Skyhawk Therapeutics nabs Peloton exec and cancer R&D veteran as VP of oncology biology

Wong hits the exit as his former company gets snapped up by Big Pharma Merck. (Pixabay)

Two months after Merck announced a billion-dollar-plus deal to buy out late-stage cancer biotech Peloton, some of its staffers are finding new homes.

This is good news for RNA startup Skyhawk Therapeutics, which has nabbed Peloton’s former VP of biology, Dr. Tai Wong, as its own VP of oncology biology.

At Peloton, he led the team that was responsible for the early-stage work on its assets targeting hypoxia-inducible factor-2α in cancer, as well as other oncology programs in Peloton's exploratory pipeline.

Wong, who leaves the biotech as it becomes subsumed under Merck, also served a major 19-year stint at Bristol-Myers Squibb, most recently as its group director in oncology drug discovery.

“Dr. Tai Wong brings a strong track record of preclinical and translational oncology biology experience to Skyhawk,” said Kathleen McCarthy, co-founder and CSO of Skyhawk Therapeutics.

RELATED: Merck boosts late-phase cancer pipeline with $1.1B Peloton buy

“We expect his contributions and wealth of experience to be critical as we advance our internal oncology targets and begin our first oncology partnerships, and are delighted to welcome him to our scientific team.”

Skyhawk has been ramping up the deals, most recently penning a Takeda pact, which wants to use the biotech’s platform to develop small molecules that correct RNA mis-splicing in neurodegenerative disease.

That deal marked the fourth industry partnership for the Waltham, Massachusetts-based company. Last summer, Skyhawk inked a $60 million partnership with Celgene under which the Big Biotech could license up to five new drug candidates from the deal. At the time, Skyhawk also picked up $40 million in a new funding round of common stock. The biotech hoped the combined $100 million would boost its first cancer drug to the clinic, separately from the Celgene collaboration, in 2019.

The Celgene deal followed a $74 million pact struck in January with Biogen focused on developing meds for multiple sclerosis, spinal muscular atrophy and other neurological diseases. Skyhawk also counts Lakepharma, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, MIT and ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, among its partners.

Skyhawk’s SkySTAR tech—short for Small molecule Therapeutics for Alternative splicing of RNA—is designed to target specific binding pocket regions of RNA. These sites can be left out during key steps in the RNA splicing process, causing mis-splicing. The company hopes that reversing this skipping could treat the underlying causes of various diseases.

And a few hours after announcing its new exec, the biotech also added two more acts: One, ironically, from Merck and the other an extension from its Biogen deal. Both will use its SkySTAR platform, with Merck focusing on its tech for cancer and neurological research, while Biogen eyes its use for SMA, MS and other neuro disorders.