Curt Herberts is signing on at synthetic biology startup Senti Biosciences as its new chief financial officer and chief business officer. First up on the docket? Figuring out the company's partnering strategy and how to blend it with its corporate strategy, he says.
Herberts joins Senti from genome-editing company Sangamo Therapeutics, where he also served as chief business officer. At Sangamo, he spearheaded a number of deals, including a collaboration around its zinc finger protein technology with Shire, a blood disorder-focused pact with Biogen potentially worth $320 million, a pair of partnerships with Pfizer and a $3 billion off-the-shelf CAR-T deal that would give Gilead access to its zinc finger nuclease tech.
Senti's work centers on synthetic gene circuits that make cell and gene therapies "smarter"—that is, making them able to "respond dynamically" to the disease conditions they encounter. The company also aims to make such therapies controllable in vivo once they are delivered.
"We are using that cell circuitry to improve efficacy, safety and tolerability," he told FierceBiotech. "[It can] expand the potential for where cell and gene therapies can go, [such as] beyond liquid cancers and into solid tumors."
Cell therapies, such as CAR-T, have seen limited success in solid tumors due to selectivity issues: "It's hard to find the one magic bullet marker on a cancer cell that is not found in any other cell type. The challenge is how to find cancer cells and kill them without killing anything else," said Senti co-founder Wilson Wong in a previous interview. Senti is working with Wong and his team to translate what they call the "Swiss army knife" of CAR-T into clinical development.
In his new role, Herberts will guide Senti as it builds its in-house pipeline while also partnering on further applications of its synthetic biology platform, Senti said in a statement.
"First is the age-old question for a technology platform company: where are we going to invest in the platform? Where are we going to invest in the therapeutics?" he said. As for blending Senti's corporate strategy with its external partner strategy, he's working on how to decide which assets to keep and which to partner on. And "how do you partner" is a key question too.
"It's not just binary," he said.
"As Senti continues to advance several programs towards the clinic, Curt's experience will prove invaluable in building a long-term fully integrated cell and gene therapy company developing adaptive therapies for patients in need," said Senti CEO Tim Lu in the statement.