Tony Coles is getting back into biotech.
The former CEO of Onyx Pharmaceuticals, sold to Amgen ( AMGN) for $10 billion in late 2013, is launching a new company focused on developing drugs for neuro-degenerative diseases. Coles' start-up is called Yumanity Therapeutics and will be based on Cambridge, Mass., which means he's leaving the San Francisco Bay Area and relocating to the country's hottest biotech playground. (Yes, Boston/Cambridge tops San Francisco in biotech these days, no doubt.)
Coles' founding partner in the new Yumanity venture is Susan Lindquist, an award-winning scientist from the Whitehead Institute at MIT. Lindquist is a pioneer in the field of protein misfolding, which is believed to play a causative role in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and ALS. Lindquist's research will form the basis for Yumanity's drug discovery and development platform. The company has one lead drug target in Parkinson's. The three diseases Yumanity is taking on are notable for turning back multiple efforts at finding effective treatments.
"We need a new approach" to find effective therapies for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and ALS, said Lindquist. "We can't keep going on the way we have been before."
Yumanity is just getting off the ground -- no venture capital or other financing plans were announced this morning -- which is why Coles' involvement is noteworthy. Not many biotech CEOs who sell their companies for $10 billion -- and make quite a bit of money for themselves in the process -- decide to make their return act running a tiny start up.
"I've known Sue a long time. When she told me what she was doing, I looked at it and talked to a bunch of folks, including some Nobel laureates, and decided that this was the most compelling challenge out there," said Coles. "I've been involved in healthcare long enough to remember when the the lack of treatment options for cardiovascular disease and HIV were killing millions of people. Now these diseases are relatively non issues. I think neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are today where cardiovascular disease and HIV once were, and I'm excited for the challenge."
But is Coles ready for Boston winters?
"I already bought winter coats and boots!"