The new se­r­i­al en­tre­pre­neur in the biotech are­na launch­es an­oth­er up­start look­ing to drug RNA

Bill Haney

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion

Af­ter a life­time of en­tre­pre­neur­ship, Bill Haney has dis­cov­ered how much fun it can be to set up new biotechs.

A year af­ter launch­ing the can­cer start­up Drag­on­fly — al­ly­ing him­self with MIT’s Tyler Jacks and David Raulet out of Berke­ley — he’s now back with his sec­ond up­start called Sky­hawk Ther­a­peu­tics, which is jump­ing in­to the fast-grow­ing new com­pa­ny seg­ment fo­cused on drug­ging RNA with small mol­e­cules.

“Sky­hawk tech­nol­o­gy and in­sight of­fers an en­tire­ly nov­el way to treat a very broad class of dis­eases by en­abling them to tar­get mu­ta­tions in ex­on-splic­ing, (tar­get­ing) loss of func­tion dis­eases,” Haney tells me.

Their first project, which could be in the clin­ic in 2019, ze­roes in on what Haney de­scribes as a pre­vi­ous­ly un­drug­gable onco­gene.

Haney — who is al­so a doc­u­men­tary film­mak­er and chair­man of the green home builder Blu Homes — is tak­ing a leaf from the same play­book he used to launch Drag­on­fly, an­oth­er Boston-area launch that has been work­ing on new tech­nol­o­gy to leapfrog where check­point ther­a­pies are right now, link­ing on­to nat­ur­al killer cells and drag­ging them to a can­cer cell to tack­le a wide range of can­cers.

Like Drag­on­fly, Haney is once again work­ing with a tight-knit group of fam­i­ly of­fice in­vestors like his old friend Tim Dis­ney, who’s come back in on this lat­est ven­ture as well. The Duke of Bed­ford joined the back­ers club, along with Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments and oth­er undis­closed pri­vate in­vestors.

They’ve put up $8 mil­lion in seed cash to get things rolling at Sky­hawk, which has a staff of about 25 and is on its way to its first IND and the clin­ic in about a year.

Like his co-in­vestors, Haney works with peo­ple who are rec­og­nized ex­perts in their field, and whom he trusts im­plic­it­ly to do the right thing.

Kath­leen Mc­Carthy

He first met co-founder Kath­leen Mc­Carthy back when she was a col­lege stu­dent work­ing with AIDS pa­tients in a de­vel­op­ing coun­try. And he’s not in the least bit re­luc­tant to praise her as a “strong mind­ed, fe­ro­cious” young sci­en­tist out to do some­thing com­plete­ly new.

Says Haney: “I have a lot of con­fi­dence in Kath­leen. I would help her in any cir­cum­stance.”

That’s the key to back­ing any­one in biotech, he adds: Con­fi­dence and trust. Once you get that out of the way, he adds, every­one can fo­cus on the sci­ence.

This is the fourth biotech to come out of stealth mode with plans to drug RNA. Michael Gilman got the par­ty start­ed last Feb­ru­ary when he ush­ered Ar­rakis out af­ter more than a year of qui­et­ly set­ting up the plat­form. Then at the be­gin­ning of this month Ex­pan­sion Ther­a­peu­tics had its com­ing out par­ty, dis­play­ing a plat­form with R&D roots in the lab of Scripps’ Matthew Dis­ney (not re­lat­ed to Tim), who’s had a long­time in­ter­est ex­plor­ing the field. Ri­bometrix is al­so in­volved.

Sky­hawk’s work is in­spired by an ex­pe­ri­enced group led by Mc­Carthy, who worked at Roche on the SMA drug RG7916 — now in piv­otal tri­als — with a stint at the Spinal Mus­cu­lar At­ro­phy Foun­da­tion, where she had worked on a small mol­e­cule ther­a­peu­tic tar­get­ing mR­NA-pro­tein in­ter­ac­tions for SMA.

When I talked to Haney Wednes­day morn­ing, he was in Cal­i­for­nia af­ter spend­ing time with Jim Al­li­son in Texas, shoot­ing a doc­u­men­tary on the leg­endary sci­en­tist and the I/O rev­o­lu­tion he helped spark.

With two biotechs, ad­di­tion­al ven­tures and a doc­u­men­tary se­ries on can­cer planned, you could say Haney is stay­ing busy. Does he have enough time to squeeze in a third start-up?

He won’t rule it out.

“It’s a maybe,” he says.


Im­age: Bill Haney. Drag­on­fly Ther­a­peu­tics

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