AstraZeneca's cancer R&D exec Ferté joins Relay to run its lead asset as another bluebird exec jumps ship

Last month we found out, via Twitter, that AstraZeneca’s Charles Ferté, M.D., Ph.D., senior director and global project leader of oncology R&D, was leaving the Big Pharma, but we didn’t know for where.

Now we do, and it’s a tale as old as time: He has left a major global corporation for the raw science world of biotech. To be specific, he’s taking up the baton at Relay Therapeutics as its vice president and lead for RLY-4008, a selective and oral small-molecule inhibitor of FGFR2, a receptor tyrosine kinase that is frequently altered in certain cancers.

He left AstraZeneca shortly after the shocking death of its cancer research lead Jose Baselga, who died earlier this year from a very rare and fatal brain disease. The U.K. pharma has been under the microscope for its COVID-19 vaccine of late, but has for several years been pushing to become not a vaccine player but an oncology leader.

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This has hinged upon its checkpoint inhibitor Imfinzi, which has played second fiddle to Merck’s all-conquering Keytruda as it tries to beef up its pipeline in recent years to try to find a new winner.

For Ferté, that’s now in the past, as he joins a biotech that nabbed a $400 million IPO last year, one of the largest life science public offerings of 2020, matching the $400 million series C it got off a few months prior.

At Relay, he will focus on RLY-4008, which recently started its first clinical test and has initial data expected out later this year. We know it’s going after solid tumors, but nothing else as yet on specific targets.

The main info available from its pipeline is: “Our clinical development plan for RLY-4008 seeks to leverage the unique potential for enhanced tolerability and broad FGFR2 mutational coverage to rapidly generate proof-of-concept in molecularly defined patient subsets.”

“Thrilled to be joining [Relay]!,” Ferté said on Twitter. “Feel privileged to be part of this excellent team here and to bring differentiated drugs to patients with cancer.”

RELATED: Bluebird bio CMO quits amid a roller coaster year and upcoming split

The biotech also hired Tara O’Meara as senior vice president of clinical development operations, coming off a near decadelong stint at bluebird bio, initially overseeing the development and execution of the clinical program for a rare genetic disease and, most recently, leading the clinical development operations department where she had strategic oversight across all development programs including severe genetic diseases and cancers.

The biotech, however, hit trouble this year ahead of an intended split between the rare disease and cancer units, when its gene therapies were blighted by safety concerns. O’Meara's departure comes just three weeks after its chief medical officer David Davidson, M.D., also hit the exit.

“We are thrilled to welcome Tara and Charles to our growing clinical team at Relay Therapeutics,” said Sanjiv Patel, M.D., president and CEO of Relay.

“Over the last few years, we believe we have validated our approach of integrating computational and experimental techniques across multiple areas of drug discovery and have successfully advanced two products to the clinic with another one close behind. The leadership of Tara and Charles will fortify our clinical team and continue to strengthen what we intend to be a robust pipeline going forward.”