Third Rock's Decibel brings on Biogen vet Steve Holtzman as CEO

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Courtesy of Travis Isaacs CC BY 2.0

Third Rock Ventures launched Decibel Therapeutics with $52 million last October to develop therapies for hearing loss disorders. Now, the company has appointed Biogen veteran Steve Holtzman to take the helm as president and CEO.

Holtzman will replace Third Rock partner Kevin Starr, who served as interim CEO since Decibel’s founding. He was previously the executive vice president of corporate development at Biogen ($BIIB), where he guided his program leadership team through 6 new drug approvals and his corporate development team through a number of transactions, according to a statement.

“Steve’s deep experience in building and leading organizations, business development, drug discovery and R&D makes him the ideal individual to cultivate our culture, team and science to pioneer the development of new therapies for the millions of people with hearing disorders,” said Starr in the statement.        

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At Decibel, Holtzman’s first steps will be to create a culture where people can be innovative, realize their potential and be fearless in terms of failure, Holtzman told FierceMedicalDevices. It’s important to realize that not everything works in this industry and that failure can be a good thing, he said. Secondly, he’s looking at bringing on a “world-class” senior management team as well as a board of directors. Finally, he noted how he plans to distinguish Decibel among the sea of biotech hopefuls: the simultaneous buildout of a product engine platform as well as working on specific product candidates.

“If you look at successful biotechs, they don’t just focus on a single product or two. They build out their capacity for cutting-edge discovery to generate multiple products,” he said. Back when Decibel was founded, there were no therapeutic treatments for hearing disorders, and while devices such as hearing aids do exist, they carry certain limitations.

Holtzman highlighted three main areas of focus for the company: protecting against hearing damage, repairing hearing damage and, in the longer term, restoring hearing once it is lost. Specifically, Decibel will be targeting ototoxicity, or hearing loss due to damage brought on by drugs, such as some chemotherapeutics, or the loss of residual hearing caused by the insertion of a cochlear implant. Tinnitus is also a target, Holtzman said, as very large numbers of people have it. Decibel will work on various types of therapies, ranging from systemic molecules, proteins and antibodies to nucleid acid-based therapies and gene therapies delivered locally to the ear, Holtzman said.

It’s still early days for Decibel, but it is aiming to ramp up operations in the next year. At launch, the startup had a staff of 9. Now, at 20 to 25 employees, Holtzman is expecting to grow to 40 to 50 people by the end of this year, and is looking to double that count by the end of 2017.

- here's the release

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