After leading oncology teams at GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol Myers Squibb, Axel Hoos, M.D., Ph.D., is heading back to biotech.
Next month, he’ll take the helm at Scorpion Therapeutics, a biotech working on “precision medicine 2.0,” where he hopes to “fill some of the white spaces” left in cancer care.
He takes over from Adam Friedman, M.D., Ph.D., who has been warming the CEO seat since founding chief executive Gary Glick, Ph.D., exited in February this year.
Hoos departs GSK amid turbulent times, with activist investor Elliott Management challenging the leadership of CEO Emma Walmsley and calling for a remedy for “years of under-management.” Hoos caps off a nine-year tenure at the British pharma, which included rebuilding the oncology unit after offloading its marketed cancer drugs to Novartis in 2015.
“GSK Oncology lost pretty much all of its infrastructure: We didn’t have any late-stage pipeline, no drugs on the market and no team to deliver anything,” said Hoos, who was head of oncology and R&D governance chair at GSK. “We’ve all built that back.”
In the last year and a half, Hoos has seen three new approvals for GSK’s oncology team, including Blenrep, its anti-BCMA antibody-drug conjugate for multiple myeloma and Jemperli, the seventh PD-1/L-1 inhibitor to be approved in the U.S. The company also snagged a nod for Zejula, a PARP inhibitor from its Tesaro buyout, as a first-line treatment for advanced ovarian cancer.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, though—Jemperli crossed the finish line after an unexpected delay, and another oncology hopeful, bintrafusp alfa, turned out to be a bust.
With more than a dozen prospects in the pipeline, Hoos said he could have stayed on at GSK. But he considers his job done.
“I consider myself a builder … I wanted to build something new and do that in biotech,” he said. It’s a good time to join a next-generation cancer biotech because of the groundwork that’s already been laid.
“If you think about the way the oncology space has evolved over the last decade … We went from chemotherapy to precision medicine 1.0, which was Gleevec and all the targeted therapies that followed,” Hoos said. Then, the field moved onto immuno-oncology 1.0 and cell and gene therapy 1.0.
“We are now at the point that all these modalities have been introduced in their first version. Now, it’s time to use optimized technology to improve upon them,” he said.
Scorpion Therapeutics launched in October 2020 with $108 million to overcome the challenges found in precision medicine. Its goal is to develop better medicines for known cancer-driving mutations, develop drugs for targets previously considered undruggable and finding new, untapped targets that could lead to the creation of better drugs.
The company hopes to develop targeted drugs that are more specific, meaning they attack cancer cells without harming healthy cells. Toxic side effects prevent doctors from giving patients the most potent dose levels of such treatments or from combining them with other cancer drugs such as immuno-oncology agents.
Less than three months after launching, Scorpion banked another $162 million to keep building its drug discovery engine and develop its programs, with clinical trials on deck for 2022.