Peer Review

Peer Review: aTyr promotes data expert Sanjay Shukla as CEO

A guy with a penchant for tech and data will be taking the reins of San Diego public biotech aTyr Pharma $LIFE as the company’s former CEO John Mendlein steps down.

The new chief executive and president is Sanjay Shukla, a physician and clinical development expert who’s been serving as aTyr’s chief medical officer since March 2016. This will be Shukla’s first gig as CEO of a biotech, but he believes his data-crunching background makes him well-prepared for the job.

“Throughout my whole career I’ve enjoyed understanding different parts of the business and being as functionally versatile as I can be,” Shukla said.

Shukla is one of those rare birds who was in the biotech industry before becoming a doctor (you normally see it the other way around). He began his career in statistical programming and medical informatics in the 1990s, when the industry was trying to catch up with other high-tech industries. He became a bit of a data scientist first, and later a physician. He didn’t expect to come back to industry after getting his medical degree, but his skills were in high demand.

“Having an operational background and a medical background right out of the gate is pretty rare,” Shukla said. “I worked for many years in data crisis management in clinical development.”

Before joining aTyr as CMO, Shukla was vice president and global head of integrated medical services for Novartis, where he led global medical affairs operations with oversight of brands including Glenya, Cosentyx, and Entresto.

At aTyr, Shukla expects his data-oriented background will come in handy. The company, which specializes in drugs derived from a new class of natural proteins called physiocrines, is currently trying to make sense of a lot of data. Their lead drug Resolaris is now in three clinical programs for severe, rare myopathies with an immune component.

“We are an emerging biology company, and the science is accelerating at a rapid pace,” Shukla said. “With this new learning comes a tremendous amount of data that must be crystallized, distilled down, and translated into clinical programs. There’s a lot of data that needs to be crunched, and you have to make meaning of it. And that’s what I think good data scientists do.”

Shukla said the company recently launched a new program looking at how their technology could be applied to immuno-oncology. The program, called Project Orca, is still in the discovery stage.

ATyr’s outgoing CEO Mendlein, who served as aTyr’s CEO since 2011, will remain on the company’s board of directors.

“After six incredible years as CEO, I am very pleased to pass the leadership torch to Sanjay and continue to advise him as a board member,” Mendlein said. “Having worked extensively with Sanjay, I am confident he will continue to elevate aTyr to greater heights for patients and all stakeholders alike. I would like to express my immense gratitude to all our amazing employees, board, patients, and investors for all that we have accomplished so far at aTyr.”


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Amber Tong contributed to this report.



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