providers or entities with whom we expect to do business is found to be not in compliance with applicable laws, they may be subject to administrative, civil, and/or criminal sanctions, including exclusions from government funded healthcare programs.

Foreign Regulation. In order to market any product outside of the U.S., we would need to comply with numerous and varying regulatory requirements of other countries and jurisdictions regarding quality, safety and efficacy and governing, among other things, clinical trials, marketing authorization, commercial sales and distribution of our products. The cost of establishing a regulatory compliance system for numerous varying jurisdictions can be very significant. Whether or not we obtain FDA approval for a product, we would need to obtain the necessary approvals by the comparable foreign regulatory authorities before we can commence clinical trials or marketing of the product in foreign countries and jurisdictions. Although many of the issues discussed above with respect to the U.S. apply similarly in the context of the European Union and/or other jurisdictions, the approval process varies between countries and jurisdictions and can involve additional product testing and additional administrative review periods. The time required to obtain approval in other countries and jurisdictions might differ from and be longer than that required to obtain FDA approval. Regulatory approval in one country or jurisdiction does not ensure regulatory approval in another, but a failure or delay in obtaining regulatory approval in one country or jurisdiction may negatively impact the regulatory process in others.

The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and Other Anti-Corruption Laws

We may be subject to a variety of domestic and foreign anti-corruption laws with respect to our regulatory compliance efforts and operations. The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”) is a criminal statute that prohibits an individual or business from paying, offering, promising or authorizing the provision of money (such as a bribe or kickback) or anything else of value (such as an improper gift, hospitality, or favor), directly or indirectly, to any foreign official, political party or candidate for the purpose of influencing any act or decision in order to assist the individual or business in obtaining, retaining, or directing business or other advantages (such as favorable regulatory rulings). The FCPA also obligates companies with securities listed in the U.S. to comply with certain accounting provisions. Those provisions require a company such as ours to (i) maintain books and records that accurately and fairly reflect all transactions, expenses, and asset dispositions, and (ii) devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that transactions are properly authorized, executed and recorded. The FCPA is subject to broad interpretation by the U.S. government. The past decade has seen a significant increase in enforcement activity. In addition to the FCPA, there are a number of other federal and state anti-corruption laws to which we may be subject, including, the U.S. domestic bribery statute contained in 18 USC § 201 (which prohibits bribing U.S. government officials) and the U.S. Travel Act (which in some instances addresses private-sector or commercial bribery both within and outside the U.S.). Also, a number of the countries in which we may conduct activities have their own domestic and international anti-corruption laws, such as the UK Bribery Act 2010. There have been cases where companies have faced multi-jurisdictional liability under the FCPA and the anti-corruption laws of other countries for the same illegal act.

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We can be held liable under the FCPA and other anti-corruption laws for the illegal activities of our employees, representatives, contractors, collaborators, agents, subsidiaries, or affiliates, even if we did not explicitly authorize such activity. Although we will seek to comply with anti-corruption laws, there can be no assurance that all of our employees, representatives, contractors, collaborators, agents, subsidiaries or affiliates will comply with these laws at all times. Noncompliance with these laws could subject us to whistleblower complaints, investigations, sanctions, settlements, prosecution, other enforcement actions, disgorgement of profits, significant fines, damages, other civil and criminal penalties or injunctions, suspension and/or debarment from contracting with certain governments or other persons, the loss of export privileges, reputational harm, adverse media coverage, and other collateral consequences. In addition, our directors, officers, employees, and other representatives who engage in violations of the FCPA and certain other anti-corruption statutes may face imprisonment, fines, and penalties. If any subpoenas or investigations are launched, or governmental or other sanctions are imposed, or if we do not prevail in any possible civil or criminal litigation, our business, results of operations and financial condition could be materially harmed. In addition, responding to any action will likely result in a materially significant diversion of our management’s attention and resources and significant defense costs and other professional fees. Enforcement actions and sanctions could further harm our business, results of operations, and financial condition.

Human Capital/Employees

Our key human capital management objectives are to attract, retain and develop the highest quality talent. To support these objectives, our human resources programs are designed to develop talent to prepare them for critical roles and leadership positions for the future; reward and support employees through competitive pay and benefits; enhance our culture through efforts aimed at making the workplace more engaging and inclusive; acquire talent and facilitate internal talent mobility to create a high-performing and diverse workforce. As of February 15, 2021, we had 20 full-time employees, in addition to a number of consultants or independent contractors working for us. None of our employees are represented by a labor union or subject to a collective bargaining agreement. We have not experienced a work stoppage and consider our relations with our employees to be good.

Available Information

We are subject to the information and reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”) under which we file periodic reports, proxy and information statements and other information with the SEC. Copies of the reports, proxy statements and other information are available on the SEC’s website, https://www.sec.gov.

Financial and other information about us is available on our website (www.acertx.com). Information on our website, or that may be accessed by links on our website, is not incorporated by reference into this report. We make available on our website, free of charge, copies of our annual report on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K, and amendments to those reports filed or furnished pursuant to Section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Exchange Act as soon as reasonably practicable after filing such material electronically or otherwise furnishing it to the SEC. Copies are available in print to any stockholder upon request in writing to Attention: Investor Relations, Acer Therapeutics Inc., One Gateway Center, Suite 351, 300 Washington Street, Newton, MA 02458.

Item 1A.

Risk Factors.

Investing in our securities involves a high degree of risk. You should consider the following risk factors, as well as other information contained or incorporated by reference in this report, before deciding to invest in our securities. The following factors affect our business, our intellectual property, the industry in which we operate and our securities. The risks and uncertainties described below are not the only ones we face. Additional risks and uncertainties not presently known or which we consider immaterial as of the date hereof may also have an adverse effect on our business. If any of the matters discussed in the following risk factors were to occur, our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows or prospects could be materially adversely affected, the market price of our securities could decline and you could lose all or part of your investment in our securities.

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Risks Related to Our Business and Financial Condition

Substantial doubt exists as to our ability to continue as a going concern.

As of December 31, 2020, we had an accumulated deficit of $99.1 million, cash and cash equivalents of $5.8 million, and current liabilities of $6.1 million. Based on available resources, we believe that our cash and cash equivalents currently on hand, combined with the $8.2 million in proceeds raised subsequent to December 31, 2020 from the sale of common stock and entering into the Relief transaction, are sufficient to fund our currently anticipated operating and capital requirements into the third quarter of 2021. (For a description of funds raised subsequent to December 31, 2020, see Note 11 to our financial statements and the Liquidity and Capital Resources section of Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations included in this report.) Thus, our current capital resources are not sufficient to fund our planned operations for the next 12 months from the date of the financial statements included in this report. Moreover, we have not established a source of revenue and we expect to continue to incur losses for the foreseeable future as we continue our development of, and seek marketing approvals for, our product candidates. These factors individually and collectively raise substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern and therefore it may be more difficult for us to attract investors. Unless we are able to raise additional capital to finance our operations, our long-term business plan may not be accomplished, and we may be forced to cease, reduce, or delay operations.

We will require additional financing to complete development and seek to obtain marketing approval of our product candidates and, if approved, to commercialize our product candidates, and a failure to obtain this necessary capital when needed on acceptable terms, or at all, could force us to delay, limit, reduce or terminate our product development, other operations or commercialization efforts.

Since our inception, substantially all of our resources have been dedicated to the clinical development of our product candidates. As of December 31, 2020, we had an accumulated deficit of $99.1 million, cash and cash equivalents of $5.8 million and current liabilities of $6.1 million. As discussed above, we believe that our cash and cash equivalents currently on hand, combined with the funds raised subsequent to December 31, 2020, are sufficient to fund our anticipated operating and capital requirements into the third quarter of 2021. Thus, our current capital resources are not sufficient to fund our planned operations for the next 12 months from the date of the financial statements included in this report.

We will need to raise additional capital in order to finance the completion of clinical development and regulatory preparedness of our product candidates, preparations for a commercial launch of our product candidates, if approved, and development of any other current or future product candidates we may choose to further develop. These expenditures will include costs associated with research and development, conducting preclinical studies and clinical trials, obtaining marketing approvals, and manufacturing and supply as well as marketing and selling any products approved for sale. In addition, other unanticipated costs may arise. Because the outcome of any drug development process is highly uncertain, we cannot reasonably estimate the actual amounts necessary to successfully complete the development and commercialization of our current product candidates, if approved, or future product candidates, if any.

Our operating plan may change as a result of factors currently unknown to us, and we may need to seek substantial additional funds sooner than planned, through public or private equity or debt financings or other sources, such as non-dilutive funding or strategic collaborations. Such financing may result in dilution to stockholders, imposition of debt covenants and repayment obligations, or other restrictions that may adversely affect our business. In addition, we may seek additional capital due to favorable market conditions or strategic considerations even if we believe we have sufficient funds for our current or future operating plans.

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Our future capital requirements depend on many factors, including:

 

whether or not we are able to successfully negotiate and enter into a definitive agreement with Relief for the potential collaboration and license of ACER-001, which will impact our requirement to repay in cash the $4.0 million 12-month secured loan from Relief

 

the scope, progress, results, and costs of researching and developing our current product candidates, and future product candidates, if any, including conducting preclinical and clinical trials

 

the cost of seeking regulatory and marketing approvals and reimbursement for our product candidates and future product candidates, if any

 

the cost of commercialization activities if our current product candidates and future product candidates, if any, are approved for sale, including marketing, sales and distribution costs, and preparedness of our corporate infrastructure

 

the cost of manufacturing current product candidates and future product candidates, if any, that we obtain approval for and successfully commercialize

 

our ability to establish and maintain strategic collaborations, licensing or other arrangements and the financial terms of such agreements

 

the number and characteristics of any additional product candidates we may develop or acquire

 

any product liability or other lawsuits related to our product candidates or commenced against us

 

the expenses needed to attract and retain skilled personnel

 

the costs associated with being a public company

 

the costs involved in preparing, filing, prosecuting, maintaining, defending, and enforcing our intellectual property rights, including litigation costs and the outcome of such litigation

 

the timing, receipt and amount of sales of, or royalties on, future approved product candidates, if any

Additional funds may not be available when we need them, on terms that are acceptable to us, or at all. If adequate funds are not available to us on a timely basis, we may be required to:

 

delay, limit, reduce or terminate preclinical studies, clinical trials or other development activities for our current product candidates or future product candidates, if any

 

delay, limit, reduce or terminate our research and development activities

 

delay, limit, reduce or terminate our establishment of sales and marketing capabilities or other activities that may be necessary to commercialize future approved product candidates, if any

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We may not be able to successfully negotiate and enter into a definitive agreement with Relief for the potential collaboration and license of ACER-001 on the terms outlined in the option agreement, on other mutually acceptable terms, or at all. If we do not enter into a definitive agreement with Relief, we may not be able to repay the $4.0 million 12-month loan we received from Relief, which is secured by all of our assets.

On January 25, 2021, we and Relief entered into an option agreement pursuant to which we granted Relief an exclusive option to pursue a potential collaboration and license agreement with us for the development, regulatory approval and commercialization of ACER-001 for the treatment of UCDs and MSUD. The option agreement provides a period of time up to June 30, 2021 for the parties to perform additional due diligence and to work toward negotiation and execution of a definitive agreement with respect to the potential collaboration for ACER-001. In consideration for the grant of the exclusivity option, (i) we received from Relief an upfront nonrefundable payment of $1.0 million, (ii) Relief provided to us a 12-month secured loan in the principal amount of $4.0 million, as evidenced by a promissory note we issued to Relief, and (iii) we granted to Relief a security interest in all of our assets to secure performance of the promissory note, as evidenced by a security agreement. The note is repayable in one lump sum within 12 months from issuance and bears interest at a rate equal to 6% per annum. At Relief’s option, the outstanding balance of the $4.0 million loan can be used to offset the $14.0 million payment that may otherwise be payable to us from Relief if a definitive agreement is executed. If a definitive agreement with respect to the potential collaboration is not executed by the parties on or before June 30, 2021, the exclusivity option will terminate and the note is repayable by us upon maturity. The note contains certain customary events of default (including, but not limited to, default in payment of principal or interest thereunder or a material breach of the security agreement).

There can be no assurance, however, that a definitive agreement will be successfully negotiated and executed between the parties on the terms outlined in the option agreement, on other mutually acceptable terms, or at all. Except for the $1.0 million upfront payment to us and the $4.0 million 12-month secured loan from Relief to us, the remaining proposed terms of the potential collaboration and license arrangement described in the option agreement are not binding and are subject to change as a result of further diligence by Relief and negotiation of a definitive collaboration and license agreement between the parties. If we are unable to successfully negotiate and enter into a definitive agreement, we may not be able to repay the $4.0 million 12-month loan we received from Relief, which is secured by all of our assets. If we do not have sufficient cash flow to repay the loan or if we fail to comply with the terms of the promissory note or security agreement, we might be subject to default. In that situation, Relief will have a first claim on all of our assets which have been pledged as collateral under the security agreement. If Relief were to attempt to foreclose on the collateral, there may be very little, if any, assets remaining after repayment in full of such secured indebtedness. Even if we are able to repay the full amount in cash, any such repayment could leave us with little or no working capital for our business. Any default under the loan arrangement with Relief and resulting foreclosure would have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and our ability to continue our operations.

If we are unable to successfully negotiate and enter into a definitive agreement with Relief, we may be unable to enter into a collaboration for ACER-001 with any other potential partner on acceptable terms, if at all. We face competition in our search for partners from other organizations worldwide, many of whom are larger and are able to offer more attractive deals in terms of financial commitments, contribution of human resources, or development, manufacturing, regulatory or commercial expertise and support. If we unable to enter into a definitive agreement with Relief, and we are not successful in attracting another partner and entering into collaboration on acceptable terms, we may not be able to complete development of or commercialize any product candidate, including ACER‑001. In such event, our ability to generate revenues and achieve or sustain profitability would be significantly hindered and we may not be able to continue operations as proposed, requiring us to modify our business plan, curtail various aspects of our operations or cease operations.

Funding from our purchase agreement with Lincoln Park may be limited or be insufficient to fund our operations or implement our strategy.

Under our purchase agreement with Lincoln Park, we may direct Lincoln Park to purchase up to $15.0 million of shares of our common stock, subject to certain limitations and conditions, over a 36-month period commencing on June 8, 2020. There can be no assurance that we will be able to receive all of the remaining

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committed funds from Lincoln Park because the purchase agreement contains limitations, restrictions, requirements, events of default and other provisions that could limit our ability to cause Lincoln Park to buy common stock from us, including that Lincoln Park own no more than 9.99% of our common stock. In addition, under the applicable rules of the Nasdaq Capital Market, if we seek to issue shares in excess of 19.99% of the total common stock outstanding as of the date we entered into the purchase agreement, we may be required to seek stockholder approval in order to be in compliance with the Nasdaq Capital Market rules. Our inability to access a portion or the full amount remaining available under the purchase agreement, in the absence of any other financing sources, could have a material adverse effect on our business. As of December 31, 2020, we had sold 900,000 shares of common stock under the purchase agreement for net proceeds of $2.2 million. Subsequent to December 31, 2020 and through the date of this report, we have sold an additional 200,000 shares under the purchase agreement for net proceeds of $0.5 million.

The extent to which we rely on Lincoln Park as a source of funding will depend on a number of factors, including the amount of working capital needed, the prevailing market price of our common stock and the extent to which we are able to secure working capital from other sources. We will also need to file one or more additional registration statements to register shares for resale under the terms of the purchase agreement and keep current an offering prospectus. If obtaining sufficient funding from Lincoln Park were to prove unavailable or prohibitively dilutive, we would need to secure another source of funding in order to satisfy our working capital needs. Even if we were to receive all remaining proceeds under the purchase agreement with Lincoln Park, we would still need additional capital to fully implement our business, operating and development plans. Should the financing we require to sustain our working capital needs be unavailable or prohibitively expensive when we require it, the consequences could be a material adverse effect on our business, operating results, financial condition and prospects.

Funding from our ATM facility with JonesTrading Institutional Services LLC (“JonesTrading”) and Roth Capital Partners, LLC (“Roth Capital”) may be limited or may be insufficient to fund our operations or to implement our strategy.

We will need to keep current our shelf registration statement and an offering prospectus relating to our ATM facility with JonesTrading and Roth Capital in order to use the program to sell shares of our common stock, as well as provide certain periodic deliverables required by the amended and restated sales agreement with JonesTrading and Roth Capital for the ATM facility. Due to the SEC’s “baby shelf rules,” which prohibit companies with a public float of less than $75 million from issuing securities under a shelf registration statement in excess of one-third of such company’s public float in a 12-month period, we are only able to issue a limited number of shares which aggregate to no more than one-third of our public float using our shelf-registration statement at this time. From May 19, 2020 through December 31, 2020, we sold an aggregate of 1,838,957 shares of common stock under our ATM facility for net proceeds of $6.9 million. Subsequent to December 31, 2020 and through the date of this report, we have sold an aggregate of 877,107 additional shares of common stock under our ATM facility for net proceeds of $2.7 million. These sales of common stock are counted toward the maximum of one-third of our public float that can be sold in a 12-month period and reduce the remaining shares available to sell under our ATM facility during that 12-month period. The number of shares and price at which we may be able to sell shares under the ATM facility may be limited due to market conditions and other factors beyond our control.

We have a limited operating history and have incurred significant losses since our inception and anticipate that we will continue to incur losses for the foreseeable future and may never achieve or maintain profitability. The absence of any commercial sales and our limited operating history make it difficult to assess our future viability.

We are a development-stage pharmaceutical company with a limited operating history and a history of losses. Pharmaceutical product development is a highly speculative undertaking and involves a substantial degree of risk. We are focused principally on repurposing and/or reformulating existing drugs for serious rare and life-threatening diseases with significant unmet medical needs. We are not profitable and have incurred losses in each year since inception. We have only a limited operating history upon which you can evaluate our business and prospects. In addition, we have limited experience and have not yet demonstrated an ability to successfully overcome many of the risks and uncertainties frequently encountered by companies in new and rapidly evolving fields, particularly in the

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pharmaceutical industry. We have not generated any revenue to date. We continue to incur significant research and development and other expenses related to our ongoing operations. Our net loss for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019 was $22.9 million and $29.4 million, respectively. As of December 31, 2020, we had an accumulated deficit of $99.1 million. We expect to continue to incur losses for the foreseeable future as we continue our development of, and seek marketing approvals for, our product candidates.

We have devoted substantially all of our financial resources to identify, acquire, and develop our product candidates, including providing general and administrative support for our operations. To date, we have financed our operations primarily through the sale of equity securities. The amount of our future net losses will depend, in part, on the rate of our future expenditures and our ability to obtain funding through public or private equity or debt financings, strategic collaborations, or non-dilutive funding. We expect losses to increase as we conduct clinical trials and continue to develop our product candidates. We expect to invest significant funds into the research and development of our current product candidates to determine the potential to advance these product candidates to regulatory approval. We may also invest in acquiring or in-licensing additional product candidates to expand our pipeline.

If we obtain regulatory approval to market a product candidate, our future revenue will depend upon the size of any markets in which our product candidates may receive approval and our ability to achieve sufficient market acceptance, pricing, reimbursement from third-party payors, and adequate market share for our product candidates in those markets. Even if we obtain adequate market share for our product candidates, because the potential markets in which our product candidates may ultimately receive regulatory approval could be very small, we may never become profitable despite obtaining such market share and acceptance of our products.

We expect to continue to incur significant expenses and increasing operating losses for the foreseeable future, and our expenses will increase substantially if and as we:

 

seek regulatory and marketing approvals and reimbursement for our product candidates

 

continue the clinical development of our product candidates

 

continue efforts to discover new product candidates

 

undertake the manufacturing of our product candidates or increase volumes manufactured by third parties

 

advance our programs into larger, more expensive clinical trials

 

initiate additional preclinical, clinical, or other trials or studies for our product candidates

 

establish a sales, marketing and distribution infrastructure to commercialize any products for which we may obtain marketing approval and market for ourselves

 

seek to identify, assess, acquire and/or develop other product candidates

 

make milestone, royalty or other payments under third-party license agreements

 

seek to maintain, protect and expand our intellectual property portfolio

 

seek to attract and retain skilled personnel

 

experience any delays or encounter issues with the development and potential for regulatory approval of our clinical candidates such as safety issues, clinical trial enrollment delays, longer follow-up for planned studies, additional major studies or supportive studies necessary to support marketing approval

Further, the net losses we incur will fluctuate significantly from quarter to quarter and year to year, such that a period-to-period comparison of our results of operations may not be a good indication of our future performance.

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We currently have no source of product sales revenue and may never be profitable.

We have not generated any revenues from commercial sales of any of our current product candidates. Our ability to generate product revenue depends upon our ability to successfully identify, develop and commercialize these product candidates or other product candidates that we may develop, in-license or acquire in the future. Our ability to generate future product revenue from our current or future product candidates also depends on a number of additional factors, including our ability to:

 

successfully complete research and clinical development of current and future product candidates

 

establish and maintain supply and manufacturing relationships with third parties, and ensure adequate and legally compliant manufacturing of product candidates

 

obtain regulatory approval from relevant regulatory authorities in jurisdictions where we intend to market our product candidates

 

launch and commercialize future product candidates for which we obtain marketing approval, if any, and if launched independently, successfully establish a sales force and medical affairs, marketing and distribution infrastructure

 

obtain coverage and adequate product reimbursement from third-party payors, including government payors

 

achieve market acceptance for our approved product candidates, if any

 

establish, maintain and protect our intellectual property rights

 

attract, hire and retain qualified personnel

In addition, because of the numerous risks and uncertainties associated with clinical product development, including that our product candidates may not successfully advance through development or achieve regulatory approval, we are unable to predict the timing or amount of any potential future product sales revenues. Our expenses also could increase beyond expectations if we decide to or are required by the FDA, or comparable foreign regulatory authorities, to perform studies or trials in addition to those that we currently anticipate.

Even if we complete the development and regulatory processes described above, we anticipate incurring significant costs associated with launching and commercializing these products.

In light of the United States (“U.S.”) Food and Drug Administration’s (“FDA’s”) Complete Response Letter regarding our New Drug Application (“NDA”) for EDSIVOTM, we halted precommercial activities while we work toward our goal of approval for EDSIVOTM. Neither resubmission nor approval of our NDA for EDSIVOTM is assured. We may decide at any time not to continue development of EDSIVOTM.

In June 2019, we received a Complete Response Letter from the FDA regarding our NDA for EDSIVOTM (celiprolol) for the treatment of vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (“vEDS”). The Complete Response Letter stated that it will be necessary to conduct an adequate and well-controlled trial to determine whether celiprolol reduces the risk of certain clinical events in patients with vEDS. We had previously devoted a substantial majority of our research, development, clinical, and precommercial efforts and financial resources towards the development of EDSIVOTM. In order to reduce operating expenses and conserve cash resources, in June 2019, we implemented a corporate restructuring which included a reduction of approximately 60% of our full-time workforce of 48 employees and halted precommercial activities for EDSIVOTM. In December 2019, we submitted a Formal Dispute Resolution Request to the Office of New Drugs appealing the FDA’s decision as outlined in the Complete Response Letter. In March 2020, we received a response to our Formal Dispute Resolution Request from the Office of New Drugs of the FDA stating that it had denied our appeal of the Complete Response Letter in relation to the NDA for EDSIVOTM. In its Appeal Denied letter, the Office of New Drugs (i) described possible paths forward for us to explore that could provide the substantial evidence of effectiveness needed to support a potential resubmission of the EDSIVOTM NDA for the treatment of patients with vEDS with a confirmed COL3A1 mutation and (ii) referred to the FDA Guidance document issued in December 2019, where substantial evidence of effectiveness can be provided by two or more adequate and well-controlled studies demonstrating efficacy, or a single positive adequate and well-

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controlled study plus confirmatory evidence. We believe we have identified a plan to collect additional data that supports the results from the COL3A1-positive analysis from the BBEST trial and could help meet the standard set forth in the FDA Guidance document issued in December 2019. In February 2021, we submitted a meeting request to the FDA to discuss Acer’s proposed plan to provide sufficient confirmatory evidence. If successful, data provided under our proposal could potentially satisfy the additional confirmatory evidence needed to support a resubmission of our NDA, assuming the additional data analysis is positive. There can be no assurance that FDA will accept our plan or, if accepted, that the resulting data would be adequate to support resubmission, filing or approval of our NDA. We may also conclude at any point that the cost, risk and uncertainty of obtaining that additional data does not justify continuing with the development of EDSIVO™.

We have incurred, and expect to continue to incur, increased costs and risks as a result of being a public company.

As a public company, we are required to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (“SOX”), as well as rules and regulations implemented by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and The Nasdaq Capital Market (“Nasdaq”). Changes in the laws and regulations affecting public companies, including the provisions of SOX and rules adopted by the SEC and by Nasdaq, have resulted in, and will continue to result in, increased costs as we respond to their requirements. Given the risks inherent in the design and operation of internal controls over financial reporting, the effectiveness of our internal controls over financial reporting is uncertain. If our internal controls are not designed or operating effectively, we may not be able to conclude an evaluation of our internal control over financial reporting as required or we or our independent registered public accounting firm may determine that our internal control over financial reporting was not effective. We currently have a very limited workforce, and it may be difficult to adhere to appropriate internal controls over financial reporting or disclosure controls with such limited staffing. We are not yet subject to the provisions of section 404(b) of SOX, which would require our independent registered public accounting firm’s attestation on our assessment of internal controls over financial reporting. Investors may lose confidence in the reliability of our financial statements, which could cause the market price of our common stock to decline and which could affect our ability to run our business effectively. Being a public company could also make it more difficult or more costly for us to obtain certain types of insurance, including directors’ and officers’ liability insurance. The impact of these events could also make it more difficult for us to attract and retain qualified persons to serve on our Board of Directors, our Board committees, and as executive officers.

If we fail to maintain proper and effective internal controls, our ability to produce accurate financial statements on a timely basis could be impaired.

We are subject to the reporting requirements of the Exchange Act, SOX and Nasdaq rules and regulations. SOX requires, among other things, that we maintain effective disclosure controls and procedures and internal controls over financial reporting. We must perform system and process evaluation and testing of our internal control over financial reporting to allow management to report on the effectiveness of our internal controls over financial reporting in our Annual Report on Form 10-K filing for that year, as required by Section 404 of SOX.

Although we are committed to continuing to improve our internal control processes, and although we will continue to diligently and vigorously review our internal controls over financial reporting, we cannot be certain that, in the future, a material weakness will not exist or otherwise be discovered. We may discover weaknesses in our system of internal financial and accounting controls and procedures that could result in a material misstatement of our financial statements. Our internal control over financial reporting will not prevent or detect all errors and all fraud. A control system, no matter how well designed and operated, can provide only reasonable, not absolute, assurance that the control system’s objectives will be met. Because of the inherent limitations in all control systems, no evaluation of controls can provide absolute assurance that misstatements due to error or fraud will not occur or that all control issues and instances of fraud will be detected.

If we are not able to comply with the requirements of Section 404 of SOX, or if we are unable to maintain proper and effective internal controls, we may not be able to produce timely and accurate financial statements. If that were to happen, the market price of our common stock could decline and we could be subject to penalties or investigations by Nasdaq or the SEC.

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We face risks related to health epidemics including but not limited to the COVID-19 pandemic which could adversely affect our business.

Our business could be materially adversely affected by the effects of a widespread outbreak of contagious disease, including the recent pandemic of COVID-19, a respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus. While our employees work remotely a large part of the time, these effects could include disruptions or restrictions on our employees’ ability to travel, as well as disruptions at or closures of our facilities or the facilities of our manufacturers and suppliers, which could adversely impact our development activities and other operations. Health professionals may reduce staffing and reduce or postpone meetings with clients, colleagues, and others in response to the spread of an infectious disease. Such events may result in a period of business disruption, and in reduced operations, any of which could materially affect our business, financial condition, and results of operations. In addition, a significant outbreak of contagious diseases in the human population could result in a widespread health crisis that could adversely affect the economies and financial markets of many countries, resulting in an economic downturn or volatility that could adversely affect our manufacturers and suppliers and otherwise adversely impact our development activities and other operations.

The extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to affect our business, results of operations, and financial condition is difficult to predict. The outbreak could potentially affect the business of the FDA, European Medicines Agency (“EMA”) or other health authorities, which could result in delays in meetings related to our product candidates and our planned clinical trials and ultimately in the review and approval of our product candidates. The spread of COVID-19 may also slow potential enrollment of clinical trials and reduce the number of eligible patients for our clinical trials, thereby making recruitment more difficult and competitive. Prolonged disruptions to businesses, manufacturing and supply chain, including shelter-in-place or similar orders imposed by federal, state or local government authorities, and economic downturns can lead to materially adverse effects on our business operations, including layoffs and/or suspension of our business operations. The COVID-19 outbreak and mitigation measures also have had and may continue to have an adverse impact on global economic conditions which could have an adverse effect on our business and financial condition, including impairing our ability to raise capital when and in the amount needed. The extent to which COVID-19 impacts our business will depend on future developments, which are highly uncertain and cannot be predicted, including new information which may emerge concerning the severity of COVID-19 and the actions to contain COVID-19 or treat its impact, among others. In addition, any COVID-19 infection of any of our employees could have a significant impact on our ability to conduct business.

We face substantial competitive and other risks in our emetine program, aimed against a variety of infectious diseases including COVID-19, and we may be unable to raise non-dilutive capital to continue the program.

We have recently announced a new development program for emetine, a host-directed therapy against a variety of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. There are many companies addressing COVID-19, both in therapeutic treatment and vaccines, many of which have significantly greater resources and capital than we do. Recent positive events in the development of one or more vaccines may reduce the demand for therapeutic products addressing COVID-19. The competition for funding research and development in this disease is intense and most of our competitors have greater resources available to them. Regulatory requirements in this area are in flux and will likely remain uncertain. Further advancement of the emetine program in COVID-19 and other infectious diseases is dependent on our ability to raise non-dilutive capital. There can be no assurance that we will be able to obtain adequate financing to carry out our development plan or that, even if funding is obtained, our development of emetine will be successful, timely, and accepted by appropriate regulatory authorities.

Any acquisitions that we make could disrupt our business and harm our financial condition.

We expect to evaluate potential strategic acquisitions of complementary businesses, products or technologies worldwide. We may also consider joint ventures, licensing and other collaborative projects. We may not be able to identify appropriate acquisition candidates or strategic partners, or successfully negotiate, finance or integrate acquisitions of any businesses, products or technologies. Furthermore, the integration of any acquisition and

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management of any collaborative project may divert our management’s time and resources from our core business and disrupt our operations. As a company, we have limited experience with acquiring other companies, or with acquiring products outside of the U.S. Any cash acquisition we pursue would divert the cash we have on our balance sheet from our present clinical development programs. Any stock acquisitions would dilute our stockholders’ ownership.

Risks Related to the Clinical Development and Marketing Approval of Our Product Candidates

The marketing approval processes of the FDA and comparable foreign authorities are lengthy, time-consuming and inherently unpredictable, and if we are ultimately unable to obtain marketing approval for our product candidates, our business will be substantially harmed.

None of our current product candidates have gained marketing approval for sale in the U.S. or any other country, and we cannot guarantee that we will ever have marketable products. Our business is substantially dependent on our ability to complete the development of, obtain marketing approval for, and successfully commercialize our product candidates in a timely manner. We cannot commercialize our product candidates in the U.S. without first obtaining approval from the FDA to market each product candidate. Similarly, we cannot commercialize our product candidates outside of the U.S. without obtaining regulatory approval from comparable foreign regulatory authorities. Our product candidates could fail to receive marketing approval for many reasons, including the following:

 

we may be unable to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities that a product candidate is safe and effective for its proposed indication

 

the results of clinical trials may not meet the level of statistical significance required by the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities for approval

 

we may be unable to demonstrate that a product candidate’s clinical and other benefits outweigh its safety risks

 

the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities may disagree with the design or implementation of any clinical trials we conduct or rely upon for regulatory approval

 

the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities may find the human subject protections for our clinical trials inadequate and place a clinical hold on an Investigational New Drug Application (“IND”) at the time of its submission precluding commencement of any trials or a clinical hold on one or more clinical trials at any time during the conduct of our clinical trials

 

the FDA could determine that we cannot rely on Section 505(b)(2) of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (“FFDCA”) for any or all of our product candidates, and we may be required to conduct clinical trials or provide other forms of substantial evidence of effectiveness instead of, or in addition to, relying on third-party data, as is the position of the FDA with respect to our NDA for EDSIVOTM

 

the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities may disagree with our interpretation of data from preclinical studies or clinical trials

 

the FDA could determine that we have identified the wrong reference listed drug or drugs or that approval of our 505(b)(2) application for any of our product candidates is blocked by patent or non-patent exclusivity of the reference listed drug or drugs

 

the data collected from clinical trials of our product candidates may not be sufficient to support the submission of an application to obtain marketing approval in the U.S. or elsewhere

 

the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities may find inadequate the manufacturing processes or facilities of third-party manufacturers with which we contract for clinical and commercial supplies

 

the approval policies or regulations of the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities may significantly change in a manner that would delay marketing approval

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Before obtaining marketing approval for the commercial sale of any drug product for a target indication, we must demonstrate in preclinical studies and well-controlled clinical trials and, to the satisfaction of the applicable regulatory authorities, that the product is safe and effective for its intended use and that the manufacturing facilities, processes, and controls are adequate to preserve the drug’s identity, strength, quality and purity. In the U.S., it is necessary to submit and obtain approval of an NDA from the FDA. An NDA must include extensive preclinical and clinical data and supporting information to establish the product safety and efficacy for each desired indication. The NDA must also include significant information regarding the chemistry, manufacturing, and controls for the product. After the submission but before approval of the NDA, the manufacturing facilities used to manufacture a product candidate must be inspected by the FDA to ensure compliance with the applicable Current Good Manufacturing Practice (“cGMP”) requirements. The FDA and the Competent Authorities of the Member States of the European Economic Area (“EEA”) and comparable foreign regulatory authorities, may also inspect our clinical trial sites and audit clinical study data to ensure that our studies are properly conducted in accordance with the IND regulations, human subject protection regulations, and current good clinical practice (“cGCP”).

Obtaining approval of an NDA is a lengthy, expensive and uncertain process, and approval may not be obtained. Upon submission of an NDA, the FDA must make an initial determination that the application is sufficiently complete to accept the submission for filing. We cannot be certain that any submissions, even those that are accepted for filing and reviewed by the FDA, will ultimately be approved. If the application is not accepted for review, the FDA may require that we conduct additional clinical studies or preclinical testing or take other actions before it will reconsider our application. If the FDA requires additional studies or data, we would incur increased costs and delays in the marketing approval process, which may require us to expend more resources than we have available. In addition, the FDA may not consider any additional information to be complete or sufficient to support the filing or approval of the NDA.

Regulatory authorities outside of the U.S., such as in Europe and Japan and in emerging markets, also have requirements for approval of drugs for commercial sale with which we must comply prior to marketing in those areas. Regulatory requirements can vary widely from country to country and could delay or prevent the introduction of our product candidates. Clinical trials conducted in one country may not be accepted or the results may not be found adequate by regulatory authorities in other countries, and obtaining regulatory approval in one country does not mean that regulatory approval will be obtained in any other country. However, the failure to obtain regulatory approval in one jurisdiction could have a negative impact on our ability to obtain approval in a different jurisdiction. Approval processes vary among countries and can involve additional product candidate testing and validation and additional administrative review periods. Seeking foreign regulatory approval could require additional non-clinical studies or clinical trials, which could be costly and time-consuming. Foreign regulatory approval may include all of the risks associated with obtaining FDA approval. For all of these reasons, we may not obtain foreign regulatory approvals on a timely basis, if at all.

The process to develop, obtain marketing approval for, and commercialize product candidates is long, complex and costly, both inside and outside of the U.S., and approval is never guaranteed. The time required to obtain approval by the FDA and comparable foreign authorities is unpredictable but typically takes many years following the commencement of clinical trials and depends upon numerous factors, including the substantial discretion of the regulatory authorities. In addition, approval policies, regulations, or the type and amount of clinical data necessary to gain approval may change during the course of a product candidate’s clinical development and may vary among jurisdictions. Even if our product candidates were to successfully obtain approval from regulatory authorities, any such approval might significantly limit the approved indications for use, including more limited patient populations, require that precautions, warnings or contraindications be included on the product labeling, including black box warnings, require expensive and time-consuming post-approval clinical studies, risk evaluation and mitigation strategies or surveillance as conditions of approval, or, through the product label, the approval may limit the claims that we may make, which may impede the successful commercialization of our product candidates. Following any approval for commercial sale of our product candidates, certain changes to the product, such as changes in manufacturing processes and additional labeling claims, as well as new safety information, may require new studies and will be subject to additional FDA notification, or review and approval. Also, marketing approval for any of our product candidates may be withdrawn. If we are unable to obtain marketing approval for our product candidates in one or more jurisdictions, or any approval contains significant limitations, our ability to market to our full target market will be reduced and our ability to realize the full market potential of our product candidates will be

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impaired. Furthermore, we may not be able to obtain sufficient funding or generate sufficient revenue and cash flows to continue or complete the development of any of our current or future product candidates.

If we are unable to obtain approval under Section 505(b)(2) of the FFDCA or if we are required to generate additional data related to safety or efficacy in order to seek approval under Section 505(b)(2), we may be unable to meet our anticipated development and commercialization timelines, and could decide not to pursue further development, depending on the expected time, cost, and risks associated with generating any such additional data.

Traditional drug development typically relies upon Section 505(b)(1) of the FFDCA for seeking marketing authorization in the U.S., where the sponsor of the product candidate (i.e., the applicant for marketing authorization) is required to conduct all of the studies needed to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of such candidate. Although we may consider a Section 505(b)(1) pathway in the future, our current strategy for seeking marketing authorization in the U.S. for our product candidates (including ACER-001 and EDSIVO™) relies at least in part on Section 505(b)(2) of the FFDCA, which permits use of a marketing application, referred to as a 505(b)(2) application, where at least some of the information needed to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of the product candidate at issue for approval comes from studies not conducted by or for the applicant and for which the applicant has not obtained a right of reference or use. The FDA interprets this to mean that an applicant may rely for approval on such data as that found in published literature or the FDA’s finding of safety or effectiveness, or both, of a previously approved drug product owned by a third party. There is no assurance that the FDA would find third-party data relied upon by us in a 505(b)(2) application sufficient or adequate to support approval, and the FDA may require us to generate additional data to support the safety and efficacy of our product candidates. In June 2019, we received a Complete Response Letter from the FDA regarding our NDA for EDSIVO™ for the treatment of vEDS. The Complete Response Letter stated that it will be necessary to conduct an adequate and well-controlled trial to determine whether celiprolol reduces the risk of clinical events in patients with vEDS. In light of the Complete Response Letter, we have currently halted precommercial activities for EDSIVO™ as part of a corporate restructuring initiative. We may be required to conduct substantial new research and development activities beyond those we currently plan to conduct. Such additional new research and development activities would be costly and time-consuming and there is no assurance that such data generated from such additional activities would be sufficient to seek or obtain approval. In December 2019, we submitted a Formal Dispute Resolution Request to the Office of New Drugs appealing the FDA’s decision as outlined in the Complete Response Letter. In March 2020, we received a response to our Formal Dispute Resolution Request from the Office of New Drugs of the FDA stating that it had denied our appeal of the Complete Response Letter in relation to the NDA for EDSIVO™. In its Appeal Denied letter, the Office of New Drugs (i) described possible paths forward for us to explore that could provide the substantial evidence of effectiveness needed to support a potential resubmission of the EDSIVO™ NDA for the treatment of patients with vEDS with a confirmed COL3A1 mutation and (ii) referred to the FDA Guidance document issued in December 2019, where substantial evidence of effectiveness can be provided by two or more adequate and well-controlled studies demonstrating efficacy, or a single positive adequate and well-controlled study plus confirmatory evidence. We believe we have identified a plan to collect additional data that supports the results from the COL3A1-positive analysis from the BBEST trial and could help meet the standard set forth in the FDA Guidance document issued in December 2019. In February 2021, we submitted a meeting request to the FDA to discuss Acer’s proposed plan to provide sufficient confirmatory evidence. If successful, data provided under our proposal could potentially satisfy the additional confirmatory evidence needed to support a resubmission of our NDA, assuming the additional data analysis is positive. There can be no assurance that FDA will accept our plan or, if accepted, that the resulting data would be adequate to support resubmission, filing or approval of our NDA. We may also conclude at any point that the cost, risk and uncertainty of obtaining that additional data does not justify continuing with the development of EDSIVO™.

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If the data to be relied upon in a 505(b)(2) application are related to drug products previously approved by the FDA and covered by patents that are listed in the FDA’s Orange Book, we would be required to submit with our 505(b)(2) application a Paragraph IV Certification in which we must certify that we do not infringe the listed patents or that such patents are invalid or unenforceable, and provide notice to the patent owner or the holder of the approved NDA. The patent owner or NDA holder would have 45 days from receipt of the notification of our Paragraph IV Certification to initiate a patent infringement action against us. If an infringement action is initiated, the approval of our NDA would be subject to a stay of up to 30 months or more while we defend against such a suit. Approval of our product candidates under Section 505(b)(2) may, therefore, be delayed until patent exclusivity expires or until we successfully challenge the applicability of those patents to our product candidates. Alternatively, we might elect a Section 505(b)(1) pathway to generate sufficient clinical data so that we would no longer need to rely on third-party data. However, a Section 505(b)(1) pathway would likely be costly and time-consuming and there would be no assurance that such data generated from such additional activities would be sufficient to obtain approval.

We may not be able to obtain shortened review of our applications, and the FDA may not agree that our product candidates qualify for marketing approval. If we are required to generate additional data to support approval, we may be unable to meet anticipated or reasonable development and commercialization timelines, may be unable to generate the additional data at a reasonable cost, or at all, and may be unable to obtain marketing approval of our product candidates. If the FDA changes its interpretation of Section 505(b)(2) allowing reliance on data in a previously approved drug application owned by a third party, or if there is a change in the law affecting Section 505(b)(2), this could delay or even prevent the FDA from approving any Section 505(b)(2) application that we submit.

Marketing approval may be substantially delayed or may not be obtained for one or all of our product candidates if regulatory authorities require additional or more studies to assess the safety and efficacy of our product candidates. We could decide not to pursue further development of one or all of our product candidates, depending on, among other things, the expected time, cost, and risks associated with generating any such additional data.

We may be unable to initiate or complete development of our product candidates on schedule, if at all. The completion of the studies for certain of our product candidates will require us to obtain substantial additional funding beyond our current resources. In addition, regulatory authorities may require additional or more time-consuming studies to assess the safety or efficacy of our product candidates than we are currently planning. In June 2019, we received a Complete Response Letter from the FDA regarding our NDA for EDSIVO™ for the treatment of vEDS. The Complete Response Letter stated that it will be necessary to conduct an adequate and well-controlled trial to determine whether celiprolol reduces the risk of clinical events in patients with vEDS. In light of the Complete Response Letter, we have currently halted precommercial activities for EDSIVO™ as part of a corporate restructuring initiative. In December 2019, we submitted a Formal Dispute Resolution Request to the Office of New Drugs appealing the FDA’s decision as outlined in the Complete Response Letter. In March 2020, we received a response to our Formal Dispute Resolution Request from the Office of New Drugs of the FDA stating that it had denied our appeal of the Complete Response Letter in relation to the NDA for EDSIVO™. In its Appeal Denied letter, the Office of New Drugs (i) described possible paths forward for us to explore that could provide the substantial evidence of effectiveness needed to support a potential resubmission of the EDSIVO™ NDA for the treatment of patients with vEDS with a confirmed COL3A1 mutation and (ii) referred to the FDA Guidance document issued in December 2019, where substantial evidence of effectiveness can be provided by two or more adequate and well-controlled studies demonstrating efficacy, or a single positive adequate and well-controlled study plus confirmatory evidence. We believe we have identified a plan to collect additional data that supports the results from the COL3A1-positive analysis from the BBEST trial and could help meet the standard set forth in the FDA Guidance document issued in December 2019. In February 2021, we submitted a meeting request to the FDA to discuss Acer’s proposed plan to provide sufficient confirmatory evidence. If successful, data provided under our proposal could potentially satisfy the additional confirmatory evidence needed to support a resubmission of our NDA, assuming the additional data analysis is positive. There can be no assurance that FDA will accept our plan or, if accepted, that the resulting data would be adequate to support resubmission, filing or approval of our NDA. We may also conclude at any point that the cost, risk and uncertainty of obtaining that additional data does not justify continuing with the development of EDSIVO™.

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We currently do not have, and may not be able to obtain, adequate funding to complete the necessary steps for approval for any or all of our product candidates. Additional delays may result if the FDA, an FDA Advisory Committee (if one is convened to review any NDA we file) or another regulatory authority indicates that a product candidate should not be approved or there should be restrictions on approval, such as the requirement for a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (“REMS”), to ensure the safe use of the drug. Delays in marketing approval or rejections of applications for marketing approval in the U.S. or other markets may result from many factors, including:

 

the FDA’s or comparable foreign regulatory authorities’ disagreement with the design or implementation of any clinical trials we conduct or rely on for regulatory approval

 

regulatory requests for additional analyses, reports, data, non-clinical and preclinical studies and clinical trials

 

regulatory questions or disagreement by the FDA or comparable regulatory authorities regarding interpretations of data and results and the emergence of new information regarding our current or future product candidates or the field of research

 

unfavorable or inconclusive results of clinical trials and supportive non-clinical studies, including unfavorable results regarding safety or efficacy of our product candidates during clinical trials

 

failure to meet the level of statistical significance required for approval

 

inability to demonstrate that a product candidate’s clinical and other benefits outweigh its safety risks

 

lack of adequate funding to commence or continue our clinical trials due to unforeseen costs or other business decisions

 

regulatory authorities may find inadequate the manufacturing processes or facilities of the third-party manufacturers with which we contract for clinical and commercial supplies

 

we may have insufficient funds to pay the significant user fees required by the FDA upon the filing of an NDA

 

the approval policies or regulations of the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities may significantly change in a manner that would delay marketing approval

The lengthy and unpredictable approval process, as well as the unpredictability of future clinical trial results, may result in our failure to obtain marketing approval to market our product candidates, which would significantly harm our business, results of operations and prospects.

Clinical drug development involves a lengthy and expensive process with an uncertain outcome. Clinical development of product candidates for rare diseases carry additional risks, such as recruiting patients in a very small patient population.

Clinical testing is expensive and can take many years to complete, and its outcome is inherently uncertain. The FDA and comparable foreign regulatory authorities have substantial discretion in the approval process and determining when or whether marketing approval will be obtained for our current product candidates. Even if we believe the data collected from clinical trials of our current product candidates are promising, such data may not be sufficient to support approval by the FDA or comparable foreign authorities. Our future clinical trial results may not be successful.

It is impossible to predict the extent to which the clinical trial process may be affected by legislative and regulatory developments. Due to these and other factors, our current product candidates or future product candidates could take a significantly longer time to gain marketing approval than expected or may never gain marketing approval. This could delay or eliminate any potential product revenue by delaying or terminating the potential commercialization of our current product candidates.

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Preclinical trials must also be conducted in accordance with FDA and comparable foreign authorities’ legal requirements, regulations or guidelines, including current Good Laboratory Practice (“cGLP”), an international standard meant to harmonize the conduct and quality of nonclinical studies and the archiving and reporting of findings. Preclinical studies including long-term toxicity studies and carcinogenicity studies in animals may result in findings that may require further evaluation, which could affect the risk-benefit evaluation of clinical development, or which may lead the regulatory agencies to delay, prohibit the initiation of or halt clinical trials or delay or deny marketing authorization applications. Failure to adhere to the applicable cGLP standards or misconduct during the course of preclinical trials may invalidate the data and require one or more studies to be repeated or additional testing to be conducted.

Clinical trials must also be conducted in accordance with FDA and comparable foreign authorities’ legal requirements, regulations or guidelines, including human subject protection requirements and cGCP. Clinical trials are subject to further oversight by these governmental agencies and Institutional Review Boards (“IRBs”), at the medical institutions where the clinical trials are conducted. In addition, clinical trials must be conducted with supplies of our current product candidates produced under cGMP and other requirements. Clinical trials are usually conducted at multiple sites, potentially including some sites in countries outside the U.S. and the European Union, which may subject us to further delays and expenses as a result of increased shipment costs, additional regulatory requirements and the engagement of foreign and non-EU clinical research organizations, as well as expose us to risks associated with clinical investigators who are unknown to the FDA or the European regulatory authorities, and with different standards of diagnosis, screening and medical care.

The commencement and completion of clinical trials for our current product candidates may be delayed, suspended or terminated as a result of many factors, including but not limited to:

 

the delay or refusal of regulators or IRBs to authorize us to commence a clinical trial at a prospective trial site and changes in regulatory requirements, policies and guidelines

 

the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities disagreeing as to the design or implementation of our clinical trials

 

failure to reach agreement on acceptable terms with prospective contract research organizations (“CROs”) and clinical trial sites, the terms of which can be subject to extensive negotiation and may vary significantly among different CROs and trial sites

 

delays in patient enrollment and variability in the number and types of patients available for clinical trials

 

the inability to enroll a sufficient number of patients in trials to ensure adequate statistical power to detect statistically significant treatment effects

 

lower than anticipated retention rates of patients and volunteers in clinical trials

 

clinical sites deviating from trial protocol or dropping out of a trial

 

adding new clinical trial sites

 

negative or inconclusive results, which may require us to conduct additional preclinical or clinical trials or to abandon projects that we expect to be promising

 

safety or tolerability concerns could cause us to suspend or terminate a trial if we find that the participants are being exposed to unacceptable health risks

 

regulators or IRBs requiring that we or our investigators suspend or terminate clinical research for various reasons, including noncompliance with regulatory requirements

 

our third-party research and manufacturing contractors failing to comply with regulatory requirements or meet their contractual obligations to us in a timely manner, or at all

 

difficulty in maintaining contact with patients after treatment, resulting in incomplete data

 

delays in establishing the appropriate dosage levels

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the quality or stability of our current product candidates falling below acceptable standards

 

the inability to produce or obtain sufficient quantities of our current product candidates to complete clinical trials

 

exceeding budgeted costs due to difficulty in predicting accurately the costs associated with clinical trials

Patient enrollment is a significant factor in the timing of clinical trials and is affected by many factors, including the size and nature of the patient population, the proximity of patients to clinical sites, the eligibility criteria for the trial, the design of the clinical trial, competing clinical trials and clinicians’ and patients’ perceptions as to the potential advantages of the drug being studied in relation to other available therapies, including any new drugs or treatments that may be approved for the indications we are investigating. In addition, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may materially adversely affect our ability to recruit qualified subjects for our clinical trials, not only for emetine but for all of our product candidates. It is impossible to predict that impact on our clinical trials and our business.

There are significant requirements imposed on us and on clinical investigators who conduct clinical trials that we sponsor. Although we are responsible for selecting qualified clinical investigators, providing them with the information they need to conduct the clinical trial properly, ensuring proper monitoring of the clinical trial, and ensuring that the clinical trial is conducted in accordance with the general investigational plan and protocols contained in the IND, we cannot ensure the clinical investigators will maintain compliance with all regulatory requirements at all times. The pharmaceutical industry has experienced cases where clinical investigators have been found to incorrectly record data, omit data, or even falsify data. We cannot ensure that the clinical investigators in our trials will not make mistakes or otherwise compromise the integrity or validity of data, any of which would have a significant negative effect on our ability to obtain marketing approval, our business, and our financial condition.

We could encounter delays if a clinical trial is suspended or terminated by us, by the IRBs of the institutions in which such trial is being conducted, by the data safety monitoring board (“DSMB”) for such trial, or by the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities. We or such authorities may impose a suspension or termination due to a number of factors, including failure to conduct the clinical trial in accordance with regulatory requirements or our clinical protocols, inspection of the clinical trial operations or trial site by the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities resulting in the imposition of a clinical hold, safety issues or adverse side effects, failure to demonstrate a benefit from using the drug, changes in governmental regulations or administrative actions or lack of adequate funding to continue the clinical trial. If we experience delays in the completion or termination of any clinical trial of our current product candidates, the commercial prospects of our current product candidates will be harmed, and our ability to generate product revenues from our product candidates will be delayed. In addition, any delays in completing our clinical trials will increase our costs, slow our development and approval process and jeopardize our ability to commence product sales and generate revenues. Many of the factors that cause, or lead to, a delay in the commencement or completion of clinical trials may also ultimately lead to the denial of marketing approval of our product candidates.

Any of these occurrences could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations, and prospects. In addition, many of the factors that cause, or lead to, a delay in the commencement or completion of clinical trials may also ultimately lead to the denial of marketing approval of our current product candidates. Significant clinical trial delays could also allow our competitors to bring products to market before we are able to do so, shorten any periods during which we have the exclusive right to commercialize our current product candidates and impair our ability to commercialize our current product candidates, which may harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, and prospects.

Clinical failure can occur at any stage of clinical development. Because the results of earlier clinical trials are not necessarily predictive of future results, any product candidate we advance through clinical trials may not have favorable results in later clinical trials or receive marketing approval.

Clinical failure can occur at any stage of our clinical development. The results of preclinical studies and early clinical trials of our product candidates may not be predictive of the results of later-stage clinical trials. Product

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candidates in later stages of clinical trials may fail to show the desired safety and efficacy traits despite having progressed through preclinical studies and initial clinical trials. A number of companies in the pharmaceutical industry have suffered significant setbacks in advanced clinical trials due to lack of efficacy or adverse safety profiles, notwithstanding promising results in earlier trials. Clinical trials may produce negative or inconclusive results, and we may decide, or regulators may require us, to conduct additional clinical or preclinical testing. Data obtained from tests are susceptible to varying interpretations, and regulators may not interpret our data as favorably as we do, which may delay, limit or prevent marketing approval.

In addition, the design of a clinical trial can determine whether our results will support approval of a product or approval of a product for desired indications, and flaws or shortcomings in the design of a clinical trial may not become apparent until the clinical trial is well advanced. Further, clinical trials of potential products often reveal that it is not practical or feasible to continue development efforts. If one of our product candidates is found to be unsafe or lack efficacy, we will not be able to obtain marketing approval for it and our business would be harmed. For example, if the results of our clinical trials of our product candidates do not achieve pre-specified endpoints or we are unable to provide primary or secondary endpoint measurements deemed acceptable by the FDA or comparable foreign regulators or if we are unable to demonstrate an acceptable level of safety relative to the efficacy associated with our proposed indications, the prospects for approval of our product candidates would be materially and adversely affected. A number of companies in the pharmaceutical industry, including those with greater resources and experience than us, have suffered significant setbacks in Phase 2 and Phase 3 clinical trials, even after seeing promising results in earlier clinical trials.

In some instances, there can be significant variability in safety and/or efficacy results between different trials of the same product candidate due to numerous factors, including differences in trial protocols and design, the size and type of the patient population, adherence to the dosing regimen and the rate of dropout among clinical trial participants. We do not know whether any clinical trials we may conduct will demonstrate consistent and/or adequate efficacy and safety to obtain marketing approval for our product candidates.

As an organization, we have limited experience in designing and completing clinical trials and may be unable to do so efficiently or at all for our current product candidates or any product candidate we develop.

We will need to conduct clinical trials of our product candidates. The conduct of clinical trials and the submission of a successful NDA is a complicated process. As an organization, we have limited experience in designing and completing clinical trials, and we have limited experience in preparing and submitting regulatory filings. Consequently, we may be unable to successfully and efficiently execute and complete necessary clinical trials in a way that leads to NDA submission and approval of our product candidates. We may require more time and incur greater costs than anticipated and may not succeed in obtaining marketing approval of the product candidates we develop. Failure to commence or complete, or delays in, our planned clinical trials would prevent us from or delay us in commercializing our current product candidates or any other product candidate we develop.

Our product candidates may cause undesirable adverse effects or have other properties that could delay or prevent their marketing approval, limit the commercial profile of an approved label, or result in significant negative consequences following marketing approval, if obtained.

Undesirable side effects caused by our product candidates could cause us or regulatory authorities to interrupt, delay or halt clinical trials and could result in a more restrictive label or the delay or denial of marketing approval by the FDA or other comparable foreign authorities. If any of our current product candidates or any other product candidate we develop is associated with serious adverse, undesirable or unacceptable side effects, we may need to abandon such candidate’s development or limit development to certain uses or subpopulations in which such side effects are less prevalent, less severe or more acceptable from a risk-benefit perspective. Many compounds that initially showed promise in early-stage or clinical testing have later been found to cause side effects that prevented further development of the compound. Results of our trials could reveal a high and unacceptable prevalence of these or other side effects. In such an event, our trials could be suspended or terminated, and the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities could order us to cease further development of or deny approval of our product candidates for any or all targeted indications. The drug-related side effects could affect patient recruitment or the ability of enrolled patients to complete the trial or result in potential product liability claims.

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If our product candidates receive marketing approval, and we or others later identify undesirable side effects caused by such products, a number of potentially significant negative consequences could result, including:

 

regulatory authorities may withdraw approvals of such product

 

we may be required to recall a product or change the way such product is administered to patients

 

additional restrictions may be imposed on the marketing of the particular product or the manufacturing process for the product or any component thereof

 

regulatory authorities may require the addition of labeling statements, such as a precaution, “black box” warning or other warnings or a contraindication

 

we or our collaborators may be required to implement a REMS or create a medication guide outlining the risks of such side effect for distribution to patients

 

we or our collaborators could be sued and held liable for harm caused to patients

 

the product may become less competitive

 

our reputation may suffer

Any of these events could prevent us from achieving or maintaining market acceptance of our product candidates, if approved, and could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.

Even if we receive marketing approval for our product candidates, such approved products will be subject to ongoing obligations and continued regulatory review, which may result in significant additional expense. Additionally, our product candidates, if approved, could be subject to labeling and other restrictions, and we may be subject to penalties and legal sanctions if we fail to comply with regulatory requirements or experience unanticipated problems with our approved products.

If the FDA approves any of our product candidates, the manufacturing processes, labeling, packaging, distribution, adverse event reporting, storage, advertising, promotion and recordkeeping for the product will be subject to extensive and ongoing regulatory requirements. These requirements include submissions of safety and other post-marketing information and reports, registration, as well as continued compliance with cGMP regulations and GCP for any clinical trials that we conduct post-approval. Any marketing approvals that we receive for our product candidates may also be subject to limitations on the approved indicated uses for which the product may be marketed or to conditions of approval, or contain requirements for potentially costly post-marketing testing, including Phase 4 clinical trials, and surveillance to monitor safety and efficacy.

Later discovery of previously unknown problems with an approved product, including adverse events of unanticipated severity or frequency, or with manufacturing operations or processes, or failure to comply with regulatory requirements, or evidence of acts that raise questions about the integrity of data supporting the product approval, may result in, among other things:

 

restrictions on the marketing or manufacturing of the product, withdrawal of the product from the market, or voluntary or mandatory product recalls

 

fines, warning letters, or holds on clinical trials

 

refusal by the FDA to approve pending applications or supplements to approved applications filed by us, or suspension or revocation of product approvals

 

product seizure or detention, or refusal to permit the import or export of products

 

injunctions or the imposition of civil or criminal penalties

The FDA’s policies may change and additional government regulations may be enacted that could prevent, limit or delay marketing approval, manufacturing or commercialization of our product candidates. We cannot predict the likelihood, nature or extent of government regulation that may arise from future legislation or

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administrative action, either in the U.S. or abroad. If we are slow or unable to adapt to changes in existing requirements or the adoption of new requirements or policies, or we are not able to maintain regulatory compliance, we may lose any marketing approval that may have been obtained and we may not achieve or sustain profitability, which would adversely affect our business.

Agencies such as the FDA and national competition regulators in European countries regulate the promotion and uses of drugs not consistent with approved product labeling requirements. If we are found to have improperly promoted our current product candidates for uses beyond those that are approved, we may become subject to significant liability.

Regulatory authorities such as the FDA and national competition agencies in Europe strictly regulate the promotional claims that may be made about prescription products, such as ACER-001, EDSIVOTM, osanetant, or emetine, if approved. In particular, a product may not be promoted for uses that are not approved by the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities as reflected in the product’s approved labeling, known as “off-label” use, nor may it be promoted prior to obtaining marketing approval. If we receive marketing approval for our product candidates for our proposed indications, physicians may nevertheless use our products for their patients in a manner that is inconsistent with the approved label if the physicians personally believe in their professional medical judgment it could be used in such manner. Although physicians may prescribe legally available drugs for off-label uses, manufacturers may not market or promote such off-label uses.

In addition, the FDA requires that promotional claims not be “false or misleading” as such terms are defined in the FDA’s regulations. For example, the FDA requires substantial evidence, which generally consists of two adequate and well-controlled clinical trials, for a company to make a claim that its product is superior to another product in terms of safety or effectiveness. Generally, unless we perform clinical trials meeting that standard comparing our product candidates to competitive products and these claims are approved in our product labeling, we will not be able promote our current product candidates as superior to other products. If we are found to have made such claims, we may become subject to significant liability. In the U.S., the federal government has levied large civil and criminal fines against companies for alleged improper promotion and has enjoined several companies from engaging in improper promotion. The FDA has also requested that companies enter into consent decrees or corporate integrity agreements. The FDA could also seek permanent injunctions under which specified promotional conduct is monitored, changed or curtailed.

Our current and future relationships with healthcare professionals, investigators, consultants, collaborators, actual customers, potential customers and third-party payors in the U.S. and elsewhere may be subject, directly or indirectly, to applicable anti-kickback, fraud and abuse, false claims, physician payment transparency, health information privacy and security and other healthcare laws and regulations, which could expose us to sanctions.

Healthcare providers, physicians and third-party payors in the U.S. and elsewhere will play a primary role in the recommendation and prescription of any drug candidates for which we obtain marketing approval. Our current and future arrangements with healthcare professionals, investigators, consultants, collaborators, actual customers, potential customers and third-party payors may expose us to broadly applicable fraud and abuse and other healthcare laws, including, without limitation, the federal Anti-Kickback Statute and the federal False Claims Act, that may constrain the business or financial arrangements and relationships through which we sell, market and distribute any drug candidates for which we obtain marketing approval. In addition, we may be subject to physician payment transparency laws and patient privacy and security regulation by the U.S. federal government and states and by the foreign jurisdictions in which we conduct our business. The applicable federal, state and foreign healthcare laws that may affect our ability to operate include the following:

 

the federal Anti-Kickback Statute, which prohibits, among other things, persons from knowingly and willfully soliciting, offering, receiving or providing remuneration, directly or indirectly, in cash or in kind, to induce or reward, or in return for, either the referral of an individual for, or the purchase, lease, order or recommendation of, any good, facility, item or service, for which payment may be made, in whole or in part, under federal and state healthcare programs such as Medicare and Medicaid

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federal civil and criminal false claims laws and civil monetary penalty laws, including the federal False Claims Act, which impose criminal and civil penalties, including civil whistleblower or qui tam actions, against individuals or entities for, among other things, knowingly presenting, or causing to be presented, to the federal government, including the Medicare and Medicaid programs, claims for payment that are false or fraudulent or making a false statement to avoid, decrease or conceal an obligation to pay money to the federal government

 

the civil monetary penalties statute, which imposes penalties against any person or entity who, among other things, is determined to have presented or caused to be presented a claim to a federal health program that the person knows or should know is for an item or service that was not provided as claimed or is false or fraudulent

 

the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”), which created new federal criminal statutes that prohibit knowingly and willfully executing, or attempting to execute, a scheme to defraud any healthcare benefit program or obtain, by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations or promises, any of the money or property owned by, or under the custody or control of, any healthcare benefit program, regardless of the payor (e.g., public or private), knowingly and willfully embezzling or stealing from a healthcare benefit program, willfully obstructing a criminal investigation of a healthcare offense and knowingly and willfully falsifying, concealing or covering up by any trick or device a material fact or making any materially false statements in connection with the delivery of, or payment for, healthcare benefits, items or services relating to healthcare matters

 

HIPAA, as amended by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 (“HITECH”) and its implementing regulations, which impose obligations on covered entities, including healthcare providers, health plans, and healthcare clearinghouses, as well as their respective business associates that create, receive, maintain or transmit individually identifiable health information for or on behalf of a covered entity, with respect to safeguarding the privacy, security and transmission of individually identifiable health information without proper written authorization

 

the federal Open Payments program, created under Section 6002 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“the Affordable Care Act”) and its implementing regulations, which imposed annual reporting requirements for manufacturers of drugs, devices, biologicals and medical supplies for certain payments and “transfers of value” provided to physicians and teaching hospitals, as well as ownership and investment interests held by physicians and their immediate family members, where failure to submit timely, accurately and completely the required information for all covered payments, transfers of value and ownership or investment interests may result in civil monetary penalties

 

analogous state and foreign laws, such as state anti-kickback and false claims laws, which may apply to sales or marketing arrangements and claims involving healthcare items or services reimbursed by non-governmental third-party payors, including private insurers; state laws that require pharmaceutical companies to comply with the pharmaceutical industry’s voluntary compliance guidelines and the relevant compliance guidance promulgated by the federal government or otherwise restrict payments that may be made to healthcare providers; state and foreign laws that require drug manufacturers to report information related to payments and other transfers of value to physicians and other healthcare providers or marketing expenditures; and state and foreign laws governing the privacy and security of health information in certain circumstances, many of which differ from each other in significant ways and often are not preempted by HIPAA, thus complicating compliance efforts

Further, the Affordable Care Act, among other things, amended the intent requirement of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute and certain criminal statutes governing healthcare fraud. A person or entity no longer needs to have actual knowledge of the statute or specific intent to violate it. In addition, the Affordable Care Act provided that the government may assert that a claim including items or services resulting from a violation of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute constitutes a false or fraudulent claim for purposes of the False Claims Act.

Efforts to ensure that our future business arrangements with third parties will comply with applicable healthcare laws and regulations may involve substantial costs. It is possible that governmental authorities will conclude that our business practices may not comply with current or future statutes, regulations or case law involving applicable fraud and abuse or other healthcare laws. If our operations are found to be in violation of any of

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these laws or any other governmental regulations that may apply to us, we may be subject to significant civil, criminal and administrative penalties, including, without limitation, damages, fines, imprisonment, exclusion from participation in government healthcare programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, and the curtailment or restructuring of our operations, which could significantly harm our business. If any of the physicians or other healthcare providers or entities with whom we expect to do business, including our current and future collaborators, if any, are found not to be in compliance with applicable laws, those persons or entities may be subject to criminal, civil or administrative sanctions, including exclusion from participation in government healthcare programs, which could also affect our business.

The impact of recent healthcare reform legislation and other changes in the healthcare industry and healthcare spending on us is currently unknown and may adversely affect our business model.

In the U.S. and some foreign jurisdictions, legislative and regulatory changes and proposed changes regarding the healthcare system could prevent or delay marketing approval of our drug candidates, restrict or regulate post-approval activities and affect our ability to profitably sell any drug candidates for which we obtain marketing approval.

Our revenue prospects could be affected by changes in healthcare spending and policy in the U.S. and abroad. We operate in a highly regulated industry and new laws and judicial decisions, or new interpretations of existing laws or decisions, related to healthcare availability, the method of delivery or payment for healthcare products and services could negatively impact our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects. There is significant interest in promoting healthcare reform, as evidenced by the enactment in the U.S. of the Affordable Care Act. Among other things, the Affordable Care Act contains provisions that may reduce the profitability of drug products, including, for example, revising the methodology by which rebates owed by manufacturers for covered outpatient drugs under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program are calculated, extending the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program to utilization of prescriptions of individuals enrolled in Medicaid managed care plans, imposing mandatory discounts for certain Medicare Part D beneficiaries, and subjecting drug manufacturers to payment of an annual fee.

We expect that the Affordable Care Act, as well as other healthcare reform measures that may be adopted in the future, may result in more rigorous coverage criteria and in additional downward pressure on the price that we receive for any approved product. Any reduction in reimbursement from Medicare or other government programs may result in a similar reduction in payments from private payors. The implementation of cost containment measures or other healthcare reforms may prevent us from being able to generate revenue or commercialize our drugs.

It is likely that federal and state legislatures within the U.S. and foreign governments will continue to consider changes to existing healthcare legislation including the Affordable Care Act. It is also possible that the executive branch may take certain steps by executive action which could modify or solidify aspects of the Affordable Care Act. Certain stakeholders are also pursuing litigation challenging certain provisions which, if successful, would have the effect of modifying some or all of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. We cannot predict the reform initiatives that may be adopted or litigation outcomes in the future or whether initiatives that have been adopted will be repealed or modified. The continuing efforts of the government, insurance companies, managed care organizations and other payors of healthcare services to contain or reduce costs of healthcare may adversely affect:

 

the demand for any drug products for which we may obtain marketing approval

 

our ability to set a price that we believe is fair for our products

 

our ability to obtain coverage and reimbursement approval for a product

 

our ability to generate revenues and achieve or maintain profitability

 

the level of taxes that we are required to pay

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If we fail to comply with environmental, health and safety laws and regulations, we could become subject to fines or penalties or incur costs that could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations.

Our research and development activities and our third-party manufacturers’ and suppliers’ activities involve the controlled storage, use, and disposal of hazardous materials, including the components of our product candidates and other hazardous compounds. We and our manufacturers and suppliers are subject to laws and regulations governing the use, manufacture, storage, handling, and disposal of these hazardous materials. In some cases, these hazardous materials and various wastes resulting from their use are stored at our and our manufacturers’ facilities pending their use and disposal. We cannot eliminate the risk of contamination, which could cause an interruption of our commercialization efforts, research and development efforts and business operations, environmental damage resulting in costly clean-up and liabilities under applicable laws and regulations governing the use, storage, handling, and disposal of these materials and specified waste products. Although we believe that the safety procedures utilized by us and our third-party manufacturers for handling and disposing of these materials generally comply with the standards prescribed by these laws and regulations, we cannot guarantee that this is the case or eliminate the risk of accidental contamination or injury from these materials. In such an event, we may be held liable for any resulting damages and such liability could exceed our resources and state or federal or other applicable authorities may curtail our use of specified materials and/or interrupt our business operations. Furthermore, environmental laws and regulations are complex, change frequently, and have tended to become more stringent. We cannot predict the impact of such changes and cannot be certain of our future compliance. We do not currently carry biological or hazardous waste insurance coverage.

Other Risks Related to Our Business

If we fail to attract and retain key management and scientific personnel, we may be unable to successfully develop or commercialize our product candidates.

Our success as a pharmaceutical company depends on our continued ability to attract, retain and motivate highly qualified management and scientific and clinical personnel. The loss of the services of any of our senior management could delay or prevent obtaining marketing approval or commercialization of our product candidates.

Our 2019 restructuring may have a negative impact on our ability to attract and retain qualified personnel. In order to reduce operating expenses and conserve cash resources following receipt of the Complete Response Letter we received from the FDA regarding our NDA for EDSIVO™ for the treatment of vEDS in June 2019, we implemented a corporate restructuring initiative including a reduction of approximately 60% of our full-time workforce of 48 employees and a halt of precommercial activities for EDSIVO™. As of February 15, 2021, we had a workforce of 20 full-time employees to conduct our planned business operations. If our projections prove to be inaccurate or if we are forced to implement any further workforce reductions, we may not have sufficient staffing to pursue our research and development goals.

We may not be able to attract or retain qualified management and scientific personnel in the future due to the intense competition for a limited number of qualified personnel among pharmaceutical businesses, and other pharmaceutical, biotechnology and other businesses. Our failure to attract, hire, integrate and retain qualified personnel could impair our ability to achieve our business objectives.

We may not be able to win government, academic institution or non-profit contracts or grants, which could affect the timing or continued development of one or more of our product candidates, and emetine in particular.

From time to time, we may apply for contracts or grants from government agencies, non-profit entities and academic institutions. For example, we are pursuing several financing options, including federally-funded research contracts and grants and other potentially non-dilutive funding sources, to fund our planned emetine development program for the potential treatment of patients with COVID-19. Such contracts or grants can be highly attractive because they provide capital to fund the ongoing development of our product candidates without diluting our

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stockholders. However, there is often significant competition for these contracts or grants. Entities offering contracts or grants may have requirements to apply for or to otherwise be eligible for certain contracts or grants that our competitors may be able to satisfy that we cannot. In addition, such entities may make unfavorable decisions as to whether to offer contracts or make grants, to whom the contracts or grants may or will be awarded and the size of the contracts or grants to each awardee. Even if we are able to satisfy the award requirements, there is no guarantee that we will be a successful awardee. Therefore, we may not be able to win any contracts or grants in a timely manner, if at all.

If a successful product liability claim or series of claims is brought against us for uninsured liabilities or in excess of insured liabilities, we could be forced to pay substantial damage awards.

The use of any of our product candidates in clinical trials, and the sale of any approved products, may expose us to product liability claims. We currently maintain product liability insurance coverage in amounts we consider to be reasonable for our stage of development. We intend to monitor the amount of coverage we maintain as the size and design of our clinical trials evolve, and if we are successful in obtaining approval to commercialize any of our product candidates, adjust the amount of coverage we maintain accordingly. However, there is no assurance that such insurance coverage will fully protect us against some or all of the claims to which we might become subject. We might not be able to maintain adequate insurance coverage at a reasonable cost or in sufficient amounts or scope to protect us against potential losses. In the event a claim is brought against us, we might be required to pay legal and other expenses to defend the claim, as well as uncovered damages awards resulting from a claim brought successfully against us.

Furthermore, whether or not we are ultimately successful in defending any such claims, we might be required to direct financial and managerial resources to such defense and adverse publicity could result, all of which could harm our business.

Our employees, independent contractors, investigators, contract research organizations, consultants, collaborators and vendors may engage in misconduct or other improper activities, including noncompliance with regulatory standards and requirements and insider trading.

We are exposed to the risk that our employees and other third parties may engage in fraudulent conduct or other illegal activity. Misconduct by employees and other third parties could include intentional, reckless and/or negligent conduct or disclosure of unauthorized activities to us that violate FDA regulations, including those laws requiring the reporting of true, complete and accurate information to the FDA, manufacturing standards, federal and state healthcare fraud and abuse laws and regulations, or laws that require the reporting of financial information or data accurately. In particular, sales, marketing and business arrangements in the healthcare industry are subject to extensive laws intended to prevent fraud, kickbacks, self-dealing and other abusive practices. These laws and regulations may restrict or prohibit a wide range of pricing, discounting, marketing and promotion, sales commission, customer incentive programs and other business arrangements. Activities subject to these laws also involve the improper use of information obtained in the course of clinical trials, which could result in regulatory sanctions and serious harm to our reputation. It is not always possible to identify and deter employee and other third-party misconduct, and the precautions we take to detect and prevent this activity may not be effective in controlling unknown or unmanaged risks or losses or in protecting us from governmental investigations or other actions or lawsuits stemming from a failure to be in compliance with such laws. If any such actions are instituted against us, and we are not successful in defending ourselves or asserting our rights, those actions could have a significant impact on our business, including the imposition of significant civil, criminal and administrative penalties, damages, monetary fines, disgorgement, possible exclusion from participation in Medicare, Medicaid and other federal healthcare programs, contractual damages, reputational harm, diminished profits and future earnings and curtailment or restructuring of our operations, any of which could adversely affect our ability to operate.

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Our internal computer systems, or those of our development collaborators, third-party clinical research organizations or other contractors or consultants, may fail or suffer cybersecurity or other security breaches, which could result in a material disruption of our product development programs.

Despite the implementation of security measures, our internal computer systems and those of our current and any future CROs and other contractors, consultants and collaborators are vulnerable to cybersecurity breaches and damage from computer viruses, unauthorized access, natural disasters, terrorism, war and telecommunication and electrical failures. While we have not experienced any such material system failure, accident or security breach to date, if such an event were to occur and cause interruptions in our operations, it could result in a material disruption of our development programs and our business operations. For example, the loss of clinical trial data from completed or future clinical trials could result in delays in our marketing approval efforts and significantly increase our costs to recover or reproduce the data. Likewise, we intend to rely on third parties to manufacture our product candidates and conduct clinical trials, and similar events relating to their computer systems could also have a material adverse effect on our business. To the extent that any disruption or cybersecurity or other security breach were to result in a loss of, or damage to, our data or applications, or inappropriate disclosure of confidential or proprietary information, we could incur liability, the further development and commercialization of our product candidates could be delayed, and our reputation could be harmed. In addition, there are known cyberattacks against pharmaceutical companies engaged in development of therapeutic or vaccine products addressing COVID-19. Our emetine program is one such program that could attract the attention of cyberattackers.

Risks Related to Commercialization of Our Product Candidates

Our product candidate EDSIVOTM has not been approved for any indication in the U.S. and, in June 2019, we received a Complete Response Letter from the FDA stating that it will be necessary to conduct an adequate and well-controlled trial to determine whether celiprolol reduces the risk of clinical events in patients with vEDS. We are exploring with the FDA other possible approaches that could provide the necessary confirmatory evidence of efficacy needed in order to seek approval. There can be no assurance that our plan will be accepted by the FDA or that we will be able to provide adequate data to meet that standard. This may also result in greater research and development expenses or regulatory issues that could further delay or prevent approval.

EDSIVOTM is a repurposing of celiprolol for the treatment of vEDS. An NDA for this drug for the treatment of hypertension was submitted to the FDA in 1987, however, the NDA was withdrawn prior to review. Celiprolol has, however, been approved in Europe for the treatment of hypertension since 1984. Regulatory approval of EDSIVOTM may be more expensive and take longer than for other, more well-known or extensively studied pharmaceutical product candidates due to our and regulatory agencies’ lack of experience with celiprolol. In June 2019, we received a Complete Response Letter from the FDA regarding our NDA for EDSIVOTM (celiprolol) for the treatment of vEDS. The Complete Response Letter stated that it will be necessary to conduct an adequate and well-controlled trial to determine whether celiprolol reduces the risk of clinical events in patients with vEDS. We had previously devoted a substantial majority of our research, development, clinical, and precommercial efforts and financial resources towards the development of EDSIVO™. In order to reduce operating expenses and conserve cash resources, in June 2019, we implemented a corporate restructuring which included a reduction of approximately 60% of our full-time workforce of 48 employees and halted precommercial activities for EDSIVOTM. In December 2019, we submitted a Formal Dispute Resolution Request to the FDA’s Office of New Drugs appealing the FDA’s decision outlined in the Complete Response Letter. In March 2020, we received a response to our Formal Dispute Resolution Request from the Office of New Drugs of the FDA stating that it had denied our appeal of the Complete Response Letter in relation to the NDA for EDSIVOTM. In its Appeal Denied letter, the Office of New Drugs (i) described possible paths forward for Acer to explore that could provide the substantial evidence of effectiveness needed to support a potential resubmission of the EDSIVOTM NDA for the treatment of patients with vEDS with a confirmed COL3A1 mutation and (ii) referred to the FDA Guidance document issued in December 2019, where substantial evidence of effectiveness can be provided by two or more adequate and well-controlled studies demonstrating efficacy, or a single positive adequate and well-controlled study plus confirmatory evidence. We believe we have identified a plan to collect additional data that supports the results from the COL3A1-positive analysis from the BBEST trial and could help meet the standard set forth in the FDA Guidance document issued in December 2019. In February 2021, we submitted a meeting request to the FDA to discuss Acer’s proposed plan to provide sufficient confirmatory evidence. If successful, data provided under our proposal could potentially

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satisfy the additional confirmatory evidence needed to support a resubmission of our NDA, assuming the additional data analysis is positive. There can be no assurance that FDA will accept our plan or, if accepted, that the resulting data would be adequate to support resubmission, filing or approval of our NDA. We may also conclude at any point that the cost, risk and uncertainty of obtaining that additional data does not justify continuing with the development of EDSIVO™. The novelty of this product candidate may continue to lengthen the regulatory review process, ultimately require the conduct of one or more additional studies or clinical trials as a prerequisite to approval (although we do not presently intend to conduct any such studies or trials), increase our development costs, lead to changes in regulatory positions and interpretations, delay or prevent approval and commercialization, or lead to significant post-approval limitations or restrictions. There is also an increased risk that previously unknown or unanticipated adverse effects could be discovered during any clinical trials and beyond. Any such events could have a materially adverse impact on our business prospects, financial condition and results of operations.

Even if we obtain the required regulatory approvals in the U.S. and other territories, the commercial success of our product candidates will depend on, among other factors, market awareness and acceptance of our product candidates.

Even if we obtain marketing approval for our current product candidates or any other product candidates that we may develop or acquire in the future, the products may not gain market acceptance among physicians, key opinion leaders, healthcare payors, patients and the medical community. Market acceptance of any approved products depends on a number of factors, including:

 

the timing of market introduction

 

the efficacy and safety of the product, as demonstrated in clinical trials

 

the clinical indications for which the product is approved and the label approved by regulatory authorities for use with the product, including any precautions, warnings or contraindications that may be required on the label

 

acceptance by physicians, key opinion leaders and patients of the product as a safe and effective treatment

 

the cost, safety and efficacy of treatment in relation to alternative treatments

 

the availability of coverage and adequate reimbursement and pricing by third-party payors and government authorities

 

the number and clinical profile of competing products

 

the growth of drug markets in our various indications

 

relative convenience and ease of administration

 

marketing and distribution support

 

the prevalence and severity of adverse side effects

 

the effectiveness of our sales and marketing efforts

Market acceptance is critical to our ability to generate revenue. Any product candidate, if approved and commercialized, may be accepted in only limited capacities or not at all. If any approved products are not accepted by the market to the extent that we expect, we may not be able to generate revenue and our business would suffer.

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If the market opportunities for our product candidates to treat rare diseases are smaller than we believe they are, then our revenues may be adversely affected and our business may suffer.

The diseases that some of our current and future product candidates are being developed to address are rare. Our projections of both the number of people who have these diseases, as well as the subset of people with these diseases who have the potential to benefit from treatment with our product candidates, and our assumptions relating to pricing are based on estimates. Given the small number of patients who have some of the diseases that we are targeting, our eligible patient population and pricing estimates may differ significantly from the actual market addressable by our product candidates.

Currently, most reported estimates of the prevalence of vEDS, UCD, and MSUD are based on studies of small subsets of the population of specific geographic areas, which are then extrapolated to estimate the prevalence of the diseases in the broader world population. It is difficult to precisely measure the incidence or prevalence of vEDS in any population. Studies estimate the prevalence of vEDS as ranging from approximately 1 in 90,000 to 1 in 250,000. In 2017, we commissioned a patient-finder study that phenotypically identified 4,169 vEDS patients in the U.S. from an analysis of a commercially available patient claims database, with data of approximately 190 million unique patient lives. Based on that information, we estimate the prevalence of phenotypically-defined vEDS in the U.S. could be greater than 1 in 45,000.

Studies suggest that the incidence of UCD in the U.S. is 1 in 35,000 live births. Approximately 2,000 patients suffer from UCD in the U.S. Studies indicate that MSUD affects an estimated 1 in 185,000 infants worldwide. Approximately 3,000 patients suffer from MSUD worldwide, of whom approximately 800 are located in the U.S.

It is estimated that vEDS, UCD, and MSUD collectively impact approximately 7,000 patients in the U.S. As new studies are performed the estimated prevalence of these diseases may change. The number of patients may turn out to be lower than expected. There can be no assurance that the prevalence of vEDS, UCD or MSUD in the study populations accurately reflect the prevalence of these diseases in the broader world population. If our estimates of the prevalence of vEDS, UCD, or MSUD, or of the number of patients who may benefit from treatment with ACER-001 or EDSIVOTM prove to be incorrect, the market opportunities for our product candidates may be smaller than we believe they are, our prospects for generating revenue may be adversely affected and our business may suffer. Likewise, the potentially addressable patient population for each of these product candidates may be limited or may not be amenable to treatment with our product candidates, and new patients may become increasingly difficult to identify or gain access to, which would adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.

We currently have limited marketing and sales experience. If we are unable to establish sales and marketing capabilities or enter into agreements with third parties to market and sell our product candidates, we may be unable to generate any revenue.

We have never commercialized a product candidate and, although precommercial activities had been conducted for EDSIVOTM prior to our receipt of the FDA’s Complete Response Letter regarding our NDA for EDSIVOTM, we currently do not have marketing, sales or distribution capabilities for our product candidates. In order to commercialize any of our products that receive marketing approval, we would have to build marketing, sales, medical affairs, distribution, managerial and other non-technical capabilities or make arrangements with third parties to perform these services, and we may not be successful in doing so. In the event of successful development of our product candidates, if we elect to build a targeted specialty sales force, such an effort would be expensive and time consuming. Any failure or delay in the development of our internal sales, marketing and distribution capabilities would adversely impact the commercialization of these products. We may choose to collaborate with third parties that have their own sales forces and established distribution systems, in lieu of or to augment any sales force and distribution systems we may create. If we are unable to enter into collaborations with third parties for the commercialization of approved product candidates, if any, on acceptable terms or at all, or if any such collaborator does not devote sufficient resources to the commercialization of our product or otherwise fails in commercialization efforts, we may not be able to successfully commercialize our product candidates if we receive marketing approval. If we are not successful in commercializing our product candidates, either on our own or through collaborations with one or more third parties, our potential future revenue will be materially and adversely impacted.

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If we fail to enter into strategic relationships or collaborations, our business, financial condition, commercialization prospects and results of operations may be materially adversely affected.

Our product development programs and the potential commercialization of our current product candidates will require substantial additional cash to fund expenses. Therefore, in addition to financing the development of our product candidates through additional equity financings or through debt financings, we may decide to enter into collaborations with pharmaceutical or biopharmaceutical companies for the development and potential commercialization of our product candidates.

For example, on January 25, 2021, we and Relief entered into an option agreement pursuant to which we granted Relief an exclusive option to pursue a potential collaboration and license agreement with us for the development, regulatory approval and commercialization of ACER-001 for the treatment of UCDs and MSUD. The option agreement provides a period of time up to June 30, 2021 for the parties to perform additional due diligence and to work toward negotiation and execution of a definitive agreement with respect to the potential collaboration for ACER-001. In consideration for the grant of the exclusivity option, (i) we received from Relief an upfront nonrefundable payment of $1.0 million, (ii) Relief provided to us a 12-month secured loan in the principal amount of $4.0 million, as evidenced by a promissory note we issued to Relief, and (iii) we granted to Relief a security interest in all of our assets to secure performance of the promissory note, as evidenced by a security agreement. The note is repayable in one lump sum within 12 months from issuance and bears interest at a rate equal to 6% per annum. At Relief’s option, the outstanding balance of the $4.0 million loan can be used to offset the $14.0 million payment that may otherwise be payable to us from Relief if a definitive agreement is executed. If a definitive agreement with respect to the potential collaboration is not executed by the parties on or before June 30, 2021, the exclusivity option will terminate and the note is repayable by us upon maturity. The note contains certain customary events of default (including, but not limited to, default in payment of principal or interest thereunder or a material breach of the security agreement). There can be no assurance, however, that a definitive agreement will be successfully negotiated and executed between the parties on the terms outlined in the option agreement, on other mutually acceptable terms, or at all. Except for the $1.0 million upfront payment to us and the $4.0 million 12‑month secured loan from Relief to us, the remaining proposed terms of the potential collaboration and license arrangement described in the option agreement are not binding and are subject to change as a result of further diligence by Relief and negotiation of a definitive collaboration and license agreement between the parties. If we are unable to successfully negotiate and enter into a definitive agreement with Relief, we may be unable to enter into a collaboration with any other potential partner on acceptable terms, if at all.

We face significant competition in seeking appropriate collaborators. Collaborations are complex and time-consuming to negotiate and document. We may also be restricted under existing and future collaboration agreements from entering into agreements on certain terms with other potential collaborators. We may not be able to negotiate collaborations on acceptable terms, or at all. If that were to occur, we may have to curtail the development of a particular product, reduce or delay one or more of our development programs, delay our potential commercialization or reduce the scope of our sales or marketing activities, or increase our expenditures and undertake development or commercialization activities at our own expense. If we elect to increase our expenditures to fund development or commercialization activities on our own, we may need to obtain additional capital, which may not be available to us on acceptable terms or at all. If we do not have sufficient funds, we will not be able to bring our product candidates to market and generate product revenue. If we do enter into a collaboration agreement, it could be subject to the following risks, each of which may materially harm our business, commercialization prospects and financial condition:

 

we may not be able to control the amount or timing of resources that the collaborator devotes to the product development program

 

the collaborator may experience financial difficulties and thus not commit sufficient financial resources to the product development program

 

we may be required to relinquish important rights such as marketing, distribution and intellectual property rights

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a collaborator could move forward with a competing product developed either independently or in collaboration with third parties, including our competitors

 

business combinations or significant changes in a collaborator’s business strategy may adversely affect a collaborator’s willingness to complete its obligations under any arrangement

Coverage and reimbursement may be limited or unavailable in certain market segments for our product candidates, which could make it difficult for us to sell our products profitably.

There is significant uncertainty related to third-party coverage and reimbursement of newly approved pharmaceuticals. Market acceptance and sales of any approved product candidates will depend significantly on the availability of coverage and adequate reimbursement from third-party payors and may be affected by existing and future healthcare reform measures. Patients who are prescribed treatments for their conditions and providers performing the prescribed services generally rely on third-party payors to reimburse all or part of the associated healthcare costs. Government authorities and third-party payors, such as private health insurers, health maintenance organizations, and government payors like Medicare and Medicaid, decide which drugs they will pay for and establish reimbursement levels. Increasingly, third-party payors are requiring that drug companies provide them with predetermined discounts from list prices and are challenging the prices charged for drugs and products. Coverage and reimbursement may not be available for any product that we commercialize and, even if coverage is provided, the level of reimbursement may not be satisfactory. Inadequate reimbursement levels may adversely affect the demand for, or the price of, any drug candidate for which we obtain marketing approval.

Reimbursement by a third-party payor may depend upon a number of factors, including the third-party payor’s determination that use of a product is, among other things:

 

a covered benefit under its health plan

 

safe, effective and medically necessary

 

appropriate for the specific patient

 

cost-effective

 

neither experimental nor investigational

Obtaining coverage and adequate reimbursement approval for a product from a government or other third-party payor is a time consuming and costly process that could require us to conduct expensive pharmacoeconomic studies and provide supporting scientific, clinical and cost-effectiveness data for the use of our products to the payor. We may not be able to provide data sufficient to gain acceptance with respect to coverage and adequate reimbursement. In addition to examining the medical necessity and cost-effectiveness of new products, coverage may be limited to specific drug products on an approved list, or formulary, which might not include all of the FDA-approved drug products for a particular indication. There may also be formulary placements that result in lower reimbursement levels and higher cost-sharing borne by patients, any of which could have an adverse effect on our revenues and profits. Moreover, a third-party payor’s decision to provide coverage for a drug product does not imply that an adequate reimbursement rate will be approved. Adequate third-party reimbursement may not be available to enable us to maintain price levels sufficient to realize an appropriate return on our investment in product development. Additionally, coverage and reimbursement for drug products can differ significantly from payor to payor. One third-party payor’s decision to cover a particular drug product does not ensure that other payors will also provide coverage for the drug product, or even if coverage is available, establish an adequate reimbursement rate. In addition, pricing of orphan and rare disease drug treatments is under increased pressure given the overall healthcare cost climate generally, and pricing of pharmaceutical products specifically.

We cannot be sure that coverage or adequate reimbursement will be available for any of our product candidates. Also, we cannot be sure that reimbursement amounts will not reduce the demand for, or the price of, our products. If reimbursement is not available or is available only to limited levels, we may not be able to commercialize certain of our products. In the U.S., third-party payors are increasingly attempting to contain healthcare costs by limiting both coverage and the level of reimbursement of new drugs. Third-party payors are increasingly challenging the prices charged for medical products and services, examining the medical necessity and

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reviewing the cost-effectiveness of drug products and medical services and questioning safety and efficacy. As a result, significant uncertainty exists as to whether and how much third-party payors will reimburse patients for their use of newly approved drugs, which in turn will put pressure on the pricing of drugs. Additionally, emphasis on managed care in the U.S. has increased and we expect will continue to increase the pressure on drug pricing. If third-party payors do not consider our products to be cost-effective compared to other available therapies, they may not cover the products for which we receive FDA approval or, if they do, the level of payment may not be sufficient to allow us to sell our products at a profit.

Coverage policies, third-party reimbursement rates and drug pricing regulation (including indirect techniques of pricing pressure, such as allowing reimportation from markets outside the U.S.) may change at any time, and there is the potential for significant movement in these areas in the foreseeable future. Even if favorable coverage and reimbursement status is attained for one or more products for which we receive marketing approval, less favorable coverage policies and reimbursement rates may be implemented in the future.

We face substantial competition, which may result in others discovering, developing or commercializing products for our targeted indications before, or more successfully, than we do.

The life sciences industry is highly competitive, and we face significant competition from many pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical and biotechnology companies that are generally developing and marketing therapeutic products. Such competition may include large pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, specialty pharmaceutical and generic companies and medical technology companies. Our future success depends on our ability to demonstrate and maintain a competitive advantage with respect to the design, development and commercialization of our product candidates for the treatment of orphan and ultra-orphan diseases for which there is a small patient population in the U.S. A drug designated an Orphan Drug may receive up to seven years of exclusive marketing in the U.S. for that indication. Our objective is to design, develop and commercialize product candidates by repurposing or reformulating existing drugs, generally for orphan diseases, with significant unmet medical needs.

Many of our potential competitors have significantly greater financial, manufacturing, marketing, development, technical and human resources than we do. Large pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, in particular, have extensive experience in clinical testing, obtaining regulatory approvals, recruiting patients and in manufacturing clinical products. These companies also have significantly greater research and marketing capabilities than we do and may also have products that have been approved or are in late stages of development, and have collaborative arrangements in our target markets with leading companies and research institutions. Established companies may also invest heavily to accelerate discovery and development of compounds that could make the product candidates that we develop obsolete. As a result of all of these factors, the obtaining of Orphan Drug designation for our product candidates to treat rare diseases is highly desirable to our viability since our competitors may, among other things:

 

have greater name and brand recognition, financial and human resources

 

develop and commercialize products that are safer, more effective, less expensive, or more convenient or easier to administer

 

obtain quicker marketing approval

 

establish superior proprietary positions

 

have access to more manufacturing capacity as well as to more cost-effective manufacturing capacity

 

implement more effective approaches to sales and marketing

 

form more advantageous strategic alliances

Should any of these events occur, our business, financial condition, results of operations, and prospects could be materially adversely affected. If we are not able to compete effectively against potential competitors, our business will not grow and our financial condition and operations will suffer.

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We believe that our ability to successfully compete in the rare disease category will depend in part on our ability to obtain Orphan Drug designation for our product candidates to treat rare diseases as well as:

 

our ability to design and successfully execute appropriate clinical trials

 

our ability to recruit and enroll patients for our clinical trials

 

the results of our clinical trials and the efficacy and safety of our product candidates

 

the speed at which we develop our product candidates

 

achieving and maintaining compliance with regulatory requirements applicable to our business

 

the timing and scope of regulatory approvals, including labeling

 

adequate levels of reimbursement under private and governmental health insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid

 

our ability to protect intellectual property rights related to our product candidates

 

our ability to commercialize and market any of our product candidates that may receive marketing approval

 

our ability to manufacture and sell commercial quantities of any approved product candidates to the market

 

acceptance of our product candidates by physicians, other healthcare providers and patients

 

the cost of treatment in relation to alternative therapies

If our competitors are able to obtain Orphan Drug exclusivity for their products that are the same drug as our product candidates, we may not be able to have competing products approved by the applicable regulatory authority for a significant period of time or benefit from that exclusivity.

We have Orphan Drug exclusivity designation in the U.S. for ACER-001 for MSUD and EDSIVOTM for vEDS. We expect to seek Orphan Drug exclusivity from the EMA for ACER-001 for MSUD; however, there can be no assurance that we will be successful. If we are unable to maintain our current Orphan Drug exclusivity or are unable to secure orphan status in Europe for ACER-001 for MSUD, it may have a material negative effect on our business.

Generally, if a product with an Orphan Drug designation subsequently receives the first marketing approval for the indication for which it has such designation, that product is entitled to a period of marketing exclusivity, which precludes the applicable regulatory authority from approving another marketing application for the same drug for the same indication for that time period. The applicable period is seven years in the U.S. and ten years in the European Union. The exclusivity period in the European Union can be reduced to six years if the product no longer meets the criteria for Orphan Drug designation or if its commercialization is sufficiently profitable so that market exclusivity is no longer justified. Orphan Drug exclusivity may be lost if the FDA or the EMA determines that the request for designation was materially defective or if the manufacturer is unable to ensure sufficient quantity of the product to meet the needs of patients with the rare disease or condition. Maintaining and/or obtaining Orphan Drug exclusivity for ACER-001 and EDSIVOTM may be important to the product candidate’s success. Even if we obtain Orphan Drug exclusivity, we may not be able to maintain it. For example, if a competitive product that treats the same disease as our product candidate is shown to be clinically superior to our product candidate, any Orphan Drug exclusivity we have obtained will not block the approval of such competitive product and we may effectively lose what had previously been Orphan Drug exclusivity. Orphan Drug exclusivity for ACER-001 or EDSIVOTM also will not bar the FDA from approving another celiprolol drug product or a sodium phenylbutyrate (“NaPB”) product, for another indication. In the U.S., reforms to the Orphan Drug Act, if enacted, could also materially affect our ability to maintain Orphan Drug exclusivity for ACER-001 for MSUD and EDSIVOTM for vEDS.

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Price controls, importation of drug products from outside the U.S., or other rules may be imposed in domestic or foreign markets, which may adversely affect our future profitability.

The U.S. government, state legislatures, and foreign governments have shown significant interest in implementing cost-containment programs to limit the growth of government-paid healthcare costs and drug prices in general, including for therapies for rare diseases. These measures include price controls, transparency requirements triggered by the introduction of new high-cost drugs into the market, drug re-importation, restrictions on reimbursement and requirements for substitution of generic products for branded prescription drugs. Some laws and regulations have already been enacted in these areas, and additional measures have been introduced or are under consideration at both the federal and state levels. Additionally, legislation that affects reimbursement for drugs with small patient populations could be adopted, limiting payments for pharmaceuticals such as our product candidates, which could adversely affect our potential future net revenue and results. Adoption of such controls and measures and tightening of restrictive policies in jurisdictions with existing controls and measures could limit payments for pharmaceuticals such as our drug product candidates and could adversely affect our net revenue and results.

In some countries, particularly member states of the European Union, the pricing of prescription drugs is subject to governmental control. In these countries, pricing negotiations with governmental authorities can take considerable time after receipt of marketing approval for a product. In addition, there can be considerable pressure by governments and other stakeholders on prices and reimbursement levels, including as part of cost containment measures. Political, economic and regulatory developments may further complicate pricing negotiations, and pricing negotiations may continue after reimbursement has been obtained. Reference pricing used by various European Union member states and parallel distribution, or arbitrage between low-priced and high-priced member states, can further reduce prices. There is also the potential for a reference pricing system using drug prices from other countries, sometimes referred to as “most favored nation” treatment. In some countries, we may be required to conduct a clinical trial or other studies that compare the cost-effectiveness of our product candidates to other available therapies in order to obtain or maintain reimbursement or pricing approval. Publication of discounts by third-party payors or authorities may lead to further pressure on the prices or reimbursement levels within the country of publication and other countries. If reimbursement of our products is unavailable or limited in scope or amount, or if pricing is set at unsatisfactory levels, our business could be adversely affected.

Rapid technological change could make our product candidates obsolete.

Pharmaceutical technologies have undergone rapid and significant change, and we expect that they will continue to do so. As a result, there is significant risk that our product candidates may be rendered obsolete or uneconomical by new discoveries before we recover all or any expenses incurred in connection with their development. If any of our product candidates are rendered obsolete by advancements in pharmaceutical technologies, our business will suffer.

Government controls and healthcare reform measures could adversely affect our business.

The business and financial condition of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are affected by the efforts of governmental and third-party payors to contain or reduce the costs of healthcare. In the U.S. and in foreign jurisdictions, there have been, and we expect that there will continue to be, a number of legislative and regulatory proposals aimed at changing the healthcare system. For example, in some foreign countries, particularly in Europe, the pricing of prescription pharmaceuticals is subject to governmental control. In these countries, pricing negotiations with governmental authorities can take considerable time after the receipt of marketing approval for a product candidate. To obtain reimbursement or pricing approval in some countries, we may be required to conduct additional clinical trials that compare the cost-effectiveness of any product candidate to other available therapies. If reimbursement of any product candidate is unavailable or limited in scope or amount in a particular country, or if pricing is set at unsatisfactory levels, we may be unable to achieve or sustain profitability in such country. In the U.S., the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (“MMA”) changed the way Medicare covers and pays for pharmaceutical products. The legislation established Medicare Part D, which expanded Medicare coverage for outpatient prescription drug purchases by the elderly but provided authority for limiting the number of drugs that will be covered in any therapeutic class. The MMA also introduced a new reimbursement methodology based on average sales prices for physician-administered drugs. Any negotiated prices

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for any product candidate covered by a Part D prescription drug plan will likely be lower than the prices that might otherwise be obtained outside of the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. Moreover, while Medicare Part D applies only to drug benefits for Medicare beneficiaries, private payors often follow Medicare coverage policy and payment limitations in setting their own payment rates. Any reduction in payment under Medicare Part D may result in a similar reduction in payments from non-governmental payors.

The U.S. and several other jurisdictions are considering, or have already enacted, a number of legislative and regulatory proposals to change the healthcare system in ways that could affect our ability to sell any product candidate. Among policy-makers and payors in the U.S. and elsewhere, there is significant interest in promoting changes in healthcare systems with the stated goals of containing healthcare costs, improving quality and/or expanding access to healthcare. In the U.S., the pharmaceutical industry has been a particular focus of these efforts and has been significantly affected by major legislative initiatives and executive actions. There have been, and likely will continue to be, legislative and executive regulatory proposals at the federal and state levels directed at broadening the availability of healthcare and containing or lowering the cost of healthcare. We cannot predict the initiatives that may be adopted in the future. The continuing efforts of the government, insurance companies, managed care organizations and other payors of healthcare services to contain or reduce costs of healthcare may adversely affect: the demand for any product candidate; the ability to set a price that we believe is fair for any product candidate; our ability to generate revenues and achieve or maintain profitability; the level of taxes that we are required to pay; and the availability of capital.

Risks Related to Third Parties

We rely on third-party suppliers and other third parties for manufacture of our product candidates and our dependence on these third parties may impair or delay the advancement of our research and development programs and the development of our product candidates.

We do not currently own or operate manufacturing facilities for clinical or commercial production of our product candidates. We lack the resources and the capability to manufacture any of our product candidates on a clinical or commercial scale. Instead, we rely on, and expect to continue to rely on, third parties for the supply of raw materials and manufacture of drug supplies necessary to conduct our preclinical studies and clinical trials. Our reliance on third parties may expose us to more risk than if we were to manufacture our current product candidates or other products ourselves. Delays in production by third parties could delay our clinical trials or have an adverse impact on any commercial activities. In addition, the fact that we are dependent on third parties for the manufacture of and formulation of our product candidates means that we are subject to the risk that the products may have manufacturing defects that we have limited ability to prevent or control. Although we oversee these activities to ensure compliance with our quality standards, budgets and timelines, we have had and will continue to have less control over the manufacturing of our product candidates than potentially would be the case if we were to manufacture our product candidates. Further, due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic or other reasons, the third parties we deal with could have staffing difficulties, might undergo changes in priorities or may become financially distressed, which would adversely affect the manufacturing and production of our product candidates. In addition, a third party could be acquired by, or enter into an exclusive arrangement with, one of our competitors, which would adversely affect our ability to access the formulations we require.

The facilities used by our current contract manufacturers and any future manufacturers to manufacture our product candidates must be inspected by the FDA after we submit our NDA for a product candidate. We do not control the manufacturing process of, and are completely dependent on, our contract manufacturers for compliance with the regulatory requirements, known as cGMPs, for manufacture of both active drug substances and finished drug products. If our contract manufacturers cannot successfully manufacture material that conforms to our specifications and the strict regulatory requirements of the FDA or others, the FDA may refuse to approve our NDA. If the FDA or a comparable foreign regulatory authority does not approve our NDA because of concerns about the manufacture of our product candidates or if significant manufacturing issues arise in the future, we may need to find alternative manufacturing facilities, which would significantly impact our ability to develop our product candidates, to obtain marketing approval of our NDA or to continue to market our product candidates, if approved. Although we are ultimately responsible for ensuring compliance with these regulatory requirements, we do not have day-to-day control over a contract manufacturing organization (“CMO”) or other third-party manufacturer’s compliance with

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applicable laws and regulations, including cGMPs and other laws and regulations, such as those related to environmental health and safety matters. Any failure to achieve and maintain compliance with these laws, regulations and standards could subject us to the risk that we may have to suspend the manufacturing of our product candidates or that obtained approvals could be revoked, which would adversely affect our business and reputation. In addition, third-party contractors, such as our CMOs, may elect not to continue to work with us due to factors beyond our control. Although we have contracts in place, they may also refuse to work with us because of their own financial difficulties, business priorities or other reasons, at a time that is costly or otherwise inconvenient for us. If we were unable to find adequate replacement or another acceptable solution in time, our clinical trials could be delayed or our commercial activities could be harmed.

Problems with the quality of the work of third parties may lead us to seek to terminate our working relationships and use alternative service providers. However, making this change may be costly and may delay clinical trials. In addition, it may be very challenging, and in some cases impossible, to find replacement service providers that can develop and manufacture our drug candidates in an acceptable manner and at an acceptable cost and on a timely basis. The sale of products containing any defects or any delays in the supply of necessary services could adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations, and prospects.

Growth in the costs and expenses of components or raw materials may also adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations, and prospects. Supply sources could be interrupted from time to time and, if interrupted, supplies may not be resumed (whether in part or in whole) within a reasonable timeframe and at an acceptable cost or at all.

We plan to rely on third parties to conduct clinical trials for our product candidates. If these third parties do not successfully carry out their contractual duties or meet expected deadlines, it may cause delays in commencing and completing clinical trials of our product candidates or we may be unable to obtain marketing approval for or commercialize our product candidates.

Clinical trials must meet applicable FDA and foreign regulatory requirements. We do not have the ability to independently conduct clinical trials for any of our product candidates. We have and will continue to rely on third parties, such as CROs, medical institutions, clinical investigators and contract laboratories, to conduct all of our clinical trials of our product candidates; however, we remain responsible for ensuring that each of our clinical trials is conducted in accordance with our investigational plan and protocol. Moreover, the FDA and other foreign regulatory authorities require us to comply with IND and human subject protection regulations and current good clinical practice standards, commonly referred to as GCPs, for conducting, monitoring, recording, and reporting the results of clinical trials to ensure that the data and results are scientifically credible and accurate and that the trial subjects are adequately informed of the potential risks of participating in clinical trials. Our reliance on third parties does not relieve us of these responsibilities and requirements. Regulatory authorities enforce these GCPs through periodic inspections of trial sponsors, principal investigators and trial sites. If we or any of our third-party contractors fail to comply with applicable GCPs, the clinical data generated in our clinical trials may be deemed unreliable and the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities may require us to perform additional clinical trials before approving our marketing applications. There is no assurance that upon inspection by a given regulatory authority, such regulatory authority will determine that any of our clinical trials comply with GCPs. Our failure to comply with these regulations may require us to repeat clinical trials, which would delay the marketing approval process.

There are significant requirements imposed on us and on clinical investigators who conduct clinical trials that we sponsor. Although we are responsible for selecting qualified CROs or clinical investigators, providing them with the information they need to conduct the clinical trials properly, ensuring proper monitoring of the clinical trials, and ensuring that the clinical trials are conducted in accordance with the general investigational plan and protocols contained in the IND, we cannot ensure that the CROs or clinical investigators will maintain compliance with all regulatory requirements at all times. The pharmaceutical industry has experienced cases where clinical investigators have been found to incorrectly record data, omit data, or even falsify data. We cannot ensure that the CROs or clinical investigators in our trials will not make mistakes or otherwise compromise the integrity or validity of data, any of which would have a significant negative effect on our ability to obtain marketing approval, our business, and our financial condition.

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We or the third parties we rely on may encounter problems in clinical trials that may cause us or the FDA or foreign regulatory agencies to delay, suspend or terminate our clinical trials at any phase. These problems could include the possibility that we may not be able to manufacture sufficient quantities of materials for use in our clinical trials, conduct clinical trials at our preferred sites, enroll a sufficient number of patients for our clinical trials at one or more sites, or begin or successfully complete clinical trials in a timely fashion, if at all. Furthermore, we, the FDA or foreign regulatory agencies may suspend clinical trials of our product candidates at any time if we or they believe the subjects participating in the trials are being exposed to unacceptable health risks, whether as a result of adverse events occurring in our trials or otherwise, or if we or they find deficiencies in the clinical trial process or conduct of the investigation.

The FDA and foreign regulatory agencies could also require additional clinical trials before or after granting of marketing approval for any products, which would result in increased costs and significant delays in the development and commercialization of such products and could result in the withdrawal of such products from the market after obtaining marketing approval. Our failure to adequately demonstrate the safety and efficacy of a product candidate in clinical development could delay or prevent obtaining marketing approval of the product candidate and, after obtaining marketing approval, data from post-approval studies could result in the product being withdrawn from the market, either of which would likely have a material adverse effect on our business.

In addition, the above risks are compounded by uncertainties related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which could affect our CROs’ businesses internally (for example, maintaining staffing levels and ongoing financial viability), as well as their ability to perform their obligations to us under our agreements (such as recruitment of subjects for clinical trials in an increasingly uncertain and competitive business environment).

Risks Related to Our Intellectual Property

Our proprietary rights may not adequately protect our technologies and product candidates.

Our commercial success will depend in part on our ability to obtain patents and protect our existing patent position as well as our ability to maintain adequate protection of other intellectual property for our technologies, product candidates, and any future products in the U.S. and other countries. If we do not adequately protect our intellectual property, competitors may be able to use our technologies and erode or negate any competitive advantage we may have, which could harm our business and ability to achieve profitability. The laws of some foreign countries do not protect our proprietary rights to the same extent or in the same manner as U.S. laws, and we may encounter significant problems in protecting and defending our proprietary rights in these countries. We will be able to protect our proprietary rights from unauthorized use by third parties only to the extent that our proprietary technologies, product candidates and any future products are covered by valid and enforceable patents or are effectively maintained as trade secrets.

We apply for patents covering both our technologies and product candidates, as we deem appropriate. However, we may fail to apply for patents on important technologies or product candidates in a timely fashion, or at all. Our existing patents and any future patents we obtain may not be sufficiently broad to prevent others from practicing our technologies or from developing competing products and technologies. We cannot be certain that our patent applications will be approved or that any patents issued will adequately protect our intellectual property.

While we are responsible for and typically have control over the filing and prosecuting of patent applications and maintaining patents which cover making, using or selling ACER-001, EDSIVOTM, osanetant, or emetine, we may lose any such rights if we decide to allow any licensed patent to lapse. If we fail to appropriately prosecute and maintain patent protection for any of our product candidates, our ability to develop and commercialize those product candidates may be adversely affected and we may not be able to prevent competitors from making, using and selling competing products.

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Moreover, the patent positions of pharmaceutical companies are highly uncertain and involve complex legal and factual questions for which important legal principles are evolving and remain unresolved. As a result, the validity and enforceability of patents cannot be predicted with certainty. In addition, we do not know whether:

 

we or our licensors were the first to make the inventions covered by each of our issued patents and pending patent applications

 

we or our licensors were the first to file patent applications for these inventions

 

any of the patents that cover our product candidates will be eligible to be listed in the FDA’s compendium of “Approved Drug Products with Therapeutic Equivalence Evaluation,” sometimes referred to as the FDA’s Orange Book

 

others will independently develop similar or alternative technologies or duplicate any of our technologies

 

any of our or our licensors’ pending patent applications will result in issued patents

 

any of our or our licensors’ patents will be valid or enforceable

 

any patents issued to us or our licensors and collaborators will provide us with any competitive advantages, or will be challenged by third parties

 

we will develop additional proprietary technologies that are patentable

 

the U.S. government will exercise any of its statutory rights to our intellectual property that was developed with government funding

 

our business may infringe the patents or other proprietary rights of others

The actual protection afforded by a patent varies based on products or processes, from country to country, and depends upon many factors, including the type of patent, the scope of its coverage, the availability of regulatory related extensions, the availability of legal remedies in a particular country, the validity and enforceability of the patents and our financial ability to enforce our patents and other intellectual property. Our ability to maintain and solidify our proprietary position for our products will depend on our success in obtaining effective claims and enforcing those claims once granted. Our issued patents and those that may issue in the future, or those licensed to us, may be challenged, narrowed, invalidated or circumvented, and the rights granted under any issued patents may not provide us with proprietary protection or competitive advantages against competitors with similar products. Due to the extensive amount of time required for the development, testing and regulatory review of a potential product, it is possible that, before any of our product candidates can be commercialized, any related patent may expire or remain in force for only a short period following commercialization, thereby reducing any advantage of the patent.

We may also rely on trade secrets to protect some of our technology, especially where we do not believe patent protection is appropriate or obtainable. However, trade secrets are difficult to maintain. While we use reasonable efforts to protect our trade secrets, we or any of our collaborators’ employees, consultants, contractors or scientific and other advisors may unintentionally or willfully disclose our proprietary information to competitors and we may not have adequate remedies in respect of that disclosure. Enforcement of claims that a third party has illegally obtained and is using trade secrets is expensive, time consuming and uncertain. In addition, foreign courts are sometimes less willing than U.S. courts to protect trade secrets. If our competitors independently develop equivalent knowledge, methods and know-how, we would not be able to assert our trade secrets against them and our business could be harmed.

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We are a party to license or similar agreements under which we license intellectual property, data, and/or receive commercialization rights relating to ACER-001, EDSIVOTM, osanetant, and emetine. If we fail to comply with obligations in such agreements or otherwise experience disruptions to our business relationships with our licensors, we could lose license rights that are important to our business; any termination of such agreements would adversely affect our business.

In April 2014, we entered into an agreement with Baylor College of Medicine pursuant to which we obtained an exclusive worldwide license to develop and commercialize NaPB (ACER-001) for treatment of MSUD. In August 2016, we entered into an agreement with Assistance Publique—Hôpitaux de Paris, Hôpital Européen Georges Pompidou (“AP-HP”), pursuant to which we obtained an exclusive worldwide right to access and use data from the Ong trial, which we used to support an NDA filing for EDSIVOTM for the treatment of vEDS. In September 2018, we entered into an additional agreement with AP-HP pursuant to which we obtained the exclusive worldwide intellectual property rights to three European patent applications relating to certain uses of celiprolol including (i) the optimal dose of celiprolol in treating vEDS patients, (ii) the use of celiprolol during pregnancy and (iii) the use of celiprolol to treat kyphoscoliotic Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (type VI). In December 2018, we entered into an exclusive license agreement with Sanofi granting us worldwide rights to osanetant, a clinical-stage, selective, non-peptide tachykinin NK3 receptor antagonist. Under each license agreement, we are subject to commercialization and development diligence obligations, royalty payments and other obligations. If we fail to comply with any of these obligations or otherwise breach any of these license agreements, the licensor may have the right to terminate the license in whole or in part or to terminate the exclusive nature of the license. The loss of the licenses granted to us under our agreements with these licensors or the rights provided therein would prevent us from developing, manufacturing or marketing products covered by the license or subject to supply commitments, and could materially harm our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.

We may not be able to protect our intellectual property rights throughout the world.

Filing, prosecuting and defending patents on product candidates in all countries throughout the world would be prohibitively expensive, and our intellectual property rights in some countries outside the U.S. can be less extensive than those in the U.S. In addition, the laws of some foreign countries do not protect intellectual property rights to the same extent as federal and state laws in the U.S. For example, many foreign countries have compulsory licensing laws under which a patent owner must grant licenses to third parties. Consequently, we may not be able to prevent third parties from practicing our inventions in all countries outside the U.S., or from selling or importing products made using our inventions in and into the U.S. or other jurisdictions. Competitors may use our technologies in jurisdictions where we have not obtained patent protection to develop their own products and further, may export otherwise infringing products to territories where we have patent protection, but enforcement rights are not as strong as those in the U.S. These products may compete with our product candidates in jurisdictions where we do not have any issued patents and our patent claims or other intellectual rights may not be effective or sufficient to prevent them from so competing.

Many companies have encountered significant problems in protecting and defending intellectual property rights in foreign jurisdictions. The legal systems of certain countries do not favor the enforcement of patents and other intellectual property protection, which could make it difficult for us to stop the infringement of our patents generally. Proceedings to enforce our patent rights in foreign jurisdictions could result in substantial costs and divert our efforts and attention from other aspects of our business, could put our patents at risk of being invalidated or interpreted narrowly and our patent applications at risk of not issuing and could provoke third parties to assert claims against us. We may not prevail in any lawsuits that we initiate and the damages or other remedies awarded, if any, may not be commercially meaningful. Accordingly, our efforts to enforce our intellectual property rights around the world may be inadequate to obtain a significant commercial advantage from the intellectual property that we develop or license.

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The patent protection for our product candidates may expire before we are able to maximize their commercial value, which may subject us to increased competition and reduce or eliminate our opportunity to generate product revenue.

The patents for our product candidates have varying expiration dates and, if these patents expire, we may be subject to increased competition and we may not be able to recover our development costs or market any of our approved products profitably. In some of the larger potential market territories, such as the U.S. and Europe, patent term extension or restoration may be available to compensate for time taken during aspects of the product’s development and regulatory review. For example, depending on the timing, duration and specifics of FDA marketing approval of our product candidates, if any, one of the U.S. patents covering each of such approved product(s) or the use thereof may be eligible for up to five years of patent term restoration under the Hatch-Waxman Act. The Hatch-Waxman Act allows a maximum of one patent to be extended per FDA-approved product. Patent term extension also may be available in certain foreign countries upon regulatory approval of our product candidates.

Nevertheless, we may not be granted patent term extension either in the U.S. or in any foreign country because of, for example, failing to apply within applicable deadlines, failing to apply prior to expiration of relevant patents or otherwise failing to satisfy applicable requirements. Moreover, the term of extension, as well as the scope of patent protection during any such extension, afforded by the governmental authority could be less than we request. In addition, even though some regulatory authorities may provide some other exclusivity for a product under their own laws and regulations, we may not be able to qualify the product or obtain the exclusive time period. If we are unable to obtain patent term extension/restoration or some other exclusivity, we could be subject to increased competition and our opportunity to establish or maintain product revenue could be substantially reduced or eliminated. Furthermore, we may not have sufficient time to recover our development costs prior to the expiration of our U.S. and foreign patents.

Obtaining and maintaining our patent protection depends on compliance with various procedural, documentary, fee payment and other requirements imposed by governmental patent agencies, and our patent protection could be reduced or eliminated for non-compliance with these requirements.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) and various foreign governmental patent agencies require compliance with a number of procedural, documentary, fee payment and other similar provisions during the patent prosecution process. Periodic maintenance fees, renewal fees, annuity fees and various other governmental fees on any issued patent and/or pending patent applications are due to be paid to the USPTO and foreign patent agencies in several stages over the lifetime of a patent or patent application. We employ an outside firm and rely on our outside counsel to pay these fees. While an inadvertent lapse may sometimes be cured by payment of a late fee or by other means in accordance with the applicable rules, there are many situations in which noncompliance can result in abandonment or lapse of the patent or patent application, resulting in partial or complete loss of patent rights in the relevant jurisdiction. If we fail to maintain the patents and patent applications directed to our product candidates, our competitors might be able to enter the market earlier than should otherwise have been the case, which would have a material adverse effect on our business.

We may become involved in lawsuits to protect our patents or other intellectual property rights, which could be expensive, time-consuming and ultimately unsuccessful.

Competitors may infringe our patents or other intellectual property rights. To counter infringement or unauthorized use, we may be required to file infringement claims, directly or through our licensors, which can be expensive and time consuming. In addition, in an infringement proceeding, a court may decide that a patent of our licensor is not valid or is unenforceable or may refuse to stop the other party from using the technology at issue on the grounds that our patents do not cover the technology in question. An adverse result in any litigation or defense proceedings could put one or more of the patents we license at risk of being invalidated or interpreted narrowly and could put our licensors’ patent applications at risk of not issuing.

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Interference proceedings brought by the USPTO may be necessary to determine the priority of inventions with respect to our patents or the patents of our licensors. An unfavorable outcome could require us to cease using the technology or to attempt to license rights to it from the prevailing party. Our business could be harmed if a prevailing party does not offer us a license on terms that are acceptable to us. Litigation or interference proceedings may fail and, even if successful, may result in substantial costs and distraction of our management and other employees. We may not be able to prevent, alone or with our licensors, misappropriation of our proprietary rights, particularly in countries where the laws may not protect those rights as fully as in the U.S. In addition, potential infringers of our intellectual property rights may have substantially more resources than we do to defend their position, which could adversely affect the outcome of any such dispute.

Furthermore, because of the substantial amount of discovery required in connection with intellectual property litigation, there is a risk that some of our confidential and proprietary information could be compromised by disclosure during this type of litigation. In addition, there could be public announcements of the results of hearings, motions or other interim proceedings or developments. If securities analysts or investors perceive these results to be negative, it could have a substantial adverse effect on the price of our common stock.

Third-party claims of intellectual property infringement or misappropriation may adversely affect our business and could prevent us from developing or commercializing our product candidates.

Our commercial success depends in part on us not infringing the patents and proprietary rights of third parties. There is a substantial amount of litigation, both within and outside the U.S., involving patent and other intellectual property rights in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, including patent infringement lawsuits, interferences, oppositions, ex-parte review and inter partes reexamination and post-grant review proceedings before the USPTO and corresponding foreign patent offices. Numerous U.S. and foreign issued patents and pending patent applications owned by third parties exist in the fields in which we are developing and may develop our product candidates. As the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries expand and more patents are issued, the risk increases that our product candidates may be subject to claims of infringement of the patent rights of third parties. If a third party claims that we infringe on their products or technology, we could face a number of issues, including:

 

infringement and other intellectual property claims which, with or without merit, can be expensive and time-consuming to litigate and can divert management’s attention from our core business

 

substantial damages for past infringement, which we may have to pay if a court decides that our product infringes on a competitor’s patent

 

a court prohibiting us from selling or licensing our product unless the patent holder licenses the patent to us, which the collaborator would not be required to do

 

if a license is available from a patent holder, we may have to pay substantial royalties or grant cross licenses to our patents

 

redesigning our processes so they do not infringe, which may not be possible or could require substantial funds and time

Third parties may assert that we are employing their proprietary technology without authorization. There may be third-party patents or patent applications with claims to materials, formulations, methods of manufacture or methods for treatment related to the use or manufacture of our product candidates that we failed to identify. For example, applications filed before November 29, 2000 and certain applications filed after that date that will not be filed outside the U.S. remain confidential until issued as patents. Except for the preceding exceptions, patent applications in the U.S. and elsewhere are generally published only after a waiting period of approximately 18 months after the earliest filing. Therefore, patent applications covering our product candidates could have been filed by others without the knowledge of us or our licensors. Additionally, pending patent applications which have been published can, subject to certain limitations, be later amended in a manner that could cover our product candidates or the use or manufacture of our product candidates. We may also face a claim of misappropriation if a third party believes that we inappropriately obtained and used trade secrets of such third party. If we are found to have misappropriated a third party’s trade secrets, we may be prevented from further using such trade secrets, limiting our ability to develop our product candidates, and we may be required to pay damages.

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If any third-party patents were held by a court of competent jurisdiction to cover aspects of our materials, formulations, methods of manufacture or methods for treatment, the holders of any such patents would be able to block our ability to develop and commercialize the applicable product candidate until such patent expired or unless we obtain a license. These licenses may not be available on acceptable terms, if at all. Even if we were able to obtain a license, the rights may be nonexclusive, which could result in our competitors gaining access to the same intellectual property.

Ultimately, we could be prevented from commercializing a product, or be forced to cease some aspect of our business operations, if, as a result of actual or threatened patent infringement claims, we are unable to enter into licenses on acceptable terms.

Parties making claims against us may obtain injunctive or other equitable relief, which could effectively block our ability to further develop and commercialize one or more of our product candidates. Defending against claims of patent infringement or misappropriation of trade secrets could be costly and time-consuming, regardless of the outcome. Thus, even if we were to ultimately prevail, or to settle at an early stage, such litigation could burden us with substantial unanticipated costs. In addition, litigation or threatened litigation could result in significant demands on the time and attention of our management team, distracting them from the pursuit of other company business. In the event of a successful claim of infringement against us, we may have to pay substantial damages, including treble damages and attorneys’ fees for willful infringement, pay royalties, redesign our infringing products or obtain one or more licenses from third parties, which may be impossible or require substantial time and monetary expenditure. In addition, the uncertainties associated with litigation could have a material adverse effect on our ability to raise the funds necessary to continue our clinical trials, continue our research programs, license necessary technology from third parties, or enter into development collaborations that would help us bring our product candidates to market.

Changes in U.S. patent law could diminish the value of patents in general, thereby impairing our ability to protect our product candidates.

As is the case with other pharmaceutical companies, our success is heavily dependent on intellectual property, particularly on obtaining and enforcing patents and patent rights. Obtaining and enforcing patents and patent rights in the specialty pharmaceutical industry involves both technological and legal complexity, and therefore, is costly, time-consuming and inherently uncertain. In addition, the U.S. has recently enacted and is currently implementing wide-ranging patent reform legislation. Further, several recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings have either narrowed the scope of patent protection available in certain circumstances or weakened the rights of patent owners in certain situations. In addition to increasing uncertainty with regard to our ability to obtain patents in the future, this combination of events has created uncertainty with respect to the value of patents and patent rights, once obtained.

For our U.S. patent applications containing a claim not entitled to priority before March 16, 2013, there is a greater level of uncertainty in the patent law. In September 2011, the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (the “America Invents Act” or “AIA”) was signed into law. The AIA includes a number of significant changes to U.S. patent law, including provisions that affect the way patent applications will be prosecuted, reviewed after issuance, and may also affect patent litigation. The USPTO is currently developing regulations and procedures to govern administration of the AIA, and many of the substantive changes to patent law associated with the AIA. It is not clear what other, if any, impact the AIA will have on the operation of our business. Moreover, the AIA and its implementation could increase the uncertainties and costs surrounding the prosecution of patent applications and the enforcement or defense of patent rights, all of which could have a material adverse effect on our business and financial condition.

An important change introduced by the AIA is that, as of March 16, 2013, the U.S. transitioned to a “first-inventor-to-file” system for deciding which party should be granted a patent when two or more patent applications are filed by different parties claiming the same invention. A third party that files a patent application in the USPTO after that date but before a licensor or us could therefore be awarded a patent covering an invention of ours even if said licensor or we had made the invention before it was made by the third party. This will require us to be cognizant going forward of the time from invention to filing of a patent application. Furthermore, our ability to obtain and maintain valid and enforceable patent rights depends on whether the differences between the licensor’s or our technology and the prior art allow our technology to be patentable over the prior art. Since patent applications in the

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U.S. and most other countries are confidential for a period of time after filing, we cannot be certain that a licensor or we were the first to either (a) file any patent application related to our product candidates or (b) invent any of the inventions claimed in our patents or patent applications.

Among some of the other changes introduced by the AIA are changes that limit where a patentee may file a patent infringement suit and providing opportunities for third parties to challenge any issued patent in the USPTO. This applies to all U.S. patents, even those issued before March 16, 2013. Because of a lower evidentiary standard in USPTO proceedings compared to the evidentiary standard in U.S. federal court necessary to invalidate a patent claim, a third party could potentially provide evidence in a USPTO proceeding sufficient for the USPTO to hold a claim invalid as unpatentable even though the same evidence may be insufficient to invalidate the claim if first presented in a district court action. Accordingly, a third party may attempt to use the USPTO procedures to invalidate patent rights that would not have been invalidated if first challenged by the third party as a defendant in a district court action.

Depending on decisions by the U.S. Congress, the federal courts, and the USPTO, the laws and regulations governing patents could change in unpredictable ways that would weaken our ability to obtain new patents or to enforce our existing patents and patents that we might obtain in the future.

Intellectual property rights do not address all potential threats to our competitive advantage.

The degree of future protection afforded by our intellectual property rights is uncertain because intellectual property rights have limitations, and may not adequately protect our business, or permit us to maintain our competitive advantage. The following examples are illustrative:

 

Others may be able to make products that are similar to our product candidates but that are not covered by the claims of the patents that we license from others or may license or own in the future

 

Others may independently develop similar or alternative technologies or otherwise circumvent any of our technologies without infringing our intellectual property rights

 

Any of our collaborators might not have been the first to conceive and reduce to practice the inventions covered by the patents or patent applications that we license or will, in the future, own or license

 

Any of our collaborators might not have been the first to file patent applications covering certain of the patents or patent applications that we license or will, in the future, license

 

Issued patents that have been licensed to us may not provide us with any competitive advantage, or may be held invalid or unenforceable, as a result of legal challenges by our competitors

 

Our competitors might conduct research and development activities in countries where we do not have license rights, or in countries where research and development safe harbor laws exist, and then use the information learned from such activities to develop competitive products for sale in our major commercial markets

 

Ownership of patents or patent applications licensed to us may be challenged by third parties

 

The patents of third parties or pending or future applications of third parties, if issued, may have an adverse effect on our business

Confidentiality agreements with employees, consultants and others may not adequately prevent disclosure of trade secrets and protect other proprietary information.

We consider proprietary trade secrets and/or confidential know-how and unpatented know-how to be important to our business. We may rely on trade secrets and/or confidential know-how to protect our technology, especially where patent protection is believed by us to be of limited value. However, trade secrets and/or confidential know-how can be difficult to maintain as confidential.

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To protect this type of information against disclosure or appropriation by competitors, our policy is to require our employees, consultants, contractors and advisors to enter into confidentiality agreements with us. However, current or former employees, consultants, contractors and advisers may unintentionally or willfully disclose our confidential information to competitors, and confidentiality agreements may not provide an adequate remedy in the event of unauthorized disclosure of confidential information. Enforcing a claim that a third party obtained illegally and is using trade secrets and/or confidential know-how is expensive, time consuming and unpredictable. The enforceability of confidentiality agreements may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Failure to obtain or maintain trade secrets and/or confidential know-how trade protection could adversely affect our competitive position. Moreover, our competitors may independently develop substantially equivalent proprietary information and may even apply for patent protection in respect of the same. If successful in obtaining such patent protection, our competitors could limit our use of our trade secrets and/or confidential know-how.

We may need to license certain intellectual property from third parties, and such licenses may not be available or may not be available on commercially reasonable terms.

A third party may hold intellectual property, including patent rights that are important or necessary to the development or commercialization of our product candidates. It may be necessary for us to use the patented or proprietary technology of third parties to commercialize our product candidates, in which case we would be required to obtain a license from these third parties. Such a license may not be available on commercially reasonable terms or at all, which could materially harm our business.

We may be subject to claims that our employees, consultants or independent contractors have wrongfully used or disclosed confidential information of third parties.

We have received confidential and proprietary information from third parties. In addition, we employ individuals who were previously employed at other biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies. We may be subject to claims that we or our employees, consultants or independent contractors have inadvertently or otherwise improperly used or disclosed confidential information of these third parties or our employees’ former employers.

Further, we may be subject to ownership disputes in the future arising, for example, from conflicting obligations of consultants or others who are involved in developing our product candidates. We may also be subject to claims that former employees, consultants, independent contractors, collaborators or other third parties have an ownership interest in our patents or other intellectual property. Litigation may be necessary to defend against these and other claims challenging our right to and use of confidential and proprietary information. If we fail in defending any such claims, in addition to paying monetary damages, we may lose our rights therein. Such an outcome could have a material adverse effect on our business.

Even if we are successful in defending against these claims, litigation could result in substantial cost and be a distraction to our management and employees.

We may be subject to claims challenging the inventorship or ownership of our patents and other intellectual property.

We may also be subject to claims that former employees, collaborators or other third parties have an ownership interest in our patents and other intellectual property. We may be subject to ownership disputes in the future arising, for example, from conflicting obligations of consultants or others who are involved in developing our product candidates. Litigation may be necessary to defend against these and other claims challenging inventorship or ownership. If we fail in defending any such claims, in addition to paying monetary damages, we may lose valuable intellectual property rights, such as exclusive ownership of, or right to use, valuable intellectual property. Such an outcome could have a material adverse effect on our business. Even if we are successful in defending against such claims, litigation could result in substantial costs and be a distraction to management and other employees.

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Our reliance on third parties requires us to share our trade secrets, which increases the possibility that a competitor will discover them or that our trade secrets will be misappropriated or disclosed.

Because we rely on third parties to assist with research and development and to manufacture our product candidates, we must, at times, share trade secrets with them. We seek to protect our proprietary technology in part by entering into confidentiality agreements and, if applicable, material transfer agreements, consulting agreements or other similar agreements with our advisors, employees, third-party contractors and consultants prior to beginning research or disclosing proprietary information. These agreements typically limit the rights of the third parties to use or disclose our confidential information, including our trade secrets. Despite the contractual provisions employed when working with third parties, the need to share trade secrets and other confidential information increases the risk that such trade secrets become known by our competitors, are inadvertently incorporated into the technology of others, or are disclosed or used in violation of these agreements. Given that our proprietary position is based, in part, on our know-how and trade secrets, a competitor’s discovery of our trade secrets or other unauthorized use or disclosure would impair our competitive position and may have a material adverse effect on our business.

In addition, these agreements typically restrict the ability of our advisors, employees, third-party contractors and consultants to publish data potentially relating to our trade secrets, although our agreements may contain certain limited publication rights. For example, any academic institution that we may collaborate with in the future will usually expect to be granted rights to publish data arising out of such collaboration, provided that we are notified in advance and given the opportunity to delay publication for a limited time period in order for us to secure patent protection of intellectual property rights arising from the collaboration, in addition to the opportunity to remove confidential or trade secret information from any such publication. In the future we may also conduct joint research and development programs that may require us to share trade secrets under the terms of our research and development or similar agreements. Despite our efforts to protect our trade secrets, our competitors may discover our trade secrets, either through breach of our agreements with third parties, independent development or publication of information by any of our third-party collaborators. A competitor’s discovery of our trade secrets would impair our competitive position and have an adverse impact on our business.

Risks Related to Our Securities

Our share price is very volatile, may not reflect the underlying value of our net assets or business prospects, and you may not be able to resell your shares at a profit or at all.

The market price of our common stock could be subject to significant fluctuations. The market prices for securities of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, and early-stage drug discovery and development companies like ours in particular, have historically been highly volatile and may continue to be highly volatile in the future. The following factors, in addition to other risk factors described in this section, may have a significant impact on the market price of our common stock:

 

announcements of significant changes in our business or operations

 

the development status of any of our drug candidates, including clinical study results and determinations by regulatory authorities with respect thereto, including but not limited to any continued development of EDSIVOTM that we may or may not decide to pursue in light of the FDA’s March 2020 denial of our appeal of the June 2019 Complete Response Letter and our ongoing dialogue with the FDA

 

the initiation, termination or reduction in the scope of any collaboration arrangements or any disputes or developments regarding such collaborations

 

market conditions

 

the impact of short selling or the impact of a potential “short squeeze” resulting from a sudden increase in demand for our stock

 

our capital and our inability to obtain additional funding

 

announcements of technological innovations, new commercial products, or other material events by our competitors or by us

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disputes or other developments concerning our proprietary rights

 

changes in, or failure to meet, securities analysts’ or investors’ expectations of our financial performance

 

additions or departures of key personnel

 

discussions of our business, products, financial performance, prospects or stock price by the financial and scientific press and online investor communities

 

public concern as to, and legislative action with respect to, the pricing and availability of prescription drugs or the safety of drugs and drug delivery techniques

 

regulatory developments in the U.S. and in foreign countries

 

dilutive effects of sales of shares of common stock by us or our stockholders, and sales of common stock acquired upon exercise or conversion by the holders of options

 

our ability to sell shares of common stock to Lincoln Park pursuant to the terms of the purchase agreement and our ability to register and maintain the registration of the shares issued and issuable thereunder

Broad market and industry factors, as well as economic and political factors, also may materially adversely affect the market price of our common stock. As noted, the short, medium, and long term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the U.S. and global economies generally, and on our business specifically, are difficult to predict.

We are a defendant in securities litigation, which may be costly and time-consuming to defend.

Following periods of market volatility in the price of a company’s securities or the reporting of unfavorable news, security holders have often instituted class action litigation. This risk is especially relevant for us because pharmaceutical companies like ours have experienced significant stock price volatility in recent years. Moreover, we were named in a putative securities class action complaint and several stockholders’ derivative suits as a result of the decline in our stock price following the June 25, 2019 announcement that we had received a Complete Response Letter from the FDA regarding our NDA for EDSIVO™. See Item 3 – Legal Proceedings for additional information. Regardless of the outcome, we could incur substantial legal costs and our management’s attention could be diverted from the operation of our business, causing our business to suffer.

Our “blank check” preferred stock could be issued to prevent a business combination not desired by management or our majority stockholders.

Our charter authorizes the issuance of “blank check” preferred stock with such designations, rights and preferences as may be determined by our Board of Directors without stockholder approval. Our preferred stock could be utilized as a method of discouraging, delaying, or preventing a change in control and as a method of preventing stockholders from receiving a premium for their shares in connection with a change of control.

Future sales of our common stock could cause dilution, and the sale of such common stock, or the perception that such sales may occur, could cause the price of our stock to decline.

Sales of additional shares of our common stock, as well as securities convertible into or exercisable for common stock, could result in substantial dilution to our stockholders and cause the market price of our common stock to decline. An aggregate of 13,233,137 shares of common stock were outstanding as of December 31, 2020. As of such date, another 1,240,354 shares of common stock were issuable upon exercise of outstanding options. A substantial majority of the outstanding shares of our common stock, as well as a substantial majority of the shares of common stock issuable upon exercise of outstanding options, are freely tradable without restriction or further registration under the Securities Act of 1933.

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We may sell additional shares of common stock, as well as securities convertible into or exercisable for common stock, in subsequent public or private offerings. We may also issue additional shares of common stock, as well as securities convertible into or exercisable for common stock, to finance future acquisitions. We will need to raise additional capital in order to initiate or complete additional development activities for all of our product candidates or to pursue additional disease indications for our product candidates, and this may require us to issue a substantial amount of securities (including common stock as well as securities convertible into or exercisable for common stock). There can be no assurance that our capital raising efforts will be able to attract the capital needed to execute on our business plan and sustain our operations. Moreover, we cannot predict the size of future issuances of our common stock, as well as securities convertible into or exercisable for common stock, or the effect, if any, that future issuances and sales of our securities will have on the market price of our common stock. Sales of substantial amounts of our common stock, as well as securities convertible into or exercisable for common stock, including shares issued in connection with an acquisition or securing funds to complete any clinical trial plans, or the perception that such sales could occur, may result in substantial dilution and may adversely affect prevailing market prices for our common stock.

On April 30, 2020, we entered into the purchase agreement with Lincoln Park, pursuant to which Lincoln Park has committed to purchase up to $15.0 million of our common stock. Upon the execution of the purchase agreement, we issued 148,148 commitment shares to Lincoln Park as consideration for its commitment to purchase shares of our common stock under the purchase agreement. The remaining shares of our common stock that may be issued under the purchase agreement may be sold by us to Lincoln Park at our discretion from time to time over a 36-month period commencing on June 8, 2020. The purchase price for the shares that we may sell to Lincoln Park under the purchase agreement will fluctuate based on the price of our common stock. Depending on market liquidity at the time, sales of such shares may cause the trading price of our common stock to fall. As of December 31, 2020, we had sold 900,000 shares of common stock under the purchase agreement for net proceeds of $2.2 million. Subsequent to December 31, 2020 and through the date of this report, we have sold an additional 200,000 shares under the purchase agreement for net proceeds of $0.5 million.

We generally have the right to control the timing and amount of any sales of our shares to Lincoln Park under the purchase agreement. Sales of our common stock to Lincoln Park under the purchase agreement will depend upon market conditions and other factors to be determined by us. We may ultimately decide to sell to Lincoln Park all or only some of the shares of our common stock that may be available for us to sell pursuant to the purchase agreement. If and when we do sell additional shares to Lincoln Park, after Lincoln Park has acquired the shares, Lincoln Park may resell all, some or none of those shares at any time or from time to time in its discretion. Therefore, sales to Lincoln Park by us could result in substantial dilution to the interests of other holders of our common stock. Additionally, the sale of a substantial number of shares of our common stock to Lincoln Park, or the anticipation of such sales, could make it more difficult for us to sell equity or equity-related securities in the future at a time and at a price that we might otherwise wish to effect sales.

We presently do not intend to pay cash dividends on our common stock.

We currently anticipate that no cash dividends will be paid on our common stock in the foreseeable future. While our dividend policy will be based on the operating results and capital needs of the business, it is anticipated that all earnings, if any, will be retained to finance the future expansion of our business.

We may issue debt and equity securities or securities convertible into equity securities, any of which may be senior to our common stock as to distributions and in liquidation, which could negatively affect the value of our common stock.

In the future, we may attempt to increase our capital resources by entering into debt or debt-like financing that is unsecured or secured by up to all of our assets, or by issuing additional debt or equity securities, which could include issuances of secured or unsecured commercial paper, medium-term notes, senior notes, subordinated notes, guarantees, preferred stock, hybrid securities, or securities convertible into or exchangeable for equity securities. In the event of our liquidation, our lenders and holders of our debt and preferred securities would receive distributions of available assets before distributions to the holders of our common stock. Because our decision to incur debt and issue securities in future offerings may be influenced by market conditions and other factors beyond our control, we cannot predict or estimate the amount, timing or nature of our future offerings or debt financings. Further, market conditions could require us to accept less favorable terms for the issuance of our securities in the future.

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Because a prior year merger resulted in an ownership change under Section 382 of the Internal Revenue Code, our pre-merger net operating loss carryforwards and certain other tax attributes will be subject to limitation or elimination. The net operating loss carryforwards and certain other tax attributes of our former wholly-owned subsidiary may also be subject to limitations as a result of ownership changes.

If a corporation undergoes an “ownership change” within the meaning of Section 382 of the Internal Revenue Code, the corporation’s net operating loss carryforwards and certain other tax attributes arising from before the ownership change are subject to limitations on use after the ownership change. In general, an ownership change occurs if there is a cumulative change in the corporation’s equity ownership by certain stockholders that exceeds fifty percentage points by value over a rolling three-year period. Similar rules may apply under state tax laws. The 2017 merger of Opexa Therapeutics, Inc. and private Acer Therapeutics Inc. resulted in an ownership change for us and, accordingly, our net operating loss carryforwards and certain other tax attributes will now be subject to limitation and possibly elimination. It is possible that the net operating loss carryforwards and certain other tax attributes of our former wholly-owned subsidiary, which was subsequently merged with and into the company, may also be subject to limitation as a result of prior shifts in equity ownership and/or the merger. Additional ownership changes in the future could result in additional limitations on our net operating loss carryforwards and certain other tax attributes. Consequently, even if we achieve profitability, we may not be able to utilize a material portion of our net operating loss carryforwards and certain other tax attributes, which could increase our tax obligations and thus have a material adverse effect on our cash flow and results of operations.

Because of their ownership of our common stock, insiders may influence significant corporate decisions.

As of February 15, 2021, our executive officers and directors and their affiliates beneficially owned or controlled approximately 15% of the outstanding shares of our common stock. Accordingly, these executive officers, directors and their affiliates will have substantial influence over the outcome of corporate actions requiring stockholder approval, including the election of directors, any merger, consolidation or sale of all or substantially all of our assets or any other significant corporate transactions. This concentration of ownership may also delay or prevent a change of control of our company, even if such a change of control would benefit our other stockholders.

Anti-takeover provisions in our organizational documents and Delaware law might discourage, delay, or prevent an acquisition attempt or change in control of our company that you might consider favorable.

Our certificate of incorporation and bylaws contain provisions that may delay or prevent an acquisition or change in control of our company. Among other things, these provisions:

 

authorize the Board of Directors to issue, without stockholder approval, blank-check preferred stock that, if issued, could operate as a “poison pill” to dilute the stock ownership of a potential hostile acquirer to prevent an acquisition that is not approved by the Board of Directors

 

establish advance notice requirements for stockholder nominations of directors and for stockholder proposals that can be acted on at stockholder meetings

 

limit who may call stockholder meetings

 

require that any action to be taken by our stockholders be effected at a duly called annual or special meeting and not by written consent

 

provide that vacancies on our Board of Directors may be filled only by a majority of directors then in office, even if less than a quorum

 

require a super-majority of votes to approve certain amendments to our charter as well as to amend our bylaws generally

 

authorize us to indemnify officers and directors against losses that they may incur in investigations and legal proceedings resulting from their services to us, which may include services in connection with takeover defense measures

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Further, as a Delaware corporation, we are also subject to provisions of Section 203 of the Delaware General Corporation Law regulating corporate takeovers. Section 203 generally prohibits us from engaging in a business combination with interested stockholders subject to certain exceptions.

These anti-takeover provisions and other provisions under Delaware law, our charter and our bylaws could discourage, delay or prevent a transaction involving an acquisition attempt or a change in control of our company, including actions that our stockholders may deem advantageous, or negatively affect the trading price of our common stock. These provisions could also discourage proxy contests and make it more difficult for you and other stockholders to elect directors of your choosing and to cause us to take other corporate actions you desire.

Our certificate of incorporation designates the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware as the sole and exclusive forum for certain types of actions and proceedings that may be initiated by our stockholders, which could limit a stockholder’s ability to bring a claim in a judicial forum that the stockholder believes is more convenient or favorable for disputes with us or our directors, officers or other employees.

Our certificate of incorporation provides that, unless we consent in writing to the selection of an alternative forum, the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware shall be the sole and exclusive forum for:

 

any derivative action or proceeding brought on our behalf

 

any action asserting a claim of breach of a fiduciary duty owed by any of our directors, officers or other employees to us or our stockholders

 

any action asserting a claim arising pursuant to any provision of the Delaware General Corporation Law

 

any action asserting a claim against us governed by the internal affairs doctrine

Section 27 of the Exchange Act creates exclusive federal jurisdiction over all suits brought to enforce any duty or liability created by the Exchange Act or the rules and regulations thereunder. As a result, the exclusive forum provision will not apply to suits brought to enforce any duty or liability created by the Exchange Act or any other claim for which the federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction. Section 22 of the Securities Act creates concurrent jurisdiction for federal and state courts over all suits brought to enforce any duty or liability created by the Securities Act or the rules and regulations thereunder. As a result, the exclusive forum provision will not apply to suits brought to enforce any duty or liability created by the Securities Act or any other claim for which the federal and state courts have concurrent jurisdiction.

Any person or entity purchasing or otherwise acquiring any interest in shares of our capital stock shall be deemed to have notice of and consented to the provisions of our certificate of incorporation described above. This choice of forum provision may limit a stockholder’s ability to bring a claim in a judicial forum that the stockholder believes is more convenient or favorable for disputes with us or our directors, officers or other employees, which may discourage such lawsuits against us and our directors, officers and other employees. Alternatively, if a court were to find these provisions of our certificate of incorporation inapplicable to, or unenforceable in respect of, one or more of the specified types of actions or proceedings, we may incur additional costs associated with resolving such matters in other jurisdictions, which could adversely affect our business, financial condition or results of operations.

Item 1B.

Unresolved Staff Comments.

None.

Item 2.

Properties.

We lease 4,360 square feet of office space located in Newton, Massachusetts, which serve as our company headquarters and are used by our employees working in research and development, regulatory affairs, and general and administrative functions. We lease 3,677 square feet of office space located in Bend, Oregon, which serve as a satellite facility. The leases expire on May 31, 2022.

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Item 3.

Legal Proceedings.

From time to time, we may become involved in litigation or proceedings relating to claims arising out of our operations.

Piper vs. Acer Therapeutics Inc.

On September 27, 2017, Piper Sandler & Co. (“Piper”) filed a lawsuit against us, Piper Sandler & Co. v. Acer Therapeutics Inc., Index No. 656055/2017, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York. The complaint alleges that we breached our obligations to Piper pursuant to an August 30, 2016 engagement letter between the parties and an April 28, 2017 addendum thereto by failing to pay Piper (i) a fee of $1.1 million in connection with the financing which closed on September 19, 2017 for aggregate consideration of $15.7 million and (ii) $0.1 million in reimbursement for expenses incurred by Piper pursuant to the engagement letter. On November 10, 2017, we filed an answer and counterclaim in the lawsuit, denying Piper’s breach of contract allegation, asserting several defenses, and bringing several counterclaims, including claims for breach of contract and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. Piper filed a reply to the counterclaims denying the essential allegations, and fact discovery has largely concluded. On February 22, 2019, Piper filed a motion for summary judgment. On March 26, 2020 the Court denied Piper’s motion in part, as to Piper’s claim and our counterclaim for damages, and granted in part, as to certain counterclaims by us. Discovery is ongoing in the case. Pursuant to the Court’s directive, the parties have submitted a joint request for a pre-trial conference, which has not yet been scheduled. We have not recorded a liability as of December 31, 2020, because a potential loss is not probable or reasonably estimable given the status of the proceedings.

The Securities Class Action

On July 1, 2019, plaintiff Tyler Sell filed a putative class action lawsuit, Sell v. Acer Therapeutics Inc. et al, No. 1:19-cv-06137GHW, against us, Chris Schelling and Harry Palmin, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The complaint alleges that we violated federal securities laws by allegedly making material false and misleading statements regarding the likelihood of FDA approval for the EDSIVOTM NDA. With the selection of a lead plaintiff, the case is now captioned Skiadas v. Acer Therapeutics Inc. et al. The Lead Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint on February 28, 2020 and we moved to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint on May 1, 2020. On June 16, 2020, the Court granted in part and denied in part our motion to dismiss. We filed its answer to the Second Amended Complaint on August 7, 2020, and the Court held an initial conference on August 17, 2020. After obtaining leave from the Court to do so, the Lead Plaintiff filed his Third Amended Complaint on February 4, 2021. We have not recorded a liability as of December 31, 2020 because a potential loss is not probable or reasonably estimable given the preliminary nature of the proceedings.

On August 12, 2019, a stockholder’s derivative action, Gress v. Aselage et al., No. 1:19-cv-01505-MN, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware against certain of our present and former officers and directors, asserting damages resulting from the alleged breach of their fiduciary duties, based on the same facts at issue in the Skiadas case. On March 17, 2020, a second stockholder’s derivative action, Giroux v. Amello et al., No. 1:20-cv-10537-GAO, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts against certain of our present and former officers and directors, asserting claims based on the same facts at issue in the Skiadas and Gress cases. The parties in the Gress and Giroux cases have entered stipulations to stay the cases and the parties will meet and confer to propose case schedules to the Court in each of the respective cases. On June 23, 2020, a third stockholder’s derivative action, King v. Schellinget al., No. 1:20-cv-04779-GHW, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against certain of our present and former officers and directors that arises from the same facts underlying the Skiadas, Gress, and Giroux cases. The parties have agreed to extend the deadline to respond to the Derivative Complaint to December 10, 2020. On July 6, 2020, a fourth stockholder derivative action, Diaz v. Amello et al., No. 1:20-cv-00909-MN, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware. By Stipulation and Order dated August 7, 2020, the Gress and Diaz cases were consolidated under the caption In re Acer Therapeutics Inc. Derivative Litigation, Lead Case No. 1:19-cv-01505-MN. The parties recently reached an agreement to settle all of the derivative cases, and on January 21, 2021, plaintiff Giroux filed a motion to approve that settlement in the District Court of Massachusetts, the Court which will administer the settlement. If fully and finally approved by the Court as proposed, the settlement would provide for, among other things, (i) implementation or continuation by us of an agreed set of corporate governance measures, (ii) payment by our

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insurance carriers of a total of $500,000 to plaintiffs’ counsels, and (iii) a full and final release of all claims by the plaintiffs and a dismissal with prejudice of all of the pending derivative cases. We have not recorded a liability as of December 31, 2020 because a potential loss is not probable or reasonably estimable given the nature of the proceedings.

Item 4.

Mine Safety Disclosures.

Not applicable.

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PART II

Item 5.

Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities.

Market Information and Holders

Our common stock is traded on the Nasdaq Capital Market under the symbol “ACER.”

As of February 15, 2021, there were approximately 90 registered holders of our common stock. This number does not include stockholders for whom shares were held in “nominee” or “street name.”

Dividends

We have never declared or paid any cash dividends on our common stock and we do not intend to pay cash dividends in the foreseeable future. We currently expect to retain any future earnings to fund the operation and expansion of our business.

Item 6.

Selected Financial Data.

Not applicable.

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Item 7.

Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.

The following discussion of our financial condition and results of operations should be read in conjunction with the accompanying financial statements and the related footnotes thereto.

Overview

We are a pharmaceutical company focused on the acquisition, development, and commercialization of therapies for serious rare and life-threatening diseases with significant unmet medical needs. Our pipeline includes four programs: ACER-001 (sodium phenylbutyrate) for the treatment of various inborn errors of metabolism, including urea cycle disorders (“UCDs”) and Maple Syrup Urine Disease (“MSUD”); EDSIVO™ (celiprolol) for the treatment of vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (“vEDS”) in patients with a confirmed type III collagen (COL3A1) mutation; ACER-801 (osanetant) for the treatment of induced Vasomotor Symptoms (“iVMS”); and ACER-2820 (emetine), a host-directed therapy against a variety of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Our product candidates are believed to present comparatively de-risked programs as evidenced by having one or more of the following: favorable safety profile, clinical proof-of-concept data, mechanistic differentiation, and/or accelerated pathways for development through specific programs and procedures established by the United States (“U.S.”) Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”).

Going Concern

The accompanying financial statements have been prepared in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the U.S. (“GAAP”), which contemplate our continuation as a going concern. We have not established a source of revenues and, as such, have been dependent on funding operations through the sale of equity securities. Since inception, we have experienced significant losses and incurred negative cash flows from operations. We have an accumulated deficit of $99.1 million as of December 31, 2020 and expect to incur further losses over the foreseeable future as we develop our business. We have spent, and expect to continue to spend, a substantial amount of funds in connection with implementing our business strategy, including our planned product development efforts and potential precommercial activities.

As of December 31, 2020, we had cash and cash equivalents of $5.8 million and current liabilities of $6.1 million. Our cash and cash equivalents available at December 31, 2020, combined with the funds raised subsequent to December 31, 2020, are expected to fund operations into the third quarter of 2021.

We will need to raise additional capital to fund continued operations in the second half of 2021. We may not be successful in our efforts to raise additional funds or achieve profitable operations. We continue to explore potential opportunities and alternatives to obtain the additional resources that will be necessary to support our ongoing operations through and beyond the next 12 months, including and raising additional capital through either private or public equity or debt financing, or non-dilutive funding, as well as using our ATM facility and/or our $15.0 million equity line facility entered into on April 30, 2020 with Lincoln Park Capital Fund, LLC (“Lincoln Park”), which is subject to certain limitations and conditions. From May 19, 2020 through the date of this report, we have raised gross proceeds of $10.0 million from the ATM facility and gross proceeds of $2.9 million from the agreement with Lincoln Park.

In addition, as described below, on January 25, 2021, we entered into an option agreement with Relief Therapeutics Holding AG (“Relief”), under the terms of which we received a $1.0 million upfront non-refundable payment and Relief provided to us a 12-month $4.0 million secured loan, repayable by us in cash on January 25, 2022 unless a definitive agreement is negotiated and executed prior to June 30, 2021 with respect to a potential collaboration and license agreement with us for the development, regulatory approval and commercialization of ACER-001 for UCDs and MSUD. At Relief’s option, the outstanding balance of the $4.0 million loan can be used to offset the $14.0 million payment that may otherwise be payable to us from Relief if a definitive agreement is executed. We have no commitments for any additional financing, except for the agreement with Lincoln Park. Any amounts raised will be used for further development of our product candidates, precommercial activities, potential acquisitions of additional product candidates, and for other working capital purposes.

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If we are unable to obtain additional funding to support our current or proposed activities and operations, we may not be able to continue our operations as proposed, which may require us to suspend or terminate any ongoing development activities, modify our business plan, curtail various aspects of our operations, cease operations, or seek relief under applicable bankruptcy laws. In such event, our stockholders may lose a substantial portion or even all of their investment.

These factors individually and collectively raise substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern for at least twelve months from the date these financial statements are available, or March 1, 2021. Our financial statements do not include any adjustments or classifications that may result from our possible inability to continue as a going concern.

Restructuring

In June 2019, we received a Complete Response Letter from the FDA regarding our New Drug Application (“NDA”) for EDSIVOTM (celiprolol) for the treatment of vEDS. The Complete Response Letter stated that it will be necessary to conduct an adequate and well-controlled trial to determine whether celiprolol reduces the risk of clinical events in patients with vEDS. In order to reduce operating expense and conserve cash resources, in June 2019, we initiated a corporate restructuring, which included a reduction of approximately 60% of our full-time workforce of 48 employees and halted precommercial activities for EDSIVOTM. We recorded a one-time severance-related charge of $1.5 million associated with the workforce reduction in the quarter ended June 30, 2019.

Revenue

We have no products approved for commercial sale and have not generated any revenue from product sales. We do not expect to generate any revenue from product sales unless and until we obtain regulatory approval for and commercialize any of our product candidates.

In the future, we may generate revenue by entering into licensing or similar arrangements or strategic alliances. To the extent we enter into any license arrangements or strategic alliances, we expect that any revenue we generate will fluctuate from quarter-to-quarter as a result of the timing of achievement of preclinical, clinical, regulatory and commercialization milestones, if at all, the timing and amount of payments relating to such milestones, as well as the extent to which any products are approved and successfully commercialized.

If our product candidates are not developed in a timely manner, if regulatory approval is not obtained for them, or if such product candidates are not commercialized, our ability to generate future revenue, and our results of operations and financial position, would be adversely affected.

Research and Development Expenses

Research and development expenses consist of costs associated with the development of our product candidates. Our research and development expenses include:

 

employee-related expenses, including salaries, benefits, and stock-based compensation;

 

external research and development expenses incurred under arrangements with third parties, such as contract research organizations, contract manufacturing organizations, consultants, and our scientific advisors; and

 

license fees and other direct costs of acquiring intellectual property.

We expense research and development costs as incurred. We account for nonrefundable advance payments for goods and services that will be used in future research and development activities as expenses when the service has been performed or when the goods have been received.

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At any time, we are working on multiple programs. Our internal resources, employees, and infrastructure are not directly tied to any one research or drug discovery project and are typically deployed across multiple projects. As such, we do not generate meaningful information regarding the costs incurred for these early stage research and drug discovery programs on a specific project basis.

Since our inception in December 2013, we have spent a total of $54.2 million in research and development expenses through December 31, 2020. Of that amount, $31.9 million was directly related to EDSIVOTM, $14.4 million was directly related to ACER-001, $4.3 million was directly related to emetine, and $3.3 million was directly related to osanetant.

We expect our research and development expenses to be substantial for the foreseeable future as we continue to conduct our ongoing regulatory activities, initiate new preclinical and clinical trials, and build upon our pipeline. The process of conducting clinical trials and preclinical studies necessary to obtain regulatory approval, preparing to seek regulatory approval, and preparing for commercialization in the event of regulatory approval, is costly and time-consuming. We may never succeed in achieving marketing approval for any of our product candidates.

Successful development of product candidates is highly uncertain and may not result in approved products. Completion dates and completion costs can vary significantly for each product candidate and are difficult to predict. We anticipate we will make determinations as to which programs to pursue and how much funding to direct to each program on an ongoing basis in response to our ability to enter into new strategic alliances with respect to each program or potential product candidate, the scientific and clinical success of each product candidate, the timing and ability to obtain regulatory approval for our product candidates (if any), and ongoing assessments as to each product candidate’s commercial potential. We will need to raise additional capital and may seek to do so through public or private equity or debt financings, government or other third-party funding, marketing and distribution arrangements and other collaborations, strategic alliances and licensing arrangements or a combination of these approaches. However, we may be unable to raise additional funds or enter into such other arrangements when needed on favorable terms or at all. Our failure to raise capital or enter into such other arrangements as and when needed would have a negative impact on our financial condition and our ability to develop our product candidates, pursue regulatory approvals, and operate our business as planned.

General and Administrative Expenses

General and administrative expenses consist primarily of employee-related expenses, including salaries, benefits, and stock-based compensation; precommercial costs; and professional fees for legal, business consulting, auditing, and tax services. We expect that general and administrative expenses will be substantial in the future.

Other (Expense) Income, Net

Other (expense) income, net consists primarily of interest income and of gains and losses resulting from the revaluation of assets and liabilities denominated in foreign currencies. We earn interest income from interest-bearing accounts and money market funds, which we classify as cash and cash equivalents. We record as part of other (expense) income, net, transaction gains and losses on foreign currency denominated assets and liabilities when they are revalued each period due to changes in underlying exchange rates.

Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates

This management’s discussion and analysis of financial condition and results of operations is based on our financial statements, which have been prepared in accordance with GAAP. The preparation of these financial statements requires our management to make estimates and judgments that affect the reported amounts of assets, liabilities and expenses. On an ongoing basis, we evaluate these estimates and judgments. We base our estimates on historical experience and on various assumptions that we believe to be reasonable under the circumstances. These estimates and assumptions form the basis for making judgments about the carrying values of assets and liabilities and the recording of expenses that are not readily apparent from other sources. Actual results may differ materially from these estimates. We believe that the accounting policies discussed below are critical to understanding our historical and future performance, as these policies relate to the more significant areas involving our judgments and estimates.

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Goodwill

Goodwill represents the excess of the purchase price (consideration paid plus net liabilities assumed) of an acquired business over the fair value of the underlying net tangible and intangible assets. We evaluate the recoverability of goodwill according to Accounting Standards Update No. 2017-04, Intangibles – Goodwill and Other (Topic 350), which we adopted in the fourth quarter of 2018, annually, or more frequently if events or changes in circumstances indicate that the carrying value of goodwill might be impaired. We may opt to perform a qualitative assessment or a quantitative impairment test to determine whether goodwill is impaired. Our goodwill is allocated to a single reporting unit. If we were to determine based on a qualitative assessment that it was more likely than not that the fair value of the reporting unit was less than its carrying value, a quantitative impairment test would then be performed. The quantitative impairment test compares the fair value of the reporting unit with its carrying amount, including goodwill. If the estimated fair value of the reporting unit is less than its carrying amount, a goodwill impairment would be recognized for the difference.

In-process Research and Development

In-process research and development (“IPRD”) represents the value of the three G-protein-coupled receptor targets from the GPCR Target Pools of Anchor that we obtained the rights to in the March 20, 2015, acquisition of Anchor. IPRD was recorded at fair value in conjunction with the Anchor acquisition during 2015 and is an indefinite-lived intangible asset. As such, it is tested at least annually for impairment. We determined that the asset was impaired as of December 31, 2020 and wrote off the value of the IPRD accordingly.

Stock-Based Compensation

We account for stock-based compensation expense related to stock options under our 2018 Stock Incentive Plan, our 2013 Stock Incentive Plan, as amended, and our 2010 Stock Incentive Plan, as amended and restated, by estimating the fair value of each stock option on the date of grant using the Black-Scholes model, which involves making the selection of inputs such as expected volatility of our stock, the anticipated term of the option, and a risk-free interest rate. The establishment of these inputs inherently require judgment and estimates and can change from time to time depending on market factors and actual experience. We recognize stock-based compensation expense for stock options and restricted stock units on a straight-line basis over the vesting term.

Research and Development

Research and development costs are expensed as incurred and include compensation and related benefits, license fees and outside contracted research and manufacturing consultants. We sometimes make nonrefundable advance payments for goods and services that will be used in future research and development activities. These payments are capitalized and recorded as an expense in the period that we receive the goods or when the services are performed.

Clinical Trial and Preclinical Study Expenses

We make estimates of prepaid and/or accrued expenses as of each balance sheet date in our financial statements based on certain facts and circumstances at that time. Our accrued expenses for preclinical studies and clinical trials are based on estimates of costs incurred for services provided by contract research organizations (“CRO”), manufacturing organizations, and for other trial- and study-related activities. Payments under our agreements with external service providers depend on a number of factors such as site initiation, patient screening, enrollment, delivery of reports, and other events. In accruing for these activities, we obtain information from various sources and estimate the level of effort or expense allocated to each period. Adjustments to our research and development expenses may be necessary in future periods as our estimates change. As these activities are generally material to our overall financial statements, subsequent changes in estimates may result in a material change in our accruals. No material changes in estimates were recognized in the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019. At December 31, 2020 and 2019, our accounts payable and accrued expenses included $1.8 million and $0.6 million, respectively, for costs associated with preclinical or clinical study expense.

90


Results of Operations

Comparison of the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019

The following table summarizes our results of operations for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019:

 

 

 

Years Ended December 31,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2020

 

 

2019

 

 

$ Change

 

 

% Change

 

Research and development

 

$

11,847,902

 

 

$

13,851,018

 

 

$

(2,003,116

)

 

 

(14

)%

General and administrative

 

 

10,954,923

 

 

 

16,046,423

 

 

 

(5,091,500