Amid the growing mania for cancer immunology, the Flexus founders saw their Goldilocks: IDO1 and TDO2, enzymes known for helping cancer cells hide from an immune response. The targets were getting little attention, but inhibitors of them are likely to be complementary to the immuno-oncology antibodies.
The next step was to put the targets in the hands of the right people to translate them into drug candidates. But opinions vary on who those people are. In the start-up world, so much is about the “showmanship of just rolling out your Nobel Prize-winner founders, luminaries, and other people who are really smart and really good at many things, but quite often, drug discovery is not one of them,” Jaen says.
For Rosen and Jaen, the right hands meant scientists with a track record for drug discovery. The pair mined their network and wound up hiring a team that skews heavily toward veterans of Tularik and Amgen.
Their goal was to build a real discovery engine—not a virtual one. At a time when many start-ups rely almost entirely on outsourcing, Rosen and Jaen are believers in the art of designing drugs in their own labs.
“There are a lot of things the world has started to treat as a commodity in terms of drug discovery that we don’t really believe is a commodity,” Rosen says. “We wanted to get the best medicinal chemists and biologists.”
Supported by $38 million in financing, the team of more than 30 scientists was able to swiftly generate a series of IDO1 inhibitors that became the object of several firms’ affection. After a highly competitive process, BMS agreed to acquire the firm for $800 million up front and up to $450 million in milestones.I like the cut of Terry Rosen's jib.