After four years at Neon Therapeutics and a career that’s shown him the many faces of biopharma, Robert Ang is ready to take the plunge and run his own company: Vor Biopharma, a biotech working on engineered stem cell therapies for blood cancers.
“I would say that my career path has been rather tortuous—and certainly not by design—but I’ve managed to get a diversity of experiences that, I think, set me up nicely for running a company,” Ang told FierceBiotech.
“My medical training, general surgical training, has always grounded me toward an ambition of changing the lives of patients. That’s why I went into medicine in the first place,” he said. “In fact, it really tore me up when I left medicine.”
But leave medicine he did, in order to have a potentially greater impact on patients from the industry side. Ang headed to Boston Consulting Group, got his MBA and then worked in venture capital, where he learned about the financial side of biotech and “connected more deeply” with companies working on new treatments. That’s when he got the bug, leaving the VC world and working at Cadence Pharmaceuticals, which Mallinckrodt bought in 2014 for more than $1 billion. After that it was Bavarian Nordic, Neon and now, Vor.
Ang joins Vor three years after the company’s birth and six months after it raised $42 million in series A funding. Vor’s pipeline is based on the work of oncologist and Pulitzer Prize-winner Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D., Ph.D., and his team at Columbia University.
Vor wants to go where CAR-T has seen limited success; although the first two CAR-T therapies were approved in 2017, the technology has run into hurdles outside of B-cell leukemias.
CAR-T and other immunotherapies that target the cell surface generally home in on healthy blood cells as well as cancer cells, causing nasty side effects that limit their use. Vor’s approach uses hematopoietic, or blood-forming, stem cells that are designed to produce healthy, functional blood cells that are protected from cancer-targeting treatments.
“I think it’s easy for Vor to get lost in the realm of cell therapies because there’s been such a plethora of companies [doing it] in the last couple of years. T-cell programs have made some great advances for patients, but they’ve also shown some of the restrictions on more complicated engineered products,” Ang said.
Vor thinks that combining its treatments with targeted immunotherapies could boost the reach of the latter, opening them up to treat a wide range of patient populations and blood cancers.
The company is using its series A cash to advance its lead program, a treatment for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) called VOR33, as well as to build out its pipeline.
“We haven’t disclosed a lot of details about the company yet. We have some great scientists doing work pushing VOR33 into the clinic, as well as working on the technology platform. We hope to meet with the FDA at the end of this year and potentially file an IND roughly in about 18 months. That’s going to be focus No. 1,” Ang said. “No. 2 will absolutely be the pipeline, looking beyond CD33 deletion and other programs that could really benefit patients, either in AML or beyond AML.”
As for focus No. 3, Ang will look to expanding Vor’s team.
“While there are some great scientists here, we are in very active hiring mode. We expect to be bringing on a lot more key resources both in science and other areas, particularly in some key leadership areas in science, manufacturing and others. So watch this space,” he said.