Celgene, Acceleron alum Backstrom tapped to be the top purveyor at Scholar Rock

Scholar Rock has gone longer without a permanent CEO than their last hire was in the position—by almost two months. But that’s changing, with the biotech landing a new executive to lead its rebounding strategy. 

Jay Backstrom, M.D., former executive vice president for R&D at Merck-acquired Acceleron Pharma, will take over the reins as president and CEO, according to an announcement Tuesday. Before joining Acceleron, Backstrom was the chief medical officer at Celgene up to its acquisition by Bristol Myers Squibb. In a release, Backstrom said he was both “honored and humbled” by the leadership opportunity. 

Scholar Rock CEO Jay Backstrom
Scholar Rock CEO Jay Backstrom (Scholar Rock)

“I look forward to working closely with Nagesh, the board, the executive team, and Scholar Rock employees to advance our lead clinical assets, build our pipeline, increase our impact on the lives of patients, and grow Scholar Rock for its next phase of success,” he said. 

Although Backstrom won’t officially start until Oct. 20, the news marks the beginning of the end of Nagesh Mahanthappa’s 13-month interim tenure. The company co-founder was thrust into the role when then-CEO Tony Kingsley departed in August 2021 after just one year on the job. Kingsley became the CEO of Stablix in February 2022. 

In the year that’s followed, Scholar Rock has taken a slight tumble down the clinical mountaintop, axing 25% of its staff in May and narrowing its pipeline. The company also lost its chief medical officer Yung Chyung, M.D., at the time. The main efforts that fell by the wayside were in the discovery stage, with the company electing to instead focus as many resources as possible on its phase 3-stage asset, apitegromab. 

Overseeing the successful development of that med will be the top priority for Backstrom. Apitegromab’s lead indication is in spinal muscular atrophy and Scholar Rock is currently enrolling some 156 children ages 2-12 years old for the “main efficacy population” in a phase 3 trial, according to the company’s second-quarter earnings report. The asset is also being evaluated in the preclinical stage as a potential treatment for myosin-related disorders.

Luckily for the company, a $205 million registered direct offering has shored up its financial checkbooks, arming it with roughly $371 million in cash on hand as of the end of June. The company says that’s enough to fund operations into 2025.