Over a 13-year career as a biotech analyst at Piper Jaffray, Cowen and Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Rachel McMinn learned a lot about the industry. Enough to think that maybe she should be the one running the company rather than just asking questions — and discussing options — related to its performance.
“Over time I felt I was giving a lot of companies free advice,” McMinn says. “I felt that maybe I could do it.”
But she didn’t feel prepared to make the leap in one jump. Instead, she completed a 3.5-year stint as chief business and strategy officer at Intercept, where she was able to plunge directly into the nitty gritty of biotech business. (After she once gave the company $ICPT an, er, bullish $872 price objective on the stock. But she also had plenty of successes to boast about.) And today she’s formally launching a new biotech of her own after an impressive $68.5 million Series A raise.
The broad outlines of the company — Neurogene, taking its place in the burgeoning biotech hub of New York — will sound familiar to anyone who’s been observing the biotech scene over the past decade.
McMinn and the 20 staffers at the biotech are tackling rare neurological conditions with a pipeline of gene therapies using AAV tech. Just a few days ago the company outlined mouse data from a preclinical study of a gene therapy out of UT Southwestern for AGU, or aspartylglucosaminuria, a neurodegenerative disease triggered by a rogue AGA gene. Another researcher from The Jackson Lab outlined results from a mouse study of Neurogene’s program for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, type 4J (CMT4J) syndrome.
Those aren’t the only 2 gene therapies they’re working on, McMinn tells me. Others are in the works as well. And aside from an announcement on her new chief scientific officer, the University of Edinburgh’s Stuart Cobb, the newly minted CEO starts to put the brakes on the specifics.
Not unusually, Neurogene wants to keep the unique aspects of their work under wraps for awhile. The key to making the latest gene therapy company to hit the scene a success, she adds, will revolve around some of the new tech they’re focused on related to vectors and genes. Some of these healthy genes they’re trying to load up for delivery aren’t easy to get into the tiny vehicles. And getting the dose and delivery right will be essential to tackling the rare conditions on their radar.
But the details will have to wait. So will timelines. McMinn is not interested at this time in broadcasting schedules for moving into the clinic. How long is their runway? Time will tell.
Why rare neurological conditions?
McMinn traces her inspiration to Avexis and the remarkable data they put together for SMA, before Novartis bought them out. And there’s a family tie as well.
“I really wanted to revisit the idea of doing something that was meaningful for me personally,” says McMinn, citing an older, autistic brother.
What’s the goal? To build a gene therapy company that can steer one new product to the market every year, McMinn replies.
She’s set a high mark for Neurogene. Now they begin.
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