Se­nior R&D ex­ec Sue Dil­lon jumps ship at J&J, launch­es mys­tery biotech start­up Aro with Cen­tyrins tech

Two for­mer ex­ec­u­tive heavy­weights at John­son & John­son have left the phar­ma gi­ant to launch a rather stealthy start­up called Aro Bio­ther­a­peu­tics – and they are start­ing out with some drug tech they’re al­ready close­ly fa­mil­iar with.

Karyn O’Neil

The com­pa­ny’s pres­i­dent and CEO is Sue Dil­lon, an R&D cham­pi­on and the ex-glob­al ther­a­peu­tic area head for im­munol­o­gy in the Janssen Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals unit of J&J. Her co-founder and CSO is Karyn O’Neil, the for­mer ven­ture leader for Cen­tyrex, an­oth­er J&J unit.

The com­pa­ny is fly­ing deeply un­der the radar, with vir­tu­al­ly no web pres­ence aside from Bio­Cen­tu­ry’s news of Aro’s launch. Dil­lon did not im­me­di­ate­ly re­spond to our re­quest for more in­fo on the com­pa­ny, but here’s what we do know:

Aro is work­ing with a nov­el class of al­ter­na­tive scaf­fold mol­e­cules called Cen­tyrins, which can be en­gi­neered to bind to tar­get pro­teins with an in­ter­face of sim­i­lar size to those used by an­ti­bod­ies. This tech was be­ing de­vel­oped at Cen­tyrex (the J&J unit where O’Neil, the in­ven­tor of the Cen­tyrin plat­form, pre­vi­ous­ly worked), and that plat­form has been li­censed out to two can­cer com­pa­nies: On­tario-based Fu­sion Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and San Diego-based Po­sei­da Ther­a­peu­tics, the lat­ter of which was housed in J&J’s San Diego JLABs back in 2015. Fu­sion is de­vel­op­ing Cen­tyrin-based al­pha-par­ti­cle ra­dio­ther­a­peu­tics, and Po­sei­da is de­vel­op­ing au­tol­o­gous T cell and NK cell ther­a­pies that ex­press Cen­tyrins or Cen­tyrin CAR mol­e­cules.

Ac­cord­ing to J&J: “Aro Bio­ther­a­peu­tics has ex­clu­sive world­wide rights to the Cen­tyrin IP es­tate with Janssen re­served fields in­clud­ing and pur­suant to Fu­sion Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals Inc. and Po­sei­da Ther­a­peu­tics Inc.”

Dil­lon and O’Neil join the great mi­gra­tion out of Big Phar­ma and in­to small biotech, as es­teemed R&D lead­ers in­creas­ing­ly seek op­por­tu­ni­ties else­where. O’Neil re­tired from her role at Cen­tyrex back in De­cem­ber, ac­cord­ing to her LinkedIn, to co-found Aro with Dil­lon. As for Dil­lon, she left her role at J&J around the same time.

New­man Yeild­ing

“Hav­ing sup­port­ed Sue for many years dur­ing her tenure here at Janssen/J&J, I have a great deal of re­spect for her lead­er­ship, vi­sion and de­ter­mi­na­tion to con­tin­ue to make a dif­fer­ence in pa­tients’ lives and in the life sci­ences in­dus­try,” wrote J&J’s glob­al ther­a­peu­tic area com­mu­ni­ca­tion leader Bri­an Ken­ney in an email.

Ken­ney not­ed that Dil­lon re­tired from J&J af­ter a “16 year suc­cess­ful ca­reer” with the com­pa­ny.

Ken­ney says New­man Yeild­ing, head of im­munol­o­gy de­vel­op­ment at Janssen, is lead­ing the ther­a­peu­tic area for im­munol­o­gy un­til the com­pa­ny finds a re­place­ment for Dil­lon.

Im­age: Sue Dil­lon. Janssen

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

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