FogPharma beefs up R&D team with new CSO, discovery head

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Howard Stern and Peter Fekkes join FogPharma as the biotech advances a beta-catenin inhibitor program for multiple cancers. (Pixabay)

Drug discovery biotech FogPharma has hired Howard Stern, M.D., Ph.D., who led translational work at Juno Therapeutics, as its new chief scientific officer, and Peter Fekkes, Ph.D., as vice president of discovery bioscience. 

The hires come as the Boston-based company advances its lead program, a beta-catenin antagonist designed to treat previously undruggable cancers. The candidate is a miniprotein—that is, a small protein or large polypeptide—designed to penetrate cells and target the protein beta-catenin, which plays a role in the Wnt signaling pathway. Wnt plays a role in many cancers, helping them “go cold” and evade the immune system. 

Stern headed translational sciences at Juno, first as a director, then as a VP, staying on a few months after the company’s $9 billion buyout by Celgene. Before that, he worked as a pathologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Genentech and in the translational science unit at Infinity Pharmaceuticals.  

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"Howard brings a penetrating, adventurous intellect and exceptional knowledge in drug discovery across multiple modalities and disease areas, plus outstanding expertise in translational science and experimental medicine. His insights and leadership will be critical as we drive a succession of innovative, first-in-class drugs to the clinic, targeting proteins that have never been drugged before," said FogPharma CEO Gregory Verdine in a statement. Verdine, whose lab at Harvard University invented cell-penetrating miniproteins, founded the company in 2015.

Fekkes comes to FogPharma from HotSpot Therapeutics, where, as head of the new target platform, used “artificial intelligence approaches” to identify targets with pockets involved in the allosteric mechanisms used by the body to control proteins. He’s also put in stints at Novartis and H3 Biomedicine. 

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"Peter brings tremendous depth and breadth of skill in progressing targets to clinical candidates, and he will serve a crucial role in our R&D organization, as we write the playbook for efficient discovery of cell-penetrating miniprotein medicines,” Verdine said. 

The hires come one year after FogPharma raised $66 million in its series B, which was earmarked to move the beta-catenin inhibitor program into phase 2 in cancers involving the Wnt pathway. The pathway is activated by mutations in nearly all colorectal cancers, as well as some cancers of the liver, breast, prostate, endometrium and lung, the company said.

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