It’s back to biotech for Dr. Guillaume Pfefer, and not a moment too soon. Having spent four years at GlaxoSmithKline ushering its shingles vaccine through approval and onto the market, he’s now taking on the dual role of CEO-partner at Flagship Pioneering, joining the biotech builder’s team while taking the helm at one of its startups, Kintai Therapeutics.
“I was super excited and felt very privileged to have the opportunity to contribute to the success of GSK with Shingrix for the benefit of tens of millions of people,” Pfefer told FierceBiotech. “At the end of four years, having helped execute what is arguably the best launch at GSK and one of the best in the industry, we were looking at repeating that in other parts of the world… I decided it was time to let someone else have fun with Shingrix.”
For his next act, Pfefer tapped into his networks on both coasts, finding several opportunities. But Flagship won out due to its leader, Noubar Afeyan, as well as the hybrid CEO-partner role. It’s a relatively new position—Flagship picked its first CEO-partner, Novartis alum Fabrice Chouraqui, in May this year.
“I find the dual role to be truly intuitive. As a traditional CEO, why would you not want to be connected to an ecosystem that can be activated and mobilized to contribute to creating the best version of a company you get to lead?” he said. “It’s pretty much the best of both worlds.”
Pfefer brings 25 years of biopharma experience to the Flagship team and the companies it builds. As Kintai’s CEO, he will oversee the biotech’s combination with another Flagship company, Senda Therapeutics, as well as the development of its pipeline of so-called precision enteric medicines.
Kintai is taking aim at signaling networks in the gastrointestinal tract to create a new class of drugs for neurologic diseases, metabolic diseases and cancer. It can target these networks through any of three key parts: the gut’s immune system, its microbiome, or its nervous system.
A drug could target immune cells in the gut to trigger an anti-inflammatory effect elsewhere in the body, or it could interfere with gut neurons to prompt an effect in the brain without needing a drug to cross the blood-brain barrier, Dr. Paul-Peter Tak, Kintai’s previous CEO, told FierceBiotech in a previous interview. Tak, another GSK alum, will remain at Kintai as an advisor.
One of its leading programs targets the gut microbiome to treat obesity. In January this year, the company announced that the treatment boosted insulin sensitivity and glucose clearance in mice and helped them lose weight, too. It has a second preclinical program in ulcerative colitis, as well as earlier-stage efforts in chronic kidney disease, Parkinson’s disease and immuno-oncology.
The company is “probably two years away” from its first human trial, Pfefer said.
“We are looking deeply through these programs and trying to understand and visualize how we make sure to bring this great technology to patients in a way that’s realistic for an organization like us,” he added. That means deciding which pieces of the portfolio to take forward alone and which would be better developed through partnerships.
Through the combination with Senda, Kintai picks up a new chief scientific officer, Scott Plevy, M.D., and technology to surmount the hurdles of getting drugs across biological barriers throughout the body.
“We start seeing a lot of combinations to bring the two pieces together, not only to reinforce or expand the current focus of Kintai in the GI tract, but also expanding outside of GI into other tissues of the human body,” Pfefer said.