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Curious case of Beacon Pharmaceutical: Jupiter, Right to Try, fashion and a raft

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Curious case of Beacon Pharmaceutical: Jupiter, Right to Try, fashion and a raft

Beacon Pharmaceutical, an affiliate of Beacon Capital LLC of New York, got one step closer last week to building a 150,000-square-foot bioscience research and development accelerator in Jupiter, Fla., after the town's council gave its blessing to the company's site plan.

Beacon Pharmaceutical has committed to investing at least $44.2 million in the facility, though the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County in Florida, which brought the company to Jupiter, said in February the investment could be as much as $80 million.

SNL ImageJupiter Town Council with Beacon Pharmaceutical Chair Nancy Torres Kaufman and CEO Philippe Gastone and Business Development Board of Palm Beach County CEO Kelly Smallridge.
Source: Business Development Board of Palm Beach County

Beacon Capital — which has a history in the fashion industry, in cryptocurrency and of supporting the Right to Try Act — also planned a similar project last year in New York City and nearby New Jersey, pledging to build a 50,000-square-foot biotech incubator with flex office and lab space, placing "$30 million to $50 million into various startups," according to a March 20, 2018, press release.

In that release, Nancy Torres Kaufman, CEO of Beacon Capital and chair of Beacon Pharmaceutical, said she was considering launching similar initiatives in Virginia, Florida and Mexico "in the upcoming year."

But after gaining publicity on the New York-New Jersey project from industry-focused media outlets Endpoints and FierceBiotech, Beacon appears to have shelved it and put its sights on Florida.

A spokeswoman for the life sciences team at the New York City Economic Development Corp. told S&P Global Market Intelligence the group was unfamiliar with Beacon Pharmaceutical and its 2018 incubator plans, had never worked with the company and had no connections to it.

In an Oct. 9 email, Beacon Pharmaceutical CEO Philippe Gastone told S&P Global Market Intelligence his company was approached by the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, or BDB, about available land in Jupiter, Fla., where nearby research organizations, like Scripps Research Institute and Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, and other life science entities were located.

After several meetings with the BDB, officials from the city and some of the institutions, Gastone said, "We realized its attractiveness and considered that Jupiter might serve as a better location option for our accelerator."

Gastone said no patients would be treated on site and there would be no animal testing at the accelerator. There is expected to be on-site manufacturing of biological products, according to public documents.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization — the two top drug industry trade groups in the U.S. — confirmed that Beacon Pharmaceutical is not a member of their organizations.

The company is also not listed among the members of the local biotech trade organizations in New York and New Jersey — NewYorkBIO and BioNJ — and spokespeople for both groups told S&P Global Market Intelligence they had not heard of Beacon.

Leigh Turner, associate professor at the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics, said other comparable companies would likely be members of those biopharmaceutical industry groups.

"Beacon Pharmaceutical is a perplexing choice to develop a life sciences accelerator in Jupiter," Turner told S&P Global Market Intelligence. "There is no public record of the company successfully bringing drug products or biologics to market, having such products in clinical development or funding other businesses involved in pharmaceutical research and development."

A raft ride

Torres Kaufman said she started Beacon Pharmaceutical in 2017, a company she described at a March event as "the marriage of healthcare, finance and globalization."

At that event, which was hosted by the Consulate General of Israel in New York, Torres Kaufman said she came to the U.S. on a self-built raft from Cuba when she was 14, and "like a tumbleweed," moved from foster home to foster home in New Jersey.

The Beacon chief said she planned to study medicine but "could not take the sight of blood," so she went into finance instead.

She said she sold her first company, which she did not identify, in 2006 and then went to work in the banking industry.

Then in 2010, Torres Kaufman started Beacon Capital, which she described as an "advisory boutique" company that evolved into a "family office with focus on socially conscious and impact investments."

"Soon after our founding, we started to share deal flow with four prominent European families and due diligence investments and seeking opportunities in life science, biotech and healthcare," Torres Kaufman said at the March event.

On its website, Beacon Capital said it "navigates, invests and consults on complex strategic and financial matters worldwide, with great emphasis in the Middle East, Europe and Ibero America." It does not disclose the source of its funds.

Beacon Capital also designed its own blockchain technology cryptocurrency — the Beacoin — which the company said in an Aug. 11, 2018, Medium post could be used to provide access to therapeutics and treatments.

Other than Torres Kaufman, Beacon Capital and Beacon Pharmaceutical do not identify any other corporate officers on their websites. The entities also do not list any board members or scientific advisers.

From fashion to biotech

Also not listed on Beacon Capital's website is the Tahor Group, the fashion advisory company that Torres Kaufman co-founded under the investment organization.

In a February 2017 interview with entertainment journalist Cognac Wellerlane during New York's Fashion Week, Torres Kaufman said the Tahor Group was advising up-and-coming designers on how to run and finance their fashion businesses.

A year later, Torres Kaufman was seeking to set up the New York-New Jersey biotech incubator. It is unclear if the Tahor Group remains in business, though Torres Kaufman's partner in the company, Tobi Rubinstein, continues to promote the fashion entity's web address on her personal Twitter account.

'Right to Try' mission

In Jupiter, Beacon Pharmaceutical is seeking to establish a life sciences center that would house its Beacon of Hope CRO, a contract research organization focused on providing experimental treatments under the 2018 Right to Try Act; an accelerator of up to 50 companies; and a stem cell manufacturing center, according to public documents.

SNL ImageProposed Beacon Center for Life Science and Research
Source: City of Jupiter, Fla.

At Beacon Pharmaceutical's Feb. 5 presentation before the Jupiter town council, Torres Kaufman said Beacon of Hope CRO would be "focused on enforcing and practicing the Right to Try law," which permits critically ill patients to sidestep the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in seeking access to experimental treatments.

President Donald Trump and other proponents of the law have insisted the FDA was not moving fast enough to approve applications for its expanded-access program, or compassionate use, even though the agency ultimately granted 99% of those requests.

Critics have said the real intent of the Right to Try Act was to weaken the FDA and have raised concerns that desperately ill patients could be exposed to "snake oil" salesmen peddling false hopes.

In an Oct. 8 email, Gastone said, "Beacon is not involved with the 'Right to Try' initiative," despite conflicting information in Jupiter public documents, on the Beacon of Hope CRO's website and in Torres Kaufman's remarks at the February city council meeting in Florida.

Gastone said his company's Beacon of Hope CRO was not affiliated with an identically named Right to Try-focused company run by Richard Garr in Boca Raton, Fla. Gastone said Garr was a former associate of Beacon.

Torres Kaufman also told S&P Global Market Intelligence in September they were separate entities. Kaufman replied to some questions via email and agreed to an interview but had not followed up about an interview date by the time of publication. Gastone said he was replying on her behalf.

Gastone described his company's CRO as "part of the philanthropic arm of Beacon," but said it "was never seeking to monetize upon the opportunities the 'Right to Try' law may provide."

But a June 2018 press release stated that "Beacon Capital, a venture and philanthropy arm of Beacon Pharmaceutical, is building a 'Right-To-Try' platform."

"Beacon's platform, a global database, will match pharmaceutical companies and patients for experimental treatments," the company said.

Further, Beacon's CRO website currently states: "A window exists to create a first mover advantage and establish a credible RTT infrastructure and operating company with a proprietary and expanding knowledge base of institutions who are early adapters and will provide RTT treatments; as well as a first mover with a deep understanding of the complex interplay of the new federal law and the (currently) 41 state RTT laws."

'Overwhelming' Jupiter support

Jupiter Mayor Todd Wodraska said he had no opinion on the Right to Try Act or any companies that may provide unapproved treatments under that law in his community.

When asked who vetted Beacon Pharmaceutical, Wodraska said those tasks went to the city's finance director and town manager.

But the mayor said he personally reached out to Scripps Research Institute, Jupiter Medical Center and others in the community with bioscience backgrounds to make sure Beacon's proposal was legitimate.

"The overwhelming response was, yes, anybody would be excited to have a company like that coming into their municipality," Wodraska told S&P Global Market Intelligence.

He said some leaders from Scripps and some of its scientists with "strong ties to the community" attended the February news conference announcing the Beacon project.

Stacey Singer DeLoye, a spokeswoman for Scripps, told S&P Global Market Intelligence the research institute does "not have a relationship with Beacon Pharmaceutical, and as a nonprofit, we do not endorse or promote any corporate or commercial entity."

None of the Jupiter city council members responded to questions about Torres Kaufman's prior work in the fashion industry and the lack of information about her experience in the biopharmaceutical sector.

While the council voted Oct. 3 to approve the site plan for Beacon Pharmaceutical's proposed life sciences accelerator, the mayor emphasized at that meeting that the lease with an option to buy the 9-acre, city-owned property is not yet finalized.

The council has already approved a $500,000 loan guarantee for Beacon Pharmaceutical. The city also plans to pay Beacon Pharmaceutical nearly $600,000 over a decade depending on its capital investment and the number of jobs it brings into the community.