Rubius names ex-GlaxoSmithKline VP as CMO as CAR-T rivals near clinic

red blood cells
Carpenter will oversee development of Rubius' red cell therapeutics.

Rubius Therapeutics has lured Chris Carpenter, M.D., Ph.D., away from GlaxoSmithKline to serve as its CMO. Carpenter will work as point person on Rubius’ clinical development activities as it gears up to move the first of its CAR-T-rivaling cell therapies into human testing.

At GSK, Carpenter headed up one of the two oncology units that emerged as the focal points of its cancer R&D activities after the asset swap with Novartis. That unit was focused on epigenetics, putting Carpenter in charge of moving inhibitors of targets such as BET, EZH2 and LSD1 into and through early clinical development.

Now, Carpenter has joined the exodus from Big Pharma to biotech. 

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Moving to Rubius gives Carpenter oversight of a pipeline of prospects that could treat some of the same cancers he went after at GSK using very different mechanisms of action. Rubius’ pipeline is built on technology that weaponizes red blood cells, either by expressing proteins inside the cell or, in the case of its drugs against cancer, on the outside of the cell.

The big prize is the potential for the cells to improve on first-generation CAR-T therapies in terms of efficacy and ease of use. Rubius produces its off-the-shelf cell therapies in bioreactors, making the supply chain notably less complex than those established by Novartis and Kite Pharma. 

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Rubius picked up a $120 million investment from backers including Flagship Pioneering and a Fierce 15 award on the potential for the platform to generate drugs that compete with these early cell therapy incumbents, while also delivering rare disease prospects. 

Adding Carpenter to the list of people who buy into the idea furthers Rubius’ track record of attracting Big Pharma talent. Torben Straight Nissen left a senior position at Pfizer to take up the president position in the back end of 2016. Former Novartis pharmaceuticals chief and early CAR-T champion David Epstein landed at the biotech about the same time.

Rubius unveiled the appointment of Carpenter alongside news of other hires. Joanne Protano left Flagship to work as Rubius’ VP of finance. Mark Boshar arrives as VP of legal affairs. And former Novartis and Vertex man Theo Proukou will be coming on board as as vice president of human resources.

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