Microbiome startup Axial gains DepoMed executive as new CMO

The three new hires will all be based in Axial’s Boston office.

Axial Biotherapeutics, which only formally came into being last November, has poached Srinivas G. Rao, M.D., Ph.D., from struggling DepoMed as its new chief medical officer.

He will oversee Axial’s clinical development and regulatory strategy as the company prepares to enter the clinic with its first program.

Late last year, Longwood Fund and Domain Associates led the $19.15 million funding round for Axial, which is creating new treatments for an array of CNS disorders by harnessing the gut microbiome.

It started life with exclusive, global rights to a new class of CNS biotherapeutics from the Mazmanian Laboratory at Caltech.

As the newco looks to build up its team, it’s also hired Ryan Barrett as VP, corporate development and IP, as well as Bridget Cole, Ph.D., as VP of medicinal chemistry. All three will report to co-founder and CEO David H. Donabedian, Ph.D., and will be based in Axial’s Boston office.

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While at DepoMed, Rao worked on the company’s development program its analgesic cebranopadol. Before this, Rao was the founder and CEO of Kyalin Biosciences, a privately-held biotech working on a therapy for autism.

Barrett, meanwhile, comes from being VP and senior corporate counsel at OvaScience, responsible for leading the company’s licensing and business development efforts, and managing its IP.

And Cole comes to the biotech after most recently being VP at Flatley Discovery Lab, where she led small molecule discovery programs in cystic fibrosis. She’s also had a stint as associate director of chemistry at the Pfizer Research Technology.

“We are delighted to welcome Srini, Ryan and Bridget to the team and look forward to their guidance and proven track records as we continue to build-out our pipeline and advance our programs into clinical studies,” said Donabedian.

“Srini’s breadth of experience in advancing therapeutics through the clinic and towards regulatory approval in important neurological conditions, especially in Autism Spectrum Disorders, makes him a great fit and an invaluable resource to Axial.”

“Axial Biotherapeutics is at the forefront of the gut-brain axis and leveraging the gut microbiome to tackle neurological diseases. I am thrilled to become a part of the company and its transformative approach to treating some of society’s largest healthcare challenges,” added Rao.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to create a novel array of therapeutics designed to treat disorders of the central nervous system using the rapidly accumulating knowledge of the gut microbiome. I look forward to working with David, Sarkis and the rest of the Axial team.”