Upstart biotech lures Vertex founder out of retirement

Source: Vertex

When the celebrated biotech pioneer and Vertex ($VRTX) founder Josh Boger (pictured) retired from the company back in 2009, he could point with considerable pride not only to a promising new therapy for hepatitis C, but also to a cystic fibrosis drug program that would go on to a high-profile approval. And when an upstart biotech company named Alkeus presented an experimental therapy for a rare eye disease drug in a contest he was judging last year, Boger couldn't help but be impressed by the favorable comparisons he drew to his work in cystic fibrosis.

"There are so many parallels to CF it's eerie," Boger told the Boston Globe. Alkeus won the competition. And the lead program hooked Boger, who has decided to step back out of retirement to act as executive chairman for the fledgling Boston-based company after making a small investment.

"ALK-001's underlying science is one of the most elegant I have seen," Boger said in a statement announcing the move, "and the animal data corroborate its promise to treat Stargardt disease." The FDA has cleared the lead program for its first human study. And Boger is back in business--much to his surprise.

"I wasn't even going to consult," Boger told his hometown newspaper. "But this just hit too many buttons for me; it broke me down. I think I can make a difference in a role that takes advantage of things I really know how to do."

Alkeus was formed out of research undertaken in Stargardt disease at Columbia University, in which a genetic mutation causes a protein breakdown that stops vitamin A from cycling through, which is necessary to maintain good vision. About one in every 10,000 children suffer from it. It's a familiar scientific challenge for the Vertex founder. Vertex's cystic fibrosis drugs are designed to correct the protein defects that trigger the disease.

- get the press release
- here's the Boston Globe story