Daphne Koller, Ph.D., unveiled Insitro in May last year with a mission to harness data and machine learning in the creation of a new approach to drug discovery. As the company marches toward that goal, it is building its team: Mary Rozenman, Ph.D., signs on from Aimmune as chief financial and chief business officer and Pfizer veteran Keith James, Ph.D., joins to head up drug discovery.
“When we launched Insitro last year, we set out to break new ground in applying machine learning and high-throughput biology across the pharmaceutical R&D value chain,” Koller said in a statement. “Our announcement in April of a groundbreaking collaboration with Gilead, focused on novel targets in NASH, highlighted the power of machine learning in early discovery. But targets are only a part of the process—our real goal is to develop novel, safe, and effective therapeutics, and to do so faster, cheaper and with higher probability of success.”
Rozenman and James join Insitro four months after it inked a three-year pact with Gilead to discover and develop treatments for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a space it seems all of biopharma has piled into, but has yet to see an approved drug. The pair are using Insitro’s Human platform to create disease models of NASH and discover targets that affect the progression or regression of the disease. Gilead may choose to advance up to five of these targets, paying up to $200 million for each one. Add that to the $15 million upfront payment and another $35 million in near-term milestones, and the deal could total more than $1 billion.
Though Insitro is thinking about more partnerships, it also wants to create its own drug development pipeline.
“I am excited to have Keith and Mary join us given their collective experience in drug discovery through development to regulatory approval,” Koller said. “Their capabilities in drug hunting, company building, and business will greatly accelerate our progress towards Insitro’s vision of leveraging machine learning and novel data production technologies to more effectively bring medicines to patients in need.”
At Pfizer, James led discovery research at multiple sites in the U.S. and U.K. and headed the company’s R&D strategy team. He moved on to Ferring Pharma’s Ferring Research Institute, where he worked on the discovery of peptide therapeutics.
Rozenman started her career at McKinsey & Co. before moving on to biotech investment at Longitude Capital. From there, she headed to Aimmune, where she eventually became senior vice president of corporate development and strategy. At Aimmune, she raised more than $650 million in capital, steered the company through its 2015 IPO and ran point on partnerships with the likes of Sanofi and Regeneron.
“As the power of computational approaches and machine learning continues to advance, we have a remarkable opportunity to apply these advancements to improve the way we discover and develop new drugs,” Rozenman said. “Changing the paradigm will require a new approach to data generation, as well as collaborations and strategic finance. I’m inspired by the transformative potential of Insitro’s platform and thrilled to work with Daphne and the team to help bring it to life.”