Aleaya Caié

 

Alfred E. Mann is so certain that he can succeed where Pfizer did not – that he’s gambling $1 billion of his own money on his dream.

 

Mr. Mann, the 82 year old executive and controlling shareholder of the MannKind Corporation who resides in a sprawling 23,000 square foot home overlooking the San Fernando Valley, is not deterred by Pfizer’s failure in creating a form of insulin that people with diabetes could inhale rather than inject.  He says his company’s inhalable insulin is not just a way to avoid needles but is medically superior to Pfizer’s product and to injected insulin.

 

MannKind’s inhaler is compact and small – slightly larger than a cell phone. “Once you put your name on it, how can you let it fail?”

If Mann is right, he could help change the way diabetes is treated.

“I believe this is one of the most valuable products in the drug industry’s history and I’m willing to back it up with my estate,” said Mann. And his track record is a good bet. During his remarkable entrepreneurial career – he’s founded more than a dozen aerospace and medical device companies.

Some experts say there is promise in MannKind’s product: Technosphere Insulin.  “It is different from anything we have now and has the best chance of succeeding,” said Dr. Irl B. Hirsch, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington.

Mr. Mann, the son of a grocer, studied physics at the University of California, Los Angeles, but quit before getting a doctorate so he could find work to support his wife and child.

One of his early successes was Pacesetter Systems, a heart pacemaker company he started about 1970 and sold to Siemens for $150 million in 1985. Then came Minimed, a maker of insulin pumps for diabetics which was sold to Medtronic for about $3 billion in 2001.

Three years later he sold Advanced Bionics, a maker of implants that allow deaf people to hear, to Boston Scientific for $740 million.  He later regained much of Advanced Bionics after a nasty legal fight with Boston Scientific.

MannKind is now in the final stage of clinical trials for Technosphere Insulin.

Controlling blood sugar or glucose by using insulin or other drugs helps diabetics avoid complications like cardiovascular problems and blindness.

The distinguishing feature of Technosphere Insulin is that it acts faster than any other insulin on the market, which could reduce the risk of dangerously low glucose levels several hours after a meal — a big concern for diabetics.

Mr. Mann controls eight other companies working on various devices like one that would allow the blind to see and another that would treat ringing in the ears.

“I feel I’m blessed with some ability and resources that enable me to tackle these issues,” he said.

It may be for the best that Mann is putting his money into diabetes because he’s had some trouble giving it away.





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