|Yumanity CEO Dr. Tony Coles|
After a short break, biotech CEO Tony Coles gets back into the game with the neurodegeneration startup Yumanity
CEO: Dr. Tony Coles
Based: Cambridge, MA
Clinical focus: Neurodegenerative diseases
The scoop: Biotech is where it's at these days in drug development. At a time when too many Big Pharmas seem more bogged down than ever in big programs aimed at often small gains, new drug developers are starting up every day, and they're attracting some of the most talented people in the industry. Cue Dr. Tony Coles, stage left. Coles orchestrated a brilliant deal to sell Onyx to Amgen ($AMGN) for more than $10 billion. And instead of looking for a corner suite in some other secure pharma location, complete with perks and plush salary, he's dived back into the nitty-gritty of launching an upstart named Yumanity.
What makes Yumanity Therapeutics Fierce: It says a lot about the vibrancy of the 2015 edition of biotech that a few prominent people can essentially sit around a blackboard and create a new company that is targeting a field like neurodegeneration--which has repeatedly defeated the best efforts of the giants in the industry--with a reasonable shot at making a huge difference for some terrible diseases. We're in an intensely innovative period. And it says a lot about Tony Coles that he's gleefully jumped into company building at a time when other execs might be focused on enjoying the fruits of a major M&A deal.
The first priority right now is team building, assembling a core group of 15 to 20. With plenty of positive buzz about their goals and their science, there's no shortage of qualified candidates.
"In the age of social media, we have been inundated with more than 800 resumes," says Coles. "We have had a wealth of very highly qualified applicants; they really are the top tier."
Yumanity was inspired by a phone conversation Coles had with Whitehead investigator Susan Lindquist, an expert at protein misfolding. Coles and Lindquist got to know each other when the executive was on the board at FoldRx. And what she told him has led to a multitiered tech platform aimed at screening for new compounds, using neurons to validate clinical candidates and clarifying their mechanisms of action.
Biogen ($BIIB) vet Kenneth Rhodes was brought on as CSO. And they're working with three scientific co-founders: Dr. Vikram Khurana, Chee-yeun Chung and Daniel Tardiff. A scientific advisory board is also being formed, bridge financing is in place and strategic collaborations are coming into view.
The new team's first task will be transitioning the platform and technology into the company, something that Coles says is happening now at "breakneck speed." Emerging from all this will be a primary clinical focus on Parkinson's disease, says the CEO, likely followed by Alzheimer's.
None of these diseases are easy targets. Alzheimer's has a recent history plagued by repeated clinical failures. All of them have stumped experts for years. But these days, when you want to start something in biotech, you can go big or go home. Derisking is out as small companies are taking on huge challenges.
This is perhaps the best time in a decade for starting a company like Yumanity, says Coles. The confluence of capital--even in view of the recent market turbulence--and breakthrough science has made it possible to create new biotechs like Yumanity.
Yumanity has also brought Coles back to the Boston area, where he was a student at Harvard and an executive at Vertex ($VRTX). Cambridge, MA, has emerged as the single biggest biotech hub on the planet, and it's exactly where Coles wants to be as he builds the core team.
Investors: Tony Coles, undisclosed investors
Onyx vet Tony Coles embarks on a new biotech adventure
-- John Carroll (email | Twitter)