People, Startups, Venture

After decades in the big leagues, Martin Mackay is going small — and he’s delighted

Martin Mackay has spent more than three decades in drug discovery and development, reaching top R&D positions at Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Alexion, where he enjoyed big budgets in pursuit of blockbuster drugs and stylishly survived a series of big corporate shakeups.

Stephen Uden

Now, the Scottish research exec and some of his ex-Alexion colleagues are going small, in a big way. Mackay, former Alexion SVP Stephen Uden and former Alexion tax chief Jeffrey Fryer banded together after the big Ludwig Hantson purge in 2017 to start Rallybio at the beginning of this year. And some marquee venture groups are bankrolling their effort with a $37 million A round.

“I just feel we have some meds left in us,” says Mackay. 

Jeffrey Fryer

The cash will go to building out a small team at Rallybio, where Mackay and his co-founders have been scouting rare disease drugs in academia and pharma, planning to start building a pipeline of drugs with an eye to executing a quick pivot to regulators.

5AM Ventures, Canaan Partners, and New Leaf Venture Partners led the financing, with Connecticut Innovations lending some state support for the Farmington, CT-based company.

“It would be easier to say what we’re not going to do,” Mackay tells me. He ticks off the don’t-go-there list: Oncology, infectious diseases, ophthalmology and vaccines. They’re sticking with what they know: antibodies, small molecules and engineered proteins.

There are no geographic boundaries to their search. Uden has worked a lengthy stint in Japan. They all have extensive European experience, Mackay’s old stomping grounds before investors drove a purge at AstraZeneca that brought Pascal Soriot to the helm. The US is home, but they’re not limiting themselves to the big hubs in Boston/Cambridge and the Bay Area.

Right now, they have the money to get to work and some lines on some early-stage assets.

“We’d be looking for early proof-of-concept to pivot to a regulatory OK,” says Mackay, who’s taking the CEO post at the new company.

Now with a staff of about 8, Mackay plans to build a group of 15 scientists and one business person to keep an eye on the numbers. He plans to keep it simple — there’s no administrative assistant to book travel — with a barebones budget.

Mackay knows what it’s like to manage global research groups. Now he wants to see just how nimble a little biotech can be.


Image: Martin Mackay. NOVO NORDISK


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