Zealand CSO steps up as chief of French biotech

At the end of July, Zealand Pharma’s chief scientific officer Andrew Parker, Ph.D., hit the exit, off to an unknown biotech. Today, we know where he landed: as CEO of Step Pharma.

Parker, a British national, takes the top seat at the Paris-based biotech by replacing founding CEO Geoffroy de Ribains.

Back in July, Zealand said Parker was moving on to take up a “top executive leadership position in a non-competing biotechnology company outside Denmark.” At the time of writing, the identity of Parker’s new employer and the exact nature of his new role were not known publicly, although Zealand CEO Emmanuel Dulac implied it is a clear step up from his current position. CEO from CSO is certainly a step up.

His three-year stint at Zealand was focused on peptide-based medicines to treat rare diseases in the gastrointestinal and metabolic areas, while also helping with its U.S. IPO and setting up a preclinical collaboration with Alexion Pharmaceuticals.

At Step, things are a little earlier-stage. Back in 2017 it got off a €14.5 million ($17 million) series A round, with the funds being used to prepare its CTPS1 inhibitors for clinical testing in autoimmune disorders.

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Step is built on a discovery made by researchers at the Imagine Institute. They sequenced the genomes of eight patients who suffered from the early onset of severe chronic viral infections, leading them to identify a mutation in CTPS1 that impaired T-cell proliferation in the children. That suggested inhibition of CTPS1 may result in highly targeted immunosuppression.

The company spun out of the institute with a target it felt was genetically validated in humans but without chemical structures. Working with the institute and CRO Sygnature Discovery, the biotech built an assay platform from the ground up and identified selective inhibitors of the target.

“Andy has a proven track record in developing novel drugs both within large pharma as well as biotech. This expertise will enable Step Pharma to advance to the next phase in its corporate development as we move towards clinical evaluation of our first CTPS1 inhibitor,” said Hans Schambye, chairman of the Step Pharma supervisory board.

“We welcome Andy to the team and want to thank Geoffroy for his great contributions, drive and commitment to the company. He has played a key role in building Step Pharma since inception and in establishing its leading position in the field of CTPS1 inhibition. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Parker added: “Step Pharma’s approach to treating autoimmune diseases is novel and very promising with validation of the target provided by human genetic studies. The company has made significant progress in optimising selective CTPS1 inhibitors and exploring the role of CTPS1 in autoimmune diseases. My role will be to design and implement a plan to translate the phenominal scientific progress made to date into a clinical pipeline. I look forward to delivering on this challenge.”