Relay Therapeutics beefs up leadership as it looks to the clinic

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Relay is working to understand how proteins move and how changes in their shape and structure can affect their function. (Relay Therapeutics)

Last year, Relay raised one of the largest private rounds in biotech, banking $400 million to propel a pipeline of treatments aiming at previously undruggable targets. Now, as it looks to enter the clinic in 2020, the company is adding a trio of biopharma vets, including Merck alum Iain Martin, Ph.D., to its leadership team. 

Martin, who led teams working on drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics for small molecule and peptide programs at Merck, is now Relay’s vice president of drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics. Joining him are Chief Medical Officer Ben Wolf, M.D., Ph.D., who held the same role at KSQ Therapeutics and oversaw clinical development at Blueprint Medicines, and VP of Clinical Operations Mrunal “Monica” Phadnis, who most recently was executive director of clinical development in oncology and hematology at Syneos Health. 

“As we advance multiple programs into the clinic in the coming year and continue to deepen our early stage pipeline, Ben’s extensive experience in clinical development and translational medicine, Monica’s background in clinical operations, and Iain’s expertise in drug discovery will be critical in helping propel the company in the next phase of our growth,” said Relay’s R&D chief Don Bergstrom, M.D., Ph.D., in a statement. “We are pleased to welcome these respected leaders, who together bring a wealth of expertise to our growing team.” 

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That growth will be well-fueled. The $400 million series C came weeks after the Cambridge, Massachusetts biotech added a pair of drug development execs to aid its transition to an R&D stage company. That raised followed just one year after a $63 million series B and two years after Relay’s official launch and relatively modest $57 million A round. 

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Though the company anticipates entering the clinic next year, it has not yet disclosed its program's targets, indicating only a broad focus on cancer. At its series B close, the company said it has four oncology programs, with the two most advanced racing to be first in the clinic. 

Relay is working to understand how proteins move and how changes in their shape and structure can affect their function. It aims to create new drugs that can modify these changes to treat cancer. 

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It’s like watching a movie, says Relay Chairman Alexis Borisy: “To put it in the simplest terms, there is the classic phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ well, then a movie is worth thousands of pictures. So, you look at a still picture, you see a small set of information; but if you look at a movie of the same situation, you can understand so much more.” 

By watching the movie, Relay is hoping to find ways to access targets that were previously undruggable.