Smaller biotechs are continuing their biopharma hiring spree as two startups nab some big names for their aspiring cancer drug research.
First up is New York biotech Rgenix, which a year ago raised a $40 million in series C to carry out early and midstage trials for a pair of oncology meds: an immunotherapy for solid tumors and a cancer metabolism inhibitor for gastrointestinal cancers.
The biotech has hired Robert Wasserman, M.D., as its new chief medical officer to help run this work: Specifically on RGX-104, the immunotherapy and Rgenix’s lead asset, designed to target the LXR/APoE pathway that regulates the innate immune response in cancer.
Rgenix is developing it both for use alone and in combination with approved treatments, including checkpoint inhibitors. It licensed the drug from GlaxoSmithKline, which had shelved it because of side effects seen in preclinical studies.
It’s also at work on a second drug, RGX-202, which was developed in-house and targets SLC6a8, a creatine transporter that is overexpressed in multiple cancer types.
He takes over from former Novartis veteran Roger Waltzman, M.D., who left the biotech back in January to become CMO at Molecular Templates.
Wasserman is a 20-year plus biopharma veteran, having stints at Novartis and Merck; most recently he was at Northern Biologics, with his most recent big pharma appointment being at Swiss cancer major Roche, where he ended a six-year period at the company as chair of the clinical biomarker leadership team. He also headed up its oncology translational medicine in its pRED department.
“Bob’s vast experience in oncology and clinical research is a perfect fit for Rgenix given our expanding clinical programs and pending milestones,” said Masoud Tavazoie, M.D., Ph.D, chief and co-founder of Rgenix.
“As we prepare to launch phase 1b/2 studies for our first-in-class compounds RGX-104 and RGX-202, we are eager to leverage his knowledge and expertise to help expand our efforts for patients with cancers considered to have high unmet need.”
Wassermann added: “I look forward to working with the team at Rgenix to develop novel treatments for these patients by applying the company’s unique platform technology and methodology to discover drivers of cancer growth. With its roots in strong science and its dedication to a novel approach, Rgenix’s reputation as a premier innovator in the oncology space is growing and I’m excited to be a part of such a dynamic effort at this key stage for the company.”
Fellow cancer biotech Foghorn also has a new CMO in the form of Samuel Agresta, M.D., who will lead the early startup’s clinical development, ops and regulatory interactions as it continues toward the clinic.
Venture capitalist firm Flagship launched Foghorn last March with a $50 million commitment as the biotech works to understand the body’s chromatin regulatory system in order to create drugs for cancer and other diseases. It’s currently preclinical with a focus on cancer targets.
Agresta was the former CMO over at troubled cancer biotech Infinity Pharmaceuticals and also served a stint as clinical development lead at Agios Pharmaceuticals, where he oversaw the development and registration of blood cancer drugs Tibsovo (ivosidenib) and Idhifa (enasidenib).
In no small feat, he’s also been a medical director at Roche’s Genentech unit. “There are very few opportunities to develop medicines in an entirely new scientific space and Foghorn is one of them,” Agresta said. “I am honored to be a part of translating Foghorn's scientific breakthroughs into potential therapies for patients with rare and more common cancers.”