Kura co-founder heads to Asian multi-national as biotech eyes the goal posts for lead drug
Six years after Kura Oncology snagged a farnesyl transferase inhibitor from J&J and leapt straight into clinical development, one of the biotech’s founders is leaving to start a new chapter in his career.
CMO and development chief Antonio Gualberto is exiting the company, and Kura — led by longtime biotech entrepreneur Troy Wilson — is on the hunt for a replacement. Wilson credited the CMO for some key biomarker work, including the discovery of the CXCL12 pathway as a target of their lead drug tipifarnib. Those biomarkers are being relied on to define the patient population most likely to benefit from the drug.
VP Bridget Martell is stepping in as the interim CMO in the meantime.
There’s no word about where Gualberto is headed, but SVB Leerink’s Jonathan Chang reported that the executive team told him that the CMO has a new development job — evidently involving a much bigger pipeline.
We spoke to management this evening and view the departure as a natural transition for both Dr. Gualberto, who will be taking over as head of development at a large Asian multi-national company, and KURA. Management provided that as the company continues to transition to the next stage, there is an increasing emphasis on operational execution, KOL management, and other pre-commercialization activities.
Kura recently recruited a commercial chief, Kirsten Flowers, as the lead drug winds its way through registration studies.
The founding team’s strategy was to take a 3-time loser from the pharma giant and use new tech to profile the most promising patients with HRAS mutation. Over the years the drug had been studied in some 20 clinical trials as investigators puzzled out signs of its activity. It had failed in pancreatic cancer, newly diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia in the elderly and more.
Kura shares surged $KURA back in the fall of 2017 when the biotech reported that 4 of the first 6 patients treated with the drug experienced a partial response — raising hopes with a tiny group. The biotech has a market cap north of $500 million.