Affinia beefs up R&D team with big names out of Editas, Novartis

DNA helix forming inside a test tube
Affinia is working on gene therapies for rare diseases and more prevalent ones with a platform that allows it to engineer vectors to deliver them. (Getty Images)

Gene therapy biotech Affinia Therapeutics is rounding out its executive team with a pair of seasoned executives as it aims for the clinic. Chief Scientific Officer Charles Albright, Ph.D., is reprising the role he held at Editas Medicines until last month, while Chief Medical Officer Petra Kaufmann, M.D., arrives from Novartis Gene Therapies, where she oversaw clinical development, analytics and translational medicine.

The move reunites Kaufmann with Affinia CEO Rick Modi, who was the chief business officer at AveXis before it became Novartis Gene Therapies. There, she led clinical development for Zolgensma, the gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy, as well as translational work for several other programs. She joined AveXis after a long career in academia and the National Institutes of Health, where she held multiple roles, including director of the Office of Rare Diseases Research. 

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Before leading the development of Editas’ gene editing technology as the company’s top scientist, Albright spent more than 12 years at Bristol Myers Squibb, where he eventually became the vice president of the Big Pharma’s genetically defined diseases and genomics unit. 

Affinia is working on gene therapies for rare diseases and more prevalent ones with a platform that allows it to engineer vectors to deliver them. Many gene therapies, including Zolgensma, are delivered using an adeno-associated virus (AAV) found in nature. Relying on natural viruses has limited the reach of gene therapies: They can only home in on certain tissues, for example. And some people may have developed a natural immunity to this type of virus, rendering the treatment ineffective. 

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“We believe in a vastly different future medical era of one-time potentially curative medicines for patients affected by diseases, rare and non-rare. But realizing this vision requires moving beyond conventional AAV serotypes,” Modi said in a statement

“At Affinia Therapeutics, we are uniquely positioned to engineer novel vectors and gene therapies that direct tissue tropism and hold the potential to improve clinical efficacy, as well as immunogenicity and safety. Together, Dr. Albright, Dr. Kaufmann and the rest of our leadership will leverage their extensive experience to advance Affinia Therapeutics’ platform and programs,” Modi added. 

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The company’s pipeline includes programs in central nervous system and muscle diseases, including muscular dystrophies. Albright and Kaufmann’s appointments come about a year after the company banked a $60 million series A financing and inked a partnership with Vertex Pharmaceuticals to discover new AAV capsids for gene therapies.