When Gary Glick, Ph.D., left the CEO post at IFM Therapeutics, he didn’t know what was next. But he soon found himself on a plane with Loxo Oncology co-founder Keith Flaherty, and they got to talking about how they could “expand the boundaries of targeted oncology.” Scorpion Therapeutics was born.
“What a scorpion does is sting, and it does so precisely. We are a precision oncology company that would like to put the sting in cancer,” Glick, Scorpion’s president and CEO, said.
The company is uncloaking with $108 million to pursue what it calls precision oncology 2.0. It wants to tackle the challenges found in precision medicine approaches today in three key ways: developing better medicines for known cancer-driving mutations, developing drugs for targets previously thought to be undruggable and finding new, untapped targets that could lead to even better drugs. The funding comes from Atlas Venture, Omega Funds, Vida Venture, Abingworth and Partners HealthCare Innovation.
“A number of the medicines either available to patients today or that are in development don’t have the optimal profiles to meet patient needs,” Glick said. These drugs may not target cancer cells selectively enough, causing side effects and harming healthy tissue, or they may not be able to get into areas where a patient’s disease might metastasize, such as the brain.
And though the advent of genomic sequencing has revealed lots of targets that could transform the standard of care for certain patients, the transformation hasn't happened yet because drugmakers haven’t figured out how to drug them, he added.
Finally, despite the sheer volume of “omics” and cancer biology data that has emerged over the years, companies haven’t been mining the information in a systematic way.
“A systematic approach can reveal new targets with the potential to lead to deeper responses in larger segments of patients, primarily those who had no therapeutic options,” Glick said. “With a little luck on our side, perhaps we’ll be able to evade mechanisms of cancer resistance that plague many cancer therapies today.”
The company has spent the last six months building the technology it needs, combining data science, proteomics, medicinal chemistry and new target identification into a single discovery engine that can deliver on all three of its goals.
Scorpion is focused on advancing several pipeline programs toward the clinic, while working on identifying new targets at the same time. The company is keeping specifics under wraps for the time being but promises it’s in it for the long haul.
“We envision this being a robust pipeline—it’s not about one or two programs,” said Lina Gugucheva, Scorpion's chief business officer, who held similar roles at IFM and Northern Biologics. “Once we’re in the clinic, we will continue to add multiple programs into the clinic with no rate abatement, or speed abatement, in the next five- to 10-year horizon.” As for why Scorpion is the right company to take on precision oncology 2.0?
It’s all about the team, Glick said. He and Flaherty, the director of clinical research at Massachusetts General Hospital and a Harvard Medical School professor, have co-founded seven biotech companies between them. Their fellow co-founders include Gaddy Getz, Ph.D., a cancer genomics expert at the Broad Institute, and Liron Bar-Peled, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and the Cancer Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“The founders, the 30-plus scientists at Scorpion, all have many decades of experience in the industry and targeted oncology. They are a very focused group and not only are they experienced, but they are accomplished,” Glick said, adding that experience doesn’t always equal accomplishment.
“They’ve been involved in programs in their past lives that became marketed drugs in the oncology space,” he said.