After leading Bayer's $1 billion Parkinson's program into the clinic, Emile Nuwaysir, Ph.D., wanted his fifth startup to check many boxes: a potentially curative treatment delivered just one time, R&D in "desperately needed" areas of medicine and in vivo gene therapies that target the immune system for a rich pipeline.
Nuwaysir says he's getting all that in his new role as CEO of in vivo gene therapy biotech Ensoma, and this time around, he's not the first hire but the 45th. He started at the preclinical Boston startup last Monday after almost five years leading Bayer's BlueRock Therapeutics.
As part of the leadership change, Nuwaysir takes the post from Kush Parmar, M.D., Ph.D., a managing partner at 5AM Ventures who will remain a member of the board. Also, Paula Soteropoulos transitions from executive chairman to chairman.
The appointments come eight months after Ensoma emerged with $70 million in funding and a Takeda partnership that could pay out $100 million in the near-term and $1.35 billion down the road.
Don't expect another money-driven partnership like the Takeda one right out of the gates, said Nuwaysir, also chair of the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, in an interview. Ensoma is well-financed and looking to make a name for itself before inking another Big Pharma pact.
“I don’t anticipate us doing another one like that, certainly this year, because you really need to also have your own identity and to grow up and be your own company," Nuwaysir said. There's room for collaborations, though, in other areas that speed up and improve the quality of R&D, the CEO said.
Nuwaysir's near-term priorities for the biotech include getting its lead candidate into the clinic, hiring one or two more high-profile executives and doubling the team "very quickly," the new CEO said. Fleshing out the platform and building out early manufacturing capabilities are also on the docket.
"We’ve had immense progress in the idea that you can change a gene and change your health status, but making that practical is really difficult and we’ve been limited to mostly doing it outside the body and to a few examples where you can do it inside the body," Nuwaysir said of why he jumped to Ensoma.
Ensoma's therapies are "devoid of any viral DNA or RNA," so they have a low likelihood to spark an immune response, Soteropoulos said in an interview at the time of the biotech's launch in February. And, with an in vivo approach, the treatments will likely be given in an outpatient setting.
"We’ve been limited by practical problems, and Ensoma has a simple and elegant way to crack that problem that I think will open up a whole new array of applications of genomic medicine that we just couldn’t dream of beforehand," Nuwaysir said.
Nuwaysir led BlueRock as CEO from its beginnings as a joint venture between Bayer and Versant Ventures, then through its exit to the German Big Pharma in 2019 and until August, when he transitioned to chairman of the subsidiary.
While there, he oversaw a stem cell therapy for Parkinson's disease, which entered human trials this summer, five years after Bayer and Versant formed their joint vision for a neurodegenerative treatment.
The gene therapy executive is also chairman of the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, a global organization bringing together more than 400 cell and gene therapy biopharmas, and is a board member of Invenra, an oncology biotech he co-founded.