David Schenkein - Agios Pharmaceuticals

Sweating the details

Name: David Schenkein
Title: CEO, Agios Pharmaceuticals

David Schenkein had a roundabout trip into the world of biotech, spending valuable years with one foot in oncology research and the other in the world of treating patients. Now the CEO of a high-profile upstart, he's hoping to build a company with a similarly bifurcated commitment, using what he learned at two legendary cancer drug developers in an effort to build the next one.

Schenkein's tour of oncology's gilded hallways began at Tufts University, where he worked his way up to head of the cancer research department, building a reputation as a leading expert in hematology and pioneering new clinical trial designs meant to speed up development. Then, in 2000, he made the leap into industry by joining Mark Levin's team at Millennium Pharmaceuticals, leading the project that would become Velcade, a game-changing blood cancer drug that brings in more than $2 billion a year.

And soon Genentech came calling. Schenkein joined the company, then considered the gold standard for biotech innovation, as senior vice president of oncology in 2006, overseeing the development of Rituxan, Kadcyla, Perjeta and other therapies. But when Roche ($RHHBY) finally ensnared the company for nearly $50 billion in 2009, Schenkein balked at a life in Big Pharma and went out looking for a way back to his ideal of a startup with cutting-edge science and a clear mission in the clinic.

Which is how he found Agios Pharmaceuticals ($AGIO). Co-founded by Levin, who had since formed Third Rock Ventures, the company had a promising approach to attacking cancer and $33 million in cash to pursue it. With Schenkein at the helm, the biotech hit the gas on a preclinical pipeline of drugs designed to starve tumors to death, and Celgene ($CELG), a heavyweight in the CEO's home field of hematology, stepped in with a sweeping deal to sponsor its work.

Now, after leading Agios through a $106 million IPO, Schenkein's company is preparing for its first pivotal study, bringing it all back home for the CEO. In his time at Tufts, Schenkein became an advocate for adaptive trials, in which drugs can be sped along through a compact, blended series of studies designed to quickly establish safety and efficacy. Using those principles, Agios is planning to roll its top prospect, the Celgene-partnered AG-221, into a registration trial this year, with AG-120 slated for the same fate in 2016.

Schenkein's oft-repeated goal is for Agios to become "a multi-product biopharmaceutical company," not just a willing partner or ready acquisition target. Inspired by the free-flowing science at pre-Takeda Millennium and the commitment to innovation at pre-Roche Genentech, he's trying to build the next major pillar in independent biotech, and with three promising candidates and the ear of investors, Schenkein's on the right track.

-- Damian Garde (email | Twitter)

For more:
Special Report:
2009 Fierce 15 - Agios Pharmaceuticals
Agios' AG-221 racks up more cancer remissions, setting the stage for a pivotal challenge
On heels of a Celgene deal, Agios adds promising data on leukemia drug
With early data looming, Celgene grabs rights to Agios' leukemia drug

David Schenkein - Agios Pharmaceuticals
Read more on

Suggested Articles

Shares in ReNeuron fell more than one-third after the release of top-line data at the start of the month but the biotech argued the data are positive.

As Covance changes up its leadership amid a change at the top of its parent company, one of its former execs has jumped ship to midsize rival CRO.

Researchers are studying the retrovirus KoRV-A, which is spreading among koalas, to gain new insights into how DNA evolves.