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Adrestia Therapeutics appoints first full-time CEO as it builds synthetic rescue therapy platform

Adrestia Therapeutics has appointed its first full time CEO as it builds its synthetic rescue therapy platform.

The Babraham Research Campus company has appointed Robert Johnson, who previously co-founded Boston-based gene therapy company Affinia Therapeutics, and who has held posts in biotech and pharmaceutical management consulting.

Robert Johnson, CEO of Adrestia Therapeutics. Picture: Teresa Walton
Robert Johnson, CEO of Adrestia Therapeutics. Picture: Teresa Walton

Adrestia was founded by Prof Steve Jackson, building on decades of research in his Cambridge laboratories, and has attracted support from GSK and investors.

It aims to address the fact that many genes known to directly cause disease remain undruggable. Adrestia’s platform systematically mines the entire human genome for synthetic rescue targets using proprietary precision disease models.

“Rob joins Adrestia at a pivotal moment, as the company is delivering robust validation of its platform through its collaboration with GSK and is now advancing a portfolio of its own first-in-class programs towards IND,” said Joanna Green, of Ahren Innovation Capital, which co-led Adrestia’s Series A with GSK.

“His strategic insights will be invaluable as Adrestia consolidates its position as a leading innovator in synthetic rescue, opening new therapeutic possibilities for intractable genetic diseases.”

Rather than targeting the causative mutation of disease, a synthetic rescue drug modulates a related pathway, which corrects the effects of the disease mutation and ‘rescues’ cells from disease.

The potential can be seen in family members born with a disease-causing mutation who are protected from disease due to a second ‘rescue’ mutation.

The approach could be applicable across all diseases with a genetic component, including heart failure, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

The company has a target discovery alliance with GSK and a Huntington’s disease collaboration with researchers including Dr Sarah Tabrizi at University College London.

Mr Johnson said: “Physicians have long known that the severity of a genetic disease can be modulated by other genetic factors. The challenge has always been – how do we identify those factors, and use that knowledge to help patients?

“Dramatic advances in functional genomics, cell and molecular biology and bioinformatics have set the stage for Adrestia’s platform to methodically identify these precious insights.

“I look forward to working with the Adrestia team to advance our pipeline into the clinic and apply synthetic rescue to benefit people living with one of the thousands of serious genetic conditions.”

Novel validated targets have already been identified by the platform

Prof Jackson is a pioneer in the related field of synthetic lethality for the treatment of cancers and co-originated olaparib, which is the first of a family of synthetic lethal drugs that has extended the lives of thousands of cancer patients worldwide.

“Rob’s leadership will be invaluable as Adrestia shifts from discovery to executing on a long-term portfolio strategy,” he said. “Our rigorous drug development platform benefits from eight years of focused research into synthetic rescue and leverages a range of research tools validated over decades in synthetic lethality. Our tools and know-how are exploiting the vast wealth of human genomics data available today to rapidly characterise the most compelling synthetic rescue targets for intractable diseases and build a pipeline with exciting potential for patients.”

Mr Johnson was chief business officer at Affinia Therapeutics, which engineered next-generation AAV capsids. Its Series A was followed by a $1.6billion strategic alliance with Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

Prior to Affinia, he co-founded biotech and pharmaceutical strategy consulting firm Alacrita in 2009, leading hundreds of consulting assignments.While there, he also founded Foothold America, a facilitator of market entry into the US for the life sciences and other industries. His career began at Onyvax, a 3i and SR One portfolio company developing allogeneic whole cell cancer vaccines, ending his time there as head of business development.

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