12:00 AM
Apr 21, 2011
 |  BC Innovations  |  Strategy

A conversation with Gregory Verdine

What will drugs look like in the coming decade? This is the question being posed by Gregory Verdine and the next-generation therapeutic modalities team he leads at Third Rock Ventures. One answer, Verdine believes, is hybrid platforms of synthetically modified biomolecules that combine the advantages of small molecules and biologics.

SciBX met with Verdine at his Harvard University office to talk about the science that is driving the discovery of new drug modalities and the challenges of bridging the gap between good science and commercialization.Verdine is director of the program in cancer chemical biology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvardand, since 2009, a venture partner at Third Rock.

SciBX: Where do you see opportunities emerging for new types

of drugs?

Gregory Verdine: I believe that 10 years from now, when we look at the types of molecular structures that we consider to be 'drug-like', these structures will be considerably more diverse than now. In other words, we are entering a period in which we will see a significant expansion in the types of molecules that succeed as drugs. This process is already underway, as many pharmaceutical companies have begun explicit efforts at broadening the structural base of targeting molecules. These new modalities are likely to include nucleic acids beyond antisense and siRNA, carbohydrates and peptides, among others, but also interesting fusions, such as small molecule-protein conjugates. Some of these classes of molecules have a back-to-the-future aspect to them, for example peptides and natural products, but recent scientific advances have suggested that they should be looked at in a new light.

SciBX: How does Third Rock go about launching new companies in such emerging areas?

GV: We recently launched a new company with Flagship Ventures, Eleven Biotherapeutics Inc., with the concept of bringing truly rational drug design to bear on the discovery and development of next-generation protein therapeutics. This illustrates our process. We brought together five founders that included myself; a biological engineer, Dane Wittrup [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]; a cytokine structural biologist, Chris Garcia [Stanford University]; an expert in Th17 [T helper type 17 cell] cytokine biology, Casey Weaver [The University of Alabama at Birmingham]; and a practicing clinical ophthalmologist, Reza Dana [Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary].

Once assembled, this team of founders got together around six times a year, plus an internal company concept team at Third Rock met daily, with the key goal of creating a research and business plan-figuring out how to reduce the universe of all possible avenues to something that is achievable in a reasonable period of time. Through this process, we built a fabulously creative, talented, goal-oriented team of founders and key early employees who really took ownership over the process and the company, who were really excited and who wanted to do something transformative....

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