Disarm nabs Takeda, Pfizer executive to help neuro R&D goals

3D brain against purple background
Disarm's scientific founders see the SARM1 protein as the main culprit of axonal degeneration. (alex-mit/iStock /Getty Images Plus)

Preclinical neurological disease biotech Disarm has poached Big Pharma executive Thomas Engber, Ph.D., as its new SVP and head of neuropharmacology and translational sciences.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup, which is working on a new and early-stage class of meds for patients with axonal degeneration, takes on Engber and his experience across biopharma.

Engber was, most recently, at Takeda, and also had tenures at the National Institutes of Health, Cephalon, Pfizer and Biogen, all spanning across three decades.

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At Takeda, he worked on looking out for new tech and pushing on with the company’s CNS portfolio through partnerships. He had been its senior director center for external innovation and worked amid a major biotech deal flurry for the Japanese Big Pharma that saw it spend billions on early- to late-stage biopharmas in deals, pacts and M&A.

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He will now help the fledgling biotech with its Big Idea, which is to inhibit the SARM1 protein, something its scientific founders see as the main culprit of axonal degeneration.

They explain that the breakdown of axons causes disability and disease progression in a broad range of chronic and acute diseases of the central ocular, and peripheral nervous systems, including multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, glaucoma and peripheral neuropathies.

It’s seeking “disease-modifying therapeutics” for these neurological diseases, and more, by preventing axonal degeneration. It’s yet to enter the clinic.

“Tom is an established leader in neuroscience research and clinical development. He will play an important role on our leadership team, guiding our translational strategy as we advance Disarm's novel therapies into the clinic,” said Rajesh Devraj, Ph.D., CSO at Disarm (and previously CSO with Atlas Venture company Padlock).

Just a few months back, Disarm got off a $30 million series A, with the round led by Atlas, with co-investors Lightstone Ventures and AbbVie Ventures also taking part.

Disarm was co-founded, seeded and incubated back in 2016 by Atlas, together with Jeffrey Milbrandt and Aaron DiAntonio of Washington University in St. Louis.

The biotech has licensed exclusive rights to key SARM1 discoveries from Washington University.