Frontier Medicines bolsters leadership team with new CSO, tech hires

Frontier Medicines CEO Chris Varma wants to double the company's headcount from 10 to 20 by the end of the year. (Frontier Medicines)

A month out from launch, Frontier Medicines is building out its team. The company is working to find new binding pockets on previously “undruggable” proteins, and to get there, it’s picked up a trio of biopharma veterans. 

AstraZeneca alum Kevin Webster, Ph.D., joins as chief scientific officer, Johannes Hermann, Ph.D., is joining from Johnson & Johnson as chief technology officer and ex-Arvinas Chief Scientific Officer Jim Winkler, Ph.D., is coming on as head of degrader technologies. 

"Kevin, Johannes and Jim bring deep science, biopharma and technology expertise to Frontier at a time when we're focusing our next phase of growth on research and development, talent acquisition and advancement of our proprietary chemoproteomics platform,” said Frontier CEO Chris Varma, Ph.D., in a statement. 

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Frontier launched in June with $67 million in series A funding and a mission to make the 90% of human proteins previously thought to be “undruggable” accessible in drug development. Varma thinks of the accessible proteins—the low-hanging fruit—as coat hangers, and the inaccessible ones as strings. 

“You’ve got the corners of a coat hanger, where you can imagine sticking something into. That’s basically what we do—take drugs and stick them into these corners of protein molecules,” he told FierceBiotech in a previous interview. “The other 90% would be like a string. If you hold a string up, it’s perfectly straight and flat, with no corner to stick anything into.” 

RELATED: Frontier Medicines launches with $67M and biotech veteran Varma as CEO 

Frontier is using its chemoproteomics platform to look for new corners—or pockets to which drugs can bind—on strings, or previously inaccessible proteins. These binding pockets appear temporarily when proteins, which are long chains of amino acids, move and take different shapes.  

“Those pockets are temporary, but they better represent what happens in nature with these proteins, which are very dynamic. If we can figure out where these temporary pockets are, we can then drug them,” Varma said. 

Webster, Frontier’s new CSO, will oversee drug discovery and preclinical development of the pipeline as well as the development of the chemoproteomics platform, according to the statement. At AstraZeneca, he served as vice president of oncology research, working in a disease area that happens to be Frontier’s first focus. The company hasn’t disclosed which targets it’s going after, but Varma said cancer-driving proteins also play a role in other conditions such as neurodegenerative, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. 

Frontier’s new CTO, Hermann, headed the machine learning and advanced analytics IT department at Janssen before leading the data science unit at Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Technology. He will lead the integration of computational approaches into the chemoproteomics platform as well as into drug discovery and development. 

Winkler, who spent 15 years at GlaxoSmithKline before taking posts in discovery and development at various biotechs, will lead protein degradation work at Frontier, including a new approach the company reckons might be better than current methods .

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