Eyeing a trio of trial initiations, Jim Wilson's gene therapy startup woos Bruce Goldsmith from Deerfield as CEO
Passage Bio — Jim Wilson’s self-described “legacy company” — has wooed a seasoned biotech executive to steer the clinical entry of its first three gene therapy programs.
Bruce Goldsmith jumps to the helm of Passage after a brief CEO stint at Civetta, a cancer-focused startup he helped launch while a venture partner at Deerfield. He takes over from OrbiMed partner and interim chief Stephen Squinto, who will now lead the R&D team.
He joins as the biotech preps IND filings for three lead programs in rare, monogenic diseases of the central nervous system in 2020 — the lysosomal storage disorders GM1 gangliasidosis and Krabbe disease, as well as frontotemporal dementia.
“Bruce is ideally suited to lead Passage Bio as chief executive officer given his strong neuroscience background coupled with his robust healthcare and biotechnology industry experience,” board chairman Tachi Yamada said in a statement.
Passage launched last February with $115 million from a marquee group of Series A investors including Frazier (where Yamada is a partner), OrbiMed, Versant Ventures, New Leaf Venture Partners, Vivo Capital and Lilly Asia Ventures. With an office just a 10-minute walk away from Wilson’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania, the company was designed to apply the gene therapy pioneer’s 35-year experience into “cross-correctional therapies” for CNS.
According to what he calls the Jim Wilson 90/10 rule, Squinto previously told Endpoints News, AAV vectors can cover and transduce 90% of motor neuron cells but only 10% to 15% of other brain cells — making it difficult to go after indications where broad transduction is needed. But it can still prove useful in disorders that result from mutations in enzymes that can be taken up by neighboring cells once secreted normally.
A close pact with Penn’s Gene Therapy Program and Orphan Disease Center gave Passage rights to five programs right out of the gate, with options to license seven more.
“It’s a very aggressive clinical development strategy across a multitude of programs,” Squinto said as he closed a $110 million Series B in September. “We’re not gonna rely on any one program to drive the value of Passage, we’re gonna rely on what is a very very full pipeline of opportunities.”
Goldsmith will now lead a team of about 25 to build on preclinical and IND-enabling data from Wilson’s lab — a company growing exercise he honed as COO of Lycera. There, he was also credited for a number of business development initiatives.
The transition into the clinic would also mean moving production from early facilities at Penn to Paragon’s GMP sites, and eventually to a customized suite slated for completion in the third quarter of this year.
Squinto, a rare disease expert who devoted much of his career to Alexion, will continue to help oversee all of that as a board director.