Isis launches a cardio subsidiary and recruits a Genzyme vet to run it

Paula Soteropoulos

Isis Pharmaceuticals ($ISIS) is shifting its cardiovascular pipeline into a new subsidiary, cutting the ribbon on Akcea Therapeutics and appointing former Genzyme executive Paula Soteropoulos to lead the way.

Akcea will make its home in Cambridge, MA, focusing on the top three cardio candidates in Isis' RNA-focused portfolio. Soteropoulos, most recently a vice president at Moderna Therapeutics, spent 21 years at Genzyme and ran the company's cardio division, presiding over the launch of the Isis-partnered drug Kynamro. That makes joining the team at Isis a natural fit, she said in a statement, and Akcea presents "a new, ready-for-success company that has a pipeline rich in new products."

Leading the way is ISIS-APOCIIIRx, a Phase III treatment designed to treat patients with a rare genetic mutation that leads to dangerously high levels of triglycerides in the blood. Then there's ISIS-APO(a)Rx, a therapy for coronary artery disease that targets lipoprotein(a), now in Phase II development. And rounding out Akcea's pipeline is ISIS-ANGPTL3Rx, an early-stage therapy targeting a liver protein tied to dyslipidemia.

Akcea's lead candidate, which works by blocking the protein APOC3, attracted some attention over the summer with the publication of two studies in The New England Journal of Medicine in which patients with faulty APOC3 genes demonstrated huge reductions in triglycerides and risk of heart disease compared to baseline. That led to "a great deal of licensing interest," Isis CEO Stanley Crooke said at the time, and now it's up to Akcea to flesh out the drug's potential.

The plan is to recruit about 20 employees this year, Akcea told the Boston Business Journal, executing development of all three candidates while working up new, stronger formulations of each.

On the whole, the company's formation fits within Isis' broader effort to bear down on the most promising of its 33 pipeline drugs, Chief Operating Officer B. Lynne Parshall said.

"The formation of Akcea Therapeutics comes at a strategically important point in time for Isis," Parshall said. "This new subsidiary will support greater control of our drug programs and provide for the retention of more revenues from these programs. It also ensures that Isis' core focus remains on innovation as we continue to advance our technology and our pipeline."

- read the statement
- here's the BBJ story

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