As CRISPRomics biotech KSQ Therapeutics gears up for its first clinical trial next year, it’s hired biopharma veteran Beni Wolf, M.D., Ph.D., as its chief medical officer.
Wolf comes to the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company, helmed by former Genzyme leader David Meeker, M.D., from clinical cancer biotech Blueprint Medicines. His move to KSQ puts him back a step back in terms of clinical work, but he’ll be involved in using the company’s CRISPR platform, a cutting-edge technology, in cancer and immunology. The biotech is eyeing 2020 for its first foray into human testing.
Wolf has also spent time during his career at a number of other biotechs, including Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, Amgen and Genentech, where he started out.
"Ben has an impressive track record of driving the clinical development of innovative oncology medicines, and his expertise is ideally suited to KSQ as we prepare to advance our oncology product candidates towards clinical testing in cancer patients,” said Meeker.
“We are delighted to bring Ben’s exceptional experience across all aspects of drug development to help us realize the potential of KSQ’s emerging pipeline of cancer medicines that we believe can advance cancer treatment based on the insights from our CRISPRomics technology.”
In the past 18 months, KSQ has bagged a $76 million funding, then followed up with an $80 million round that goes toward advancing its lead program, an adoptive T cell therapy for PD-1 resistant tumors, into human trials as well as to support the development of three more cancer programs through IND.
Over the past year and a half, the biotech has started and advanced a dozen drug discovery programs, including in immuno-oncology, adoptive cell therapies and targeted therapies. Its programs are based on its CRISPRomics platform, which enables the use of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing on the whole-genome scale.
KSQ’s lead candidate, a modified adoptive cell therapy, has shown promise in animal models of PD-1 resistance, and will be the drug entering the clinic, should all go to plan, next year.
PD-1 blockade has seen success in certain cancers, but it doesn't work for everyone. There has been a rush in recent years to develop combination treatments. Companies left and right are trying to come up with a drug that makes PD-1 inhibitors such as Merck’s Keytruda and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo work for more people and more cancers.
In an interview with FierceBiotech last year, Meeker explained: “That’s where we first started. We thought PD-1 might be best, so we looked for things that you can maybe combine with PD-1, like the rest of the world. But that’s not the route KSQ ultimately followed. The company has identified some targets and is working on agents that work as well or better as a monotherapy.”
And the company is intent on not being a one-trick pony.
“Our goal […] is that we’re not holding back on any program and advancing everything as fast as science will allow in parallel. We’ve been able to do this as a smaller company because we are highly leveraged—we have twice the number of employee equivalents working through CRO networks.”
And it’s not stopping at cancer—KSQ plans to apply CRISPRomics to other areas, including rare diseases and immunology. Just as the platform identified which genes increase a T cell’s ability to kill a tumor, it also picked out those genes that inhibit or decrease a T cell’s ability to kill a tumor. These targets could come in handy should the company’s next focus be autoimmune diseases.