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After exiting troubled Merrimack, former CEO becomes new chief at Yumanity

July 11, 2019
Life sciences

Last month, he was the chief executive of struggling Merrimack Pharmaceuticals; today, he’s the new CEO at Fierce 15 winner and early-stage biotech Yumanity as Sanofi-Genzyme veteran Richard Peters looks to move on.

His former company, which he joined back in 2017, has been battling against tumultuous waters: Merrimack recruited Peters from the Big Pharma to lead the company through its rebirth as a clinical-stage R&D biotech.

His appointment came after Merrimack lost its previous CEO, Robert Mulroy, in a 2016 restructuring move that also axed 22% of its 426-strong staff. Aimed at conserving cash, the reorg was designed to throw the company’s resources behind “programs that have the greatest potential for disruptive change in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer,” said Dr. Yasir Al-Wakeel, then the chief financial officer.

This did not include Merrimack’s pancreatic cancer med Onivyde, which had scored the FDA nod a year earlier. As the company searched for a new CEO, Gary Crocker steered the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech, striking a deal to offload Onivyde to Ipsen and slashing Merrimack’s workforce once again.

When Peters arrived, he found a very different company than Mulroy left three months earlier. The slimmed-down organization—with a headcount of 72—was now focused on pushing three anticancer candidates through the clinic. But they failed, one by one, bringing the company to its knees.

Unsurprisingly, Peters hit the exit two weeks ago, followed out the door by several other C-suiters. He now looks to Yumanity for a more positive career move.

Founded back in 2015 by Tony Coles, M.D., the startup is focused on neurodegeneration, and a year later in 2016 it got off a $45 million A round backed by Sanofi and Biogen designed to get the upstart through the preclinical stage of identifying his top programs and on the way to further enlivening a growing field.

Fast-forward three years, and Coles is stepping down as its CEO, but only to the side as he will become executive chair from September, as Peters steps in. The biotech has been pretty quiet over the years and since its series A, though last fall, it announced its lead clinical candidate, YTX-7739, was entering IND-enabling studies for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and related disorders.

YTX-7739 is focused on a “novel target newly identified to play a role in Parkinson’s Disease discovered using Yumanity Therapeutics’ proprietary drug discovery platform,” the biotech said in a statement. The experimental med is slated to enter first-in-human studies by the fourth quarter of this year.

“Since the founding of Yumanity Therapeutics nearly five years ago, the intention has always been that we would evolve to the point where we would identify a highly-talented and capable CEO with the right clinical development and biotech leadership experience who could lead Yumanity to its next phase of growth. Having worked closely with Richard previously at Onyx Pharmaceuticals, I know we have found the right leader, and I am looking forward to working with him to deliver on the promise of our productive scientific platform,” said Coles.

“Richard has the skills, background, and entrepreneurial spirit to guide our pipeline programs through early clinical development in a way that will set the company up for near-term shareholder value creation and longer-term success.”

By Ben Adams

Source: Fierce Biotech

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