Tuyen Ong, Flagship CEO-partner and Ring Therapeutics CEO (Flagship)

Keep­ing an 'im­mi­grant mind­set,' Flag­ship taps a self-pro­fessed no­mad as CEO for their next-gen vi­ral vec­tor up­start

Tuyen Ong con­sid­ers him­self a bit of a no­mad.

Ear­ly in his life, he came to the UK as a refugee from Viet­nam, and ob­tained his MD at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don. Then he went to NYU for an MBA and be­gan his ca­reer in bio­phar­ma at Pfiz­er, mak­ing fur­ther stops across the coun­try at Bausch + Lomb, PTC Ther­a­peu­tics and most re­cent­ly Bio­gen.

Now, he’s ready for his next gig: CEO-part­ner at Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing and CEO of Ring Ther­a­peu­tics, a gene ther­a­py out­fit where he’ll be run­ning the show. When Ong looks back at his ca­reer, he says he can see how all the dots con­nect­ed to lead him to this point.

“Noubar [Afeyan] is our founder and he’s an im­mi­grant, and that im­mi­grant mind­set is some­what in our DNA at Flag­ship,” Ong told End­points News. “The abil­i­ty to be able to solve prob­lems, be able to be cre­ative, be able to have that pi­o­neer­ing spir­it to over­come is­sues and find op­por­tu­ni­ty, I think that is a com­mon thread that’s tied through my life, and that’s the phi­los­o­phy I’ve been able to in­ject in­to dif­fer­ent ar­eas of my ca­reer.”

Ring it­self was of­fi­cial­ly launched by Flag­ship in 2017 and fo­cus­es its re­search around a new class of vi­ral shells called anellovirus­es. The com­pa­ny hopes it can be an al­ter­na­tive to ade­n­ovirus-as­so­ci­at­ed virus­es, or AAV, and pro­vide safer gene ther­a­py treat­ments.

Ong said he was drawn to the po­si­tion not on­ly be­cause of his in­ter­est in the gene ther­a­py space — he pre­vi­ous­ly worked at Night­star, which, af­ter be­ing ac­quired by Bio­gen, was how he end­ed up there in the first place — but the abil­i­ty to cre­ate such a plat­form in a more “nat­ur­al” way. That’s be­cause the anellovirus fam­i­ly re­sides in var­i­ous tis­sues in the hu­man body with­out caus­ing any harm.

“These virus­es have ba­si­cal­ly co­hab­it­ed, co-evolved with­in the hu­man sys­tem,” Ong said. “They are be­nign and they’ve some­what evad­ed the im­mune sys­tem. The gene ther­a­py field is thriv­ing but it has hit a few road­blocks, and a lot of what’s dri­ving that is the im­muno­genic­i­ty piece.”

Avak Kahve­jian

Where­as AAV-re­lat­ed gene ther­a­pies can cause a range of ill­ness­es and some pa­tients may al­ready have de­vel­oped an­ti­bod­ies to the treat­ments, anellovirus­es don’t come with as many side ef­fects and can still be used to treat a wide range of dis­eases, found­ing Ring CEO Avak Kahve­jian said. The com­pa­ny orig­i­nal­ly start­ed out with just a hand­ful of anellovirus­es but over the last few years has un­cov­ered “thou­sands” that could po­ten­tial­ly prove use­ful.

Kahve­jian and Ong aren’t quite ready to say in which fields they’re first look­ing to ap­ply the plat­form, but not­ed that the spot­light will be across mul­ti­ple modal­i­ties as well as a swath of dis­eases. And be­cause the sci­ence is still so new, Ring is still work­ing on the best plan of at­tack go­ing for­ward.

“Ring is ex­plor­ing all as­pects of this vi­ral fam­i­ly. Dis­cov­er­ing them, en­gi­neer­ing them, mak­ing them and ap­ply­ing them,” Kahve­jian said. “The fo­cus has been on get­ting do­min­ion over this new, ex­cit­ing area from all as­pects.”

As Ring con­tin­ues ad­vanc­ing this re­search, Kahve­jian says Flag­ship has found some­one who can get pas­sion­ate about their vi­sion in Ong. In their search for the CEO-part­ner, Kahve­jian didn’t just look for some­one with a great track record, but al­so some­one with such “in­tan­gi­bles.”

The com­pa­ny al­ready banked $50 mil­lion back in late 2019, in­di­cat­ing Flag­ship has al­ready liked what they’ve seen. But Ong is con­fi­dent that the best is yet to come.

“I tru­ly see this as a trans­for­ma­tive ther­a­py that can hit up­on so many dif­fer­ent dis­eases,” Ong said. “It’s al­most an ode to Moth­er Na­ture: We owe it to re­al­ly take up the gift that we’ve been giv­en here, the pow­er of anellovirus­es to be able to be de­ployed to treat so many dif­fer­ent ge­net­ic dis­eases.”

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis' gene ther­a­py group? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Vicente Anido (University of West Virginia via YouTube)

Aerie fires CEO af­ter lead pro­gram flop, com­ments about pri­ma­ry end­points be­ing 'not re­quired'

Aerie Pharmaceuticals CEO Vicente Anido has left the company less than a week after trying to chart a Phase III study in the wake of a serious Phase IIb flop.

Anido’s last day at Aerie was Friday, the biotech announced in a news release Tuesday morning, and Benjamin McGraw is taking his place in an interim role. The now former CEO was terminated without cause, according to an SEC filing.

The board has started looking for a full-time chief to take his place.

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When ef­fi­ca­cy is bor­der­line: FDA needs to get more con­sis­tent on close-call drug ap­provals, agency-fund­ed re­search finds

In the exceedingly rare instances in which clinical efficacy is the only barrier to a new drug’s approval, new FDA-funded research from FDA and Stanford found that the agency does not have a consistent standard for defining “substantial evidence” when flexible criteria are used for an approval.

The research comes as the FDA is at a crossroads with its expedited-review pathways. The accelerated approval pathway is under fire as the agency recently signed off on a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug, with little precedent to explain its decision. Meanwhile, top officials like Rick Pazdur have called for a major push to simplify and clarify all of the various expedited pathways, which have grown to be must-haves for sponsors of nearly every newly approved drug.

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Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a specific market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Next week is shaping up to be a busy one, as our editor-in-chief John Carroll and managing editor Kyle Blankenship lead back-to-back discussions with a great group of experts to discuss the weekend news and trends. John will be spending 30 minutes with Jake Van Naarden, the CEO of Lilly Oncology, and Kyle has a brilliant panel lined up: Harvard’s Cigall Kadoch, Susan Galbraith, the new head of cancer R&D at AstraZeneca, Roy Baynes at Merck, and James Christensen at Mirati. Don’t miss out on the action — sign up here.

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