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Portfolio company interview: Quench Bio CEO

10th June 2020

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Tell us about your background.

My educational training is in biology and biomedical engineering and 2020 brings my 25th anniversary of working in the biotech arena. I spent most of the first two decades of my career in large biopharma settings, first consulting to large companies from consulting firm Health Advances, then working in corporate development and drug program leadership across Chiron, Genzyme and Biogen. After gaining a wide variety of transactional, operational and strategic experiences across several therapeutics areas and modalities in that time, I moved in 2014 to the entrepreneurial world; I joined Padlock Therapeutics as Chief Business Officer to focus on therapies for patients with severe inflammatory diseases. After the sale of Padlock to BMS in 2016, I worked with and advised several companies including the team building what is now Quench Bio.

What is your vision for Quench Bio?

Our overarching goal for Quench Bio is to make a tangible difference to patients suffering with severe inflammatory diseases. We have built a team with deep knowledge of inflammation and drug discovery and together, we look to discover innovative therapies that target inflammation at its core and translate them into new treatment options for patients.

Tell us about the science behind Quench and the company’s novel approach?

At Quench Bio, our main focus is on a novel target called gasdermin, which is a type of protein. As revealed only recently, gasdermin plays a key role in inflammatory cell death by forming lytic pores in the membranes of cells, which causes them to rupture. This explosive cell death leads to a positive feedback loop of inflammation that drives a range of severe diseases when dysregulated and persistent. We aim to inhibit the pore-forming function of gasdermin in order to quiet the inflammation.

What attracted you to this opportunity?

The science and the team. I have spent substantial time in my career focused on immunology and I am motivated to help solve challenges of the immune system, to improve options for patients suffering from inflammatory diseases. Quench’s approach to inhibiting Gasdermin, has the potential for high impact across a broad range of indications, with few current treatment options. The founding investors and scientists are bright, experienced and energetic entrepreneurs and, importantly, we are all motivated by the same vision –to deliver cures to patients The combination of those foundational factors made it a great fit for me.

Can you tell us about the team and forming the company?
Scientists at The Max Planck Institute and its Lead Discovery Center had done substantial research in innate immunity and gasdermin; Arix and Atlas worked with Atlas entrepreneur-in-residence Mark Tebbe (former Lilly, Forma) and Mike Nolan (former GSK, Wyeth) to form a scientific plan and seed the company in April 2018 with Mark and Mike as founding CTO and head of Biology, respectively. I consulted with this impressive team during the process and joined as CEO in September 2018. We were then fortunate to hire Iain Kilty (former Pfizer VP of Preclinical Inflammation Research) as CSO and built the team from there. Wei Li (former Pfizer, Millennium) leads our gasdermin biology center of excellence in the lab with a team of scientists who bring complementary immunology expertise that they apply to the challenge of drugging gasdermin.

How has Arix supported Quench in its formation?

Jonathan Tobin from Arix was instrumental in founding the company. The Arix relationship with The Lead Discovery Center drove Jonathan’s interest. When Atlas became interested in the program in parallel, the firms had the wisdom to collaborate on founding the company. Arix has supported Quench Bio in every important way from the time of inception – with founding capital, important relationships and excellent board-level involvement.

What challenges have you had to overcome and what are you most excited about?
Drug discovery is always challenging, particularly when tackling novel targets. As with all companies, we have faced and surmounted many challenges along the research path, sometimes having to pivot away from literature findings and assay designs when the biology does not play out as expected. The challenge itself is what is exciting – and surmounting such challenges brings proprietary know-how that advances our capabilities to inhibit this novel and important inflammatory target.

How important are the board and what role do they play?
The board of directors is extremely important for many reasons. Good governance is the most foundational reason. The board, including excellent participation by Jonathan Tobin, serves as a sounding board and provides guidance and direction across scientific, strategic and financial fronts based on the sum total of their experience. We have an excellent board with a diversity of experience sets represented. Jonathan Tobin from Arix joined Bruce Booth from Atlas, who chairs our board, as the founding board members, along with myself and Herbert Waldmann of the Max Planck Institute. We were very fortunate to bring on Jo Viney as our independent board member; she brings enormous depth in immunology and drug development. With our recent fundraise, we add a wealth of biotech and venture experience in Adam Houghton of AbbVie Ventures and Josh Resnick of RA Capital.