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Sientra prepares for South Coast hiring spree

By   /   Friday, April 6th, 2012  /   Comments Off on Sientra prepares for South Coast hiring spree

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Backed with $151 million in capital, Santa Barbara-based breast implant maker Sientra is preparing for a flurry of hiring to bring its products to market.

In early March, Sientra received the first FDA approval in several decades for new silicone-based implants for the U.S. market. Two weeks later, the firm said it closed a $65 million funding round, bringing its total capital raised to $151 million.

The deal appears to be the largest equity finance transaction of the year so far, tying with the $65 million IPO of Thousand Oaks-based energy crop firm Ceres.

Sientra was founded in 2007 by Hani Zeini, a veteran of Inamed, the breast implant company in Santa Barbara that sold to Allergan for $3.2 billion in 2005. Zeini assembled a team that bought the North American subsidiary of a Brazilian implant company called SiliMed and shepherded the products through the U.S. approval process.

In an interview with the Business Times after the funding deal was announced, Zeini said that Sientra has until now been focused on clinical development and regulatory approval of its products. With those approvals in hand, the company is now turning its attention to building up its work force in marketing, sales and other departments.

“It’s time to scale up the organization and start commercializing these products. The funds will go to support the hiring of a commercial organization,” Zeini said.

Zeini also said that the bulk of the hiring will come within the tri-county market. “We don’t intend to have offices anywhere else,” he said.

For competitive reasons, Zeini declined to say how many jobs the company might add.

There are only two other companies with FDA-approved silicone breast implants: Allergan and Johnson & Johnson’s Mentor Worldwide. Both of those firms have roots in Santa Barbara and maintain work forces on the South Coast.

The lead investor on the latest Sientra deal was London-based life sciences fund Abingworth. Sientra’s existing investors — OrbiMed and Clarus Ventures — also participated in the funding round.

For competitive reasons, Zeini couldn’t say exactly when Sientra’s implants will be available for patients and doctors to use. But he did say that the company’s marketing efforts won’t be from a cold start because it has several other reconstructive surgery and body contouring products already for sale.

“We’ve had other product available since we started the company. We’ve consistently been at conferences and meetings and maintained the relationship with physicians,” Zeini said. “We have to earn this business, but we also feel that it’s not a complete unknown company or process for us.”

Santa Barbara appears to have become the silicone breast implant capital of the country — industry insiders even call it “Silicone Alley.”

Policy makers in other regions struggle to encourage self-perpetuating industry clusters, but the aesthetics expertise concentration on the South Coast emerged the natural way, said Bill Watkins, a California Lutheran University economist.

Pioneers founded companies decades ago, and after successful buyouts, some of the people who worked for them moved on to found companies of their own. And the South Coast happens to be a great place to live.
“For a lot of families, moving is a real disruptive experience. In some sense, it all becomes an accident of history,” Watkins said.

At Sientra, Zeini said the firm has every intention of breaking into the two-company breast implant market and becoming a major force. “When we got into this business, we wanted to be one of the top players in the plastic surgery and aesthetics market,” he said.

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