With fresh company building lessons from Ablynx, Edwin Moses is ready to try it again as chair of neoantigen biotech Achilles
After officially passing off Ablynx to Sanofi in July, Edwin Moses took August off — the longest break the biotech CEO has had in about 20 years.
“By the end of that I was already bored,” he says.
At the recommendation of longtime friend and Syncona CEO Martin Murphy, Moses has taken his first role since sealing the $4.8 billion acquisition deal about 10 months ago: board chairman at Achilles Therapeutics.
Moses is expected to play a steadying hand for the young Stevenage, UK-based company — which, at 45 employees, is of similar size as Ablynx in 2006 when he first took the reins — and support Syncona managing partner Iraj Ali as Ali moves into a full-time CEO position.
“We want to be a fully integrated biotech company in control of commercialization and our own destiny,” Ali tells me, “and that’s where the appointment of someone like Edwin is really so perfect for us because he matches the experience and he brings the same vision.”
Co-founded by Charlie Swanton of the Francis Crick Institute, Achilles is a player in the hot neoantigen for cancer field, leveraging heavy sequencing to identify a patient-specific set of tumor mutations that it can target. But unlike other neoantigen pioneers like Gritstone Oncology, Neon Therapeutics and BioNTech, Achilles is looking to directly deliver cancer killing T cells rather than stimulating an immune response via a vaccine.
By taking a “tumor evolutionary approach to selecting neoantigens” — zeroing in on a special group of neoantigens that’s present on every cancer cell — Ali also believes their cell therapies can deliver a more potent and durable response.
“We’re looking to target the most difficult to treat metastatic cancers where I think vaccines would struggle,” Ali says of the approach.
They are starting with a small trial in non-small cell lung cancer early next year, with a second clinical program in melanoma to follow.
A resounding theme as the rapidly expanding team executes all of this, Moses says, will be ambition.
“Iraj and his colleagues have plenty of ambition but I think I can even add to that,” he says. “I think coming from the outside you see what potential is, and the potential could be really bold.”