Aeglea, long-term Eli Lilly veteran nabs CMO job at Checkmate

Checkmate Pharmaceuticals has been working on Keytrduda combinations in cancer. (Aquila)

Next-gen cancer biotech Checkmate Pharmaceuticals has grabbed a new chief medical officer after a year of C-suite shuffles.

The biotech, which is working on the activation of innate immunity to treat cancer, has nabbed James Wooldridge, M.D., as it looks to ramp up work on its combo studies as well as seek a buyout.

Wooldridge comes from Aeglea BioTherapeutics, where he oversaw development programs in cancer and rare genetic diseases and which earlier this year got off a cut-price IPO. Before this, he spent 11 years at Eli Lilly, serving as its chief scientific officer for immuno-oncology.

Moving over to Checkmate, immuno-oncology will once again become the mainstay of his work, with the focus squarely on CMP-001.

Last year, the biotech unveiled phase 1 data at the American Association of Cancer Research congress showing its lead asset, in combination with Merck’s big seller Keytruda, reversed PD-1 resistance in advanced melanoma patients who had already failed a prior anti-PD-1 treatment.

The patients received CMP-001 injections in one or more accessible tumors. Data from 69 patients in the intent to treat population showed a 22% objective response rate. Two patients had a complete response, and 13 had a partial response, the company said last April.

Next up, the company hopes to translate its results in melanoma to other tumor types—it already has a lung cancer trial underway. But its strategy as a company has always been to be acquired, the company told FierceBiotech last year.

“Our strategy is to generate data in other tumor types and see who is excited about this,” said ex-CEO Art Krieg. The company remains independent and last year replaced its chief with Barry Labinger, with Krieg becoming CSO.

Checkpoint inhibitors like Keytruda have seen success in certain cancers, but they don’t work for everyone—hence the profusion of companies working on agents to administer alongside these drugs and boost their efficacy.

Checkmate’s CMP-001 does this by activating innate immunity to turn “cold” tumors, which do not respond to anti-PD-1 drugs, into “hot” ones. The molecule is a toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) agonist encapsulated in a viruslike particle. It activates TLR9 in a particular type of dendritic cell within tumors, ramping up the expression of tumor antigens and calling forth a T-cell response.

“In the past year, we have made tremendous progress in advancing the development of our lead compound, CMP-001, that is currently in clinical trials in combination with anti-PD-1/L1 antibodies for multiple solid tumor types. I am very pleased to welcome Jim and Steven to the team to continue this momentum,” said Labinger.

“Their experience in setting and executing clinical development and regulatory strategies for a variety of cancer therapeutics will be invaluable to us as we advance the development of CMP-001 and build a leading immuno-oncology company.”