Fresh out of beleaguered Merrimack, Richard Peters jumps into the welcome arms of Tony Coles at Yumanity
In the five-plus years Tony Coles sailed Onyx Pharma ultimately to a multibillion sale to Amgen, he saw Richard Peters — then a senior director of medical affairs — as a “standout star” who had the unique ability to spot an opportunity and seize it.
That’s why, more than 10 years later, Coles finds it “hugely reassuring” to pass Peters the reins to Yumanity Therapeutics, the biotech he co-founded with the late Susan Lindquist to tackle neurodegenerative diseases with a fresh approach.
Peters, of course, jumps from troubled cancer biotech Merrimack — the latest of several leadership roles he’s taken since decamping Onyx. But while Merrimack’s press release section from the past year is populated with bad news after bad news, he stands by the organizational work he was able to do.
“We achieved a lot of the goals that the board has asked us to achieve, which was to lead a turnaround situation there at the company,” Peters said, pointing to asset sales, financial restructuring and acceleration in preclinical and clinical timelines. “Unfortunately some of the data readouts didn’t work out, and in drug development sometimes you face those hurdles but I’m proud of the tenure there.”
And Coles came prepared with his own rationale on why that actually makes Peters a better leader:
Having been a CEO for a very long time, I actually value the skills of CEOs who successfully manage companies where things don’t go as planned because while that’s a very different skillset, it’s equally valuable to understand the elements of a business, the important value drivers of a business, how to manage adversity, and how to blend those skills with the growth skills, the value creation skills, really to create the full package. And I would say that Richard is the full package.
As the new executive chairman, Coles will now team up with Peters to execute on a development plan that will ideally usher three programs to the clinic by 2021, with the first Phase I trial planned for this fall.
The lead program is an SCD inhibitor for Parkinson’s disease, hitting a target identified by Yumanity’s discovery platform. Scouring both yeast and human neurons, the tech is designed to search for compounds that can modulate toxicities initiated by protein misfolding.
“As I came to this field it was very clear to me that we needed new targets, a better understanding of the biology of these diseases,” Coles said. “And that’s exactly what Yumanity is creating which is why the company is at such an exciting juncture now.”
Peters echoes the sentiment, calling neurodegenerative disorders “the greatest therapeutic challenge of our time.” In his new job he expects to turn back to some lessons learned at Sanofi Genzyme, where he championed and oversaw a rare neurology unit while heading rare diseases.
There are practices to be borrowed, for instance, in utilizing biomarkers for better patient selection and trial design.
“This is something that of course the rare disease space has always done, oncology is doing now, and I really believe that neurology is also going to be following suit,” Peters said.