Former Sanofi executive joins low price-focused biotech EQRx to lead drug creation

With $750 million deposited into the bank since January 2020, a recent phase 3 win and a drug discovery partnership inked last week, EQRx seems to be on a roll. 

The news keeps coming, with the latest being Thursday's hiring of former Sanofi chief operating officer of research, Carlos Garcia-Echeverria, Ph.D., as EQRx's head of drug creation and early-stage research and development.

The former Big Pharma executive will be responsible for helming the clinical development at EQRx, a 2020 Fierce 15 winner. The biologics and small molecules maker has a lofty goal of rewiring the life sciences pricing model. 

Garcia-Echeverria will have to hit a home run on EQRx's pipeline if he wants to fulfill the ambitions of Chairman and CEO Alexis Borisy. “I want to be as good, if not better, than the leading drug in that space,” Borisy told Fierce Biotech last fall, referring to the checkpoint inhibitor drug class dominated by Merck's Keytruda and Bristol Myers Squibb's Opdivo. 

“Carlos brings deep expertise across platforms, modalities and therapeutic categories, as well as his grounding in cutting-edge digital technologies, which further bolsters EQRx’s capability to realize the incredible potential of what’s possible through drug engineering,” said Melanie Nallicheri, EQRx president and chief operating officer, in a statement.

Garcia-Echeverria led Sanofi's research strategy and prior to joining the Big Pharma in 2010, was the executive director of oncology drug discovery at Novartis. In total, he has been the inventor on 45 patents. 

EQRx's new executive steps in at a pivotal time for the company. Last month, CStone Pharmaceuticals said its phase 3 clinical trial of sugemalimab met its primary endpoint in treating patients with stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). EQRx has U.S. rights to the PD-L1 inhibitor, and Pfizer claimed the China market for the drug. 

RELATED: Phase 3 data boost EQRx's plan to undercut checkpoint inhibitors

Sugemalimab is but one product in the pipeline.

Garcia-Echeverria's newly inherited arsenal also includes late-stage almonertinib, an EGFR inhibitor targeting NSCLC, that is already approved in China and is being in-licensed from Hansoh; a PD-1 antibody with orphan drug designation from the FDA for a certain primary liver cancer; and lerociclib, a CDK4/6 inhibitor targeting hormone receptor-positive breast cancer and HER2-negative breast cancer that is being licensed from G1 Therapeutics. EQRx paid G1 $20 million upfront last summer and could shell out another $290 million in biobucks plus tiered royalties. 

Garcia-Echeverria also has an industry partner to help with the drug discovery process, making his transition a little smoother. Last week, EQRx teamed up with artificial-intelligence-powered Exscientia to identify targets for new treatments in oncology and immunology. Terms were kept under the hood, but the companies will equally share costs of drug discovery, development and distribution.

RELATED: EQRx puts Exscientia's AI on drug discovery duty to develop low-cost cancer drugs

The cherry on top is that Garcia-Echeverria gets to tap into a treasure trove of cash as he leads the startup through multiple clinical trials. EQRx has secured about $750 million since January 2020 from a varied set of funders. Life sciences specialists, mutual funds, private equity firms, sovereign wealth and family offices, payers and health systems that cover more than one-fifth of insured lives in the U.S., and other backers have contributed to the company's financing.

"I believe this is the right time for a holistic, disruptive change in the pharmaceutical industry and to bring much needed effective therapies to patients sooner and at significantly lower overall cost," Garcia-Echeverria said in a statement.