Upstart Blade nabs Bristol-Myers Squibb research executive as new R&D lead

Nabbing a BMS executive is a big coup for Blade, a small biotech betting big on the NASH space.

Blade Therapeutics is looking to sharpen its focus after hiring Bristol-Myers Squibb’s former fibrosis research lead as its new EVP of research.

The biotech, which is working on antifibrotic (scarring) therapies, has appointed Maria E. Fuentes, Ph.D., to lead its antifibrotic programs in preclinical testing.

Blade’s flagship program, focused on a small molecule cysteine protease inhibitor, is expected to enter IND-enabling studies by year-end 2017.

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Fuentes comes to the small, private biotech from Big Pharma Bristol-Myers, where she was group director of fibrosis discovery biology.

There, she was working getting into the clinic small molecules and antibody therapeutics for the treatment of fibrotic diseases, including interstitial pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

She’s also had a stint at oncology giant Roche, making this a big coup for such a small and embryonic biotech, and following the pattern in recent years of Big Pharma executives moving into smaller biotechs.

As with many biopharmas, including Gilead, Shire, Intercept and Genfit, BMS is looking to jump into the NASH space, which could be worth tens of billions of dollars in the next decade, to help treat liver scarring and other damage caused by a buildup of fat in the liver associated specifically with obesity.

Back in April, a phase 2 trial of its NASH candidate BMS-986036 met its primary endpoint, showing a reduction of liver fat, as it battles to be one of the first to market a new medication for the condition.

“We are excited to further expand our leadership team and to welcome an accomplished executive with a proven record of advancing promising candidates into the clinic,” said Blade’s CEO Wendye Robbins, M.D.

“We believe Maria’s expertise and insights will contribute greatly to the continued momentum of our lead development programs.”