Pivotal moments for this year’s Fierce 15 winners

Stephen Eck of Aravive, one of this year's Fierce 15 winners, speaks with FierceBiotech at the Drug Development Forum.

After announcing this year’s Fierce 15 winners, we invited their executives to the Drug Development Forum in Boston to discuss some of the pivotal moments leading up to their win.

Mark Corrigan, M.D., executive chairman of BlackThorn Therapeutics, which is working on next-generation therapies for neurobehavioral disorders, said the key moment for him was when research into this key area was at its lowest ebb.

“More than 3 years ago I was approached by [major VC firm] Arch at an absolutely nadir of faith in the development of central nervous system therapeutics. And they said: ‘We want to start a CNS neurobehavioral health company.’"

“At the time that was such a contrarian move. And I said now is the time. The assets are out there, the science is there. We’re understanding increasingly more about brain-behavior relationships and now is the time to start it. And as we now see, a wave of interest in central nervous system development, we’re poised to capture it,” he added.

Stephen Eck, a former Astellas veteran who now heads up Aravive, a biotech focused on blocking the GAS6/AXL pathway in cancer, said: “I think we’re at that pivotal moment. We went through a difficult time forming the company [it has changed names and location in its brief history], which is always a challenge, we raised the capital, but now we’re poised for rapid success because we’ve produced an abundant supply of clinical product, we have an outstanding clinical development plan, and we’re poised to enter our phase II studies in mid-2018. So, we’re in great shape.”

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Christian Mandl, Ph.D, M.D., SVP of RNA tech at infectious disease company Vir Biotechnology, said: “I think there are many turning points and we are still on a very steep slope upwards. The last half year has been so busy with finding the opportunities. And there are many exciting opportunities in the field of infectious disease that we’re putting together—and we hope to be able to announce them very soon. So, I think there isn’t a single pivotal point, there are quite a few.”