Flagship-backed Foghorn woos Bristol-Myers vet Carl Decicco to direct its ‘gene traffic control’ platform

A number of years ago, Carl Decicco happened to catch a presentation by a young Dana-Farber researcher named Cigall Kadoch. She was talking about the BAF chromatin remodeling complex and the importance of it in medicine.

“I remember thinking that if she’d ever be able to accomplish what she was proposing, it would be quite an area to be a part of,” he says.

Cigall Kadoch

That became reality this week as Decicco leaves a decades-long career at Bristol-Myers Squibb to become chief scientific officer #1 and employee #51 at Foghorn Therapeutics, a biotech co-founded by Kadoch to focus on the chromatin regulatory system.

It’s been an interesting change, Decicco tells me, from a position managing a discovery team of 2,000 spread among nine sites to a “much tighter” collegial environment. But while working for a biotech might mean a higher level of focus, certain things about bona fide drug discovery programs will remain the same.

“I feel like my career is all about driving these over the finish line,” he says. “There is a formula actually for successful programs and it does resonate no matter where you are, whether you’re in Big Pharma or a small company.”

Adrian Gottschalk

Decicco’s new home in the booming biotech hub of Cambridge — within walking distance from the office — also allows him to participate more broadly with the rest of the players operating in the area. As the newest venture partner at Flagship Pioneering he will get a front row seat in the creation of new companies, providing input on the portfolio and potentially sitting on some boards.

Doug Cole

Doug Cole, managing partner at Flagship and a co-founder of Foghorn, describes Decicco as a “drug discovery luminary” with “unsurpassed talents as a ‘drug hunter,’” having played a role in the advancement of more than 200 compounds and 20 approved drugs.

His top priority, Decicco says, is scaling Foghorn’s gene traffic control platform and picking the programs to set up project teams around so that they will be ready for clinical trials by 2020 — a goal set by CEO Adrian Gottschalk.

And moving past the near-term focus on cancer, the company has already highlighted how regulating chromatin — the binding material that’s used to package DNA into cells — could lead to new therapeutic targets in neuroscience and immunology.

It will all play out in the next three to five years as Decicco figures out the right mix of people, skills and programs for the research organization he’s running. “I’m excited about being close to the science,” he says.

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