Ex-Allergan CMO takes the helm at Lewis Cantley's metastasis-focused biotech startup
Allergan’s former top team is moving onto new adventures as AbbVie execs take direct control of their shop.
Just days after Brent Saunders pitched a $460 million SPAC for his next big move, his chief medical officer is taking up the CEO post at a biotech startup out of New York.
For Charles Hugh-Jones, the role at Volastra Therapeutics brings him back to a narrow focus on oncology, an area he’s specialized in throughout his years at Schering/Bayer, Sanofi, and eventually Pfizer. But instead of overseeing late-stage development, he is facing the challenge of bringing some early-stage drug candidates forward.
Founded by Cornell’s Lewis Cantley — famed for discovering the PI3K pathway’s role in cancer — as well as Olivier Elemento and Samuel Bakhoum at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Volastra set out to tackle chromosomal instability, which Cantley calls “a pervasive feature of metastatic cancers.”
While working at Cantley’s lab, Bakhoum elucidated that lagging chromosomes trigger a migration of white blood cells to various inflammation spots — migration that cancer cells can ride on to spread across the body.
“We can take a cell that’s chromosomally unstable and fix it so chromosomes won’t lag behind,” Cantley, who has two other startups (Agios and Petra Pharma) under his belt, previously told Endpoints News. “And those cells will not metastasize.”
Metastatic solid tumors are notoriously among the toughest to treat, Hugh-Jones noted. The mission of focusing exclusive on “defining and treating the biology of metastasis” —the cause of death in 90% of cancer patients — was a big reason he was drawn to the company after getting connected early in 2020.
With $20 million from Polaris Partners, Vida Ventures, ARCH and other VCs, Volastra has secured space in West Harlem to house its growing team.