By BEN SULLIVAN
Dr. Bernard Salick, founder and until last week CEO of Salick Health Care Inc., is seeking funding to launch a new company to compete with his namesake firm in the specialty clinics field he helped create.
Salick is “setting up meetings with investment bankers and international pharmaceutical companies to raise capital or make a strategic alliance,” said Marshall Grossman, an attorney at Alschuler Grossman & Pines, who is representing the physician-businessman.
Salick will travel to New York in the coming two weeks for those meetings, Grossman said, and has already set up shop in a Beverly Hills office building he jointly owns with entertainment mogul David Geffen. Geffen will not participate in the new company, Grossman said.
Salick hopes to raise “several hundred million dollars” to start a company that will provide treatment to patients with catastrophic illnesses requiring long-term care, Grossman said, much as Salick Health Care currently offers to cancer patients.
The new company would offer cancer treatment, plus care for people with AIDS, renal failure and those who have undergone an organ transplant.
Salick was not available for comment last week.
“It’s a tough market out there, and trying to raise money has gotten tougher. But if there’s anybody out there who can do it, he’s probably the likely guy,” said David Horwich, an analyst at the investment banking firm Van Kasper & Co. “He’s made a boat-load of money for investors already, and there’s no reason to believe there won’t be people willing to line up for him.”
Salick turned down an offer to stay on with the company he founded after the British drug firm Zeneca Group PLC last week purchased the remaining 50 percent of the company it didn’t already own.
Dr. Robert Gale, who himself earned notoriety for performing bone-marrow transplants on irradiated victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, worked with Salick as head of SalikNet, the company’s “cancer HMO.”
“I’m not surprised that Bernie left,” Gale said. “It’s difficult for him to share responsibility even with very good people. He likes to be in charge.”
Added Gale: “He really was the genesis of this notion of comprehensive cancer centers, so there was no competition and no models competing for attention. Now it would be more difficult. But I wouldn’t be flabbergasted if he pulled it off.”
Salick’s parting from Zeneca was not pleasant. Zeneca CEO David Barnes offered to keep Salick on as an advisor and honorary chairman, with an annual salary of $800,000. But Salick turned down the offer, declaring it insincere.
“I have been released of my management responsibilities by Zeneca without cause, to be replaced by a new British management team from the agrochemicals and specialties divisions of Zeneca,” Salick said in a prepared statement.
Zeneca said it wanted Salick to stay on, but not as chief executive. “We felt that (an advisory role) would be the best marriage with Dr. Salick, in terms of his abilities,” said Zeneca spokesman Alan Milbauer.
New Salick Health Care CEO Michael O’Brien said Zeneca did not tell Salick of its plans to shift him into an advisory role before completing the purchase because, “our judgment was that that would be an improper thing to do, to act as if we already owned the company.”
O’Brien said Zeneca intends to keep the Salick name for the clinics.
Salick’s departure upon learning he would not retain operational control is hardly surprising for a man whose drive and ego helped him create and lead a string of 11 general cancer centers, eight breast cancer clinics and 10 outpatient dialysis treatment facilities.
Salick founded Salick Health Care in the mid-1980s, after his 6-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer. Staying up nights with her in grim emergency rooms spurred Salick to open his first 24-hour outpatient cancer clinic at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and nearly 30 more facilities over the next decade.
“He’s dynamic, provocative, outgoing. He is aggressive,” said Jim Barber, president of the Healthcare Association of Southern California.
But re-entering the market anew, to compete with the clinics he founded, could prove a challenge equal to Salick’s drive, Barber said.
“It’s going to be very different in this more-mature managed care market for anyone to enter into it,” Barber said. “At least in Southern California, there’s much more consolidation going on of existing organizations than successful start-ups of new organizations.”
Barber said Salick would likely find more-fertile ground in other parts of the country where managed care has less dominance over the medical industry.