Curis hires former Tesaro CMO Robert Martell as head of R&D

A ladder going up a side of a wall to the sky
Curis is looking to advance its lead candidate, fimepinostat, through clinical trials with a new head of R&D, while its chief medical officer plans to return to academia. (Pixabay)

Curis is bringing on board member Robert Martell as a full-time employee in the newly created role of head of R&D. Martell was formerly chief medical officer at Tesaro until 2015, after serving as director of global oncology research at Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Martell will help manage the day-to-day operations of Curis’ clinical development of fimepinostat (CUDC-907), a PI3K and HDAC inhibitor currently in a phase 2 study of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. A board member since 2011, he will step down from those duties when he takes the job June 1.

In addition, Curis will bid farewell to its chief medical officer, David Tuck, who plans to retire from the company in August and return to academia. Tuck also serves as senior VP of clinical and translational sciences.

The company won’t immediately begin the hunt for a replacement, citing Martell’s own depth of experience in the field: “I would say the best way of putting it is that, with Bob Martell, we get a ‘CMO-plus,’” Curis President and CEO Ali Fattaey told FierceBiotech, pointing to his past work for pharma and biotech companies.

Instead, the company will focus on getting its clinical studies on a path to registration, especially in the case of fimepinostat, with plans to launch a pivotal study later this year. Following discussions with the FDA, the company plans to file for accelerated approval in relapsed or refractory DLBCL patients with Myc transcription alterations by the end of 2020.

In previous studies in these patients, Curis has seen an average duration of response exceeding 14 months, compared to a typical life expectancy of 3 to 4 months in the indication, Fattaey said.

“I do want to credit [Martell] really for the ability to see the actual benefit that fimepinostat provided in these patients,” he said. “He has a fantastic knack of being able to see the data and tease out what part can be used to register a drug.”

RELATED: Curis Achieves CUDC-907 Milestones Under Its Agreement With The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

While at Tesaro, Martell helped develop the PARP inhibitor Zejula and the NK1 receptor antagonist Varubi, and evaluated other immuno-oncology drug candidates. At BMS, he worked on the filing team for the EGFR inhibitor Erbitux, and helped develop the cancer treatments Sprycel and Ixempra. And as CMO of MethylGene, which was later acquired by Mirati Therapeutics, he helped developed HDAC and tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

Martell is also an associate professor of hematology and oncology and practicing physician at the Tufts University School of Medicine and Tufts Medical Center.

In a statement, Fattaey thanked Tuck for his contributions in transforming Curis into a clinical development company, including work on other products in the pipeline, such as CA-170, an oral small-molecule checkpoint inhibitor, and the IRAK4 kinase inhibitor CA-4948, both in early-stage trials.

Tuck was formerly an associate professor at Yale University, where he headed a cancer genomics and bioinformatics lab, and has also held drug development positions at BMS and EMD Serono. He will continue on as an advisor to Curis.

Though his ultimate academic destination has not yet been disclosed, Tuck’s work will focus on the Million Veteran Program’s genomic database maintained by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has enrolled hundreds of thousands of participants, Fattaey said.

Note: This story was updated with additional information from Curis.