Gilead R&D chief Bischofberger to go back to his roots at startup Kronos

“Something new, something small, something risky," Bischofberger described his new job at Kronos Bio, which has raised $18 million in seed funding. (Kronos Bio)

Longtime Gilead research vet Norbert Bischofberger has landed at the cancer drug discovery startup Kronos Bio as its new president and CEO, after stepping down in April as executive VP for R&D and chief scientific officer, following nearly three decades at the company.

For him, the move was a personal decision, and a way to get back to his roots in early-stage science. “I had been at Gilead for 28 years, and I had pretty much done everything,” Bischofberger told FierceBiotech. “From research, discovery, preclinical, clinical, to drug approvals ... And I’m thinking, ‘I still feel young.’”

When he started at Gilead in 1990, the company had about two dozen employees—today it has swelled to 10,000. “As a consequence, you spend many hours doing things that are more administrative,” he said. “I felt like I was moving away from the science.”

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So when the opportunity came along to run the show at Kronos, as pitched by Kite Pharma founder Arie Belldegrun earlier this year, Bischofberger felt this was exactly what he was looking for.

“Something new, something small, something risky—completely focused on the science,” he described.

Kronos announced $18 million in seed funding and is setting out to screen chemical libraries for compounds that may work against historically difficult cancer targets. Its two lead preclinical projects focus on the androgen receptor, as a driver of progression in prostate cancer, and the MYC family of transcription factors.

By combining small-molecule microarrays with biological assays, Kronos hopes to provide high-throughput screening in a more physiologically relevant context, the company said in a statement. Its platform is based on research by Kronos’ scientific founder, Angela Koehler, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT.

RELATED: Gilead’s longtime R&D lead Bischofberger steps down

Kronos’ team is launching with four U.S. employees, but it is also working with a contract research organization in India. The startup also appointed several new board members, including Bischofberger and Gilead’s executive chairman and former CEO, John Martin. Belldegrun will serve as chairman. The seed financing was led by Omega Funds, BellCo Capital and Vida Ventures, as well as by Martin and Bischofberger themselves.

But Bischofberger’s work at Gilead isn’t completely over. He plans to work there half-time through July, and then one-tenth of the time going forward, including serving as Gilead’s observer member on the board of Allogene Therapeutics—helmed by CEO David Chang, who also sits on Kronos’ scientific advisory board, and co-founded by Belldegrun.

“I’m really looking forward to getting back to clinical development,” Bischofberger said. “Since 1999, that’s where I spent about 80% of time … We got a total of 26 drugs approved while I was at Gilead, which is pretty remarkable. It’s where my heart is.”

He concludes: “A lot of people have asked me, ‘Are you crazy, leaving this great job?’—and you know, in a way, yes! It is crazy,” he said. “But I want to do this again. I want to build another successful company. That’s my dream and my goal, and I think we can do it.”