Black Diamond grabs trio of new R&D execs as it barrels toward the clinic

Chris Roberts will head up research and early development work as Black Diamond Therapeutics' new chief scientific officer. (Black Diamond)

After a whirlwind year and two quick-fire raises, cancer startup Black Diamond Therapeutics has nabbed Yumanity, Merck KGaA and SR One veterans to help head up its research work.

The Versant Ventures’ biotech raised $85 million in a series B at the start of the year, coming just weeks after Black Diamond exited stealth mode. It broke cover with a $20 million in series A and a platform designed to identify and target allosteric mutant oncogenes. Together, these cash grabs teed up the allosteric oncogenic mutation specialist up to move two or three candidates into the clinic in the coming years.

The biotech’s founders David Epstein and Elizabeth Buck designed the platform to unlock the therapeutic potential of oncogenes activated by allosteric mutations, which, unlike kinase domain mutations, are yet to make a mark on cancer care.

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If the platform works as Black Diamond hopes, it will generate single molecules capable of treating baskets of mutations previously seen as unactionable from a therapeutic perspective.

The company is now focused on getting its lead program, BDTX-189, into the clinic to test this platform, and it has three new execs to help with that mission: Christopher Roberts, Ph.D., (pictured) as its chief scientific officer; Matt Lucas, Ph.D., as its vice president of chemistry; and Tai-An Lin, Ph.D., as VP and head of biology.

RELATED: Black Diamond debuts with $20M, mission to drug unexplored oncogenes

Roberts will now oversee all of Black Diamond’s research and early development. Lucas will run its chemistry work in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while Lin is heading up its labs in New York.

The new CSO comes to the biotech from SR One, the corporate venture capital arm of GlaxoSmithKline, where he was an entrepreneur in residence. He’s also had a stint at Syros Pharmaceuticals, which is focused on gene control and drugging transcription, helping guide two cancer assets into the clinic.   

Lucas, meanwhile, was the senior director of chemistry at Parkinson’s biotech Yumanity Therapeutics, having also served at Cubist Pharmaceuticals and formerly at Swiss major Roche.

Lin has been director of immuno-oncology translational innovation platform and experimental medicine at Merck KGaA/EMD Serono, with stints before this on a series of Big Pharma drug discovery teams at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Roche and Janssen.

Epstein, president and CEO, said: “We are thrilled to have Chris, Matt, and Tai-An join Black Diamond in these critical roles at this pivotal time as we advance our lead candidate, BDTX-189, toward the clinic and build out and progress our pipeline of development programs based on our MAP platform. With this team’s depth and breadth of industry experience, particularly in identifying and advancing small molecules in oncology, they will be vital in helping us fulfill our mission of discovering and developing new targeted therapies for people with cancer for whom limited treatment options exist.

“I would also like to thank Dr. Alex Mayweg of Versant Ventures, who has served as our founding and interim Chief Scientific Officer since 2017 and has made significant contributions to our drug discovery strategies and to the development of BDTX-189. I am pleased that the company will continue to have the benefit of Dr. Mayweg’s advice and support as a member of Black Diamond’s board of directors.”

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