After Ed Kaye left the helm at Sarepta last August, he promised his wife he’d take some time off before starting his next job in biotech.
Then the calls started coming in.
“The phone rang off the hook,” says Kaye, a popular figure in the bustling Cambridge/Boston hub who has a resume that covers every aspect of biotech existence. It’s the kind of background that venture groups love.
“Within weeks I had 6 offers,” he says without even a slight trace of boasting. One fund he talked with “said that if we had 20 people like you, we’d start 20 companies.”
Two months into his “break,” Kaye stepped into the CEO’s job at Stoke Therapeutics, which is coming out of seed mode and into formal launch phase today with a $40 million round coming from a deeply dedicated group of backers at Apple Tree.
What made Stoke irresistible?
For one thing, Kaye already had a close relationship with the key scientist involved, Adrian Krainer at Cold Spring Harbor, that went back years.
Krainer, an RNA splicing expert who played a key role in the discovery of Spinraza, had been studying the body’s machinery for making proteins and a method using antisense oligonucleotides to increase protein expression. Adding a bioinformatics approach, the fledgling company was able to identify key diseases driven by missing protein — and now they’re out to use the tech to address diseases that seem outside the realm of such technologies as gene editing or gene therapy.
Like any good platform, Kaye feels that Stoke can go off in multiple directions. But, he’s also running a startup that has to identify the low hanging fruit first and then grow things up along the way. Autosomal dominant diseases like Dravet syndrome offer a target-rich environment. And Kaye likes their chances starting with the brain and eye, looking at triggers for blindness that may present an ideal pathway to proof-of-concept data.
As anyone who ever worked at Sarepta could tell you, there are a lot of elements in the biotech business beyond your immediate control. Kaye has a new board and a backer to work with, a shot at an expanded syndicate down the road and a need to perform. But he does have some big ambitions here for his staff of 14, which will now double in size over the near term.
If all goes according to plan now, Kaye expects to be in the clinic in 2019.
“My goal is to take this all the way to completion and build a company that can be sustainable,” says the CEO. The next leg of that journey starts now.
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