BOSTON, MASSACHUSSETTS — Biotech startup, Decibel Therapeutics, announced today that the company has appointed Laurence Reid, Ph.D., as acting chief executive officer, bringing extensive experience in biotech company building. According to the company announcement, CEO Steven Holtzman is retiring and will become a strategic business advisor to the company.
As CEO, Dr. Reid brings experience in company building, strategy, and business development. He is an entrepreneur-in-residence at Third Rock Ventures and has held numerous leadership positions in the biotech industry. Most recently, he served as the CEO of Warp Drive Bio, a drug discovery company advancing novel oncology and anti-infective medicines, and where he ultimately negotiated the successful merger of the company with Revolution Medicines in 2018. In his previous role as chief business officer of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, he led business development, finance, and legal functions.
Dr. Reid is also a veteran of Millennium Pharmaceuticals, having served for a decade in an array of management roles, including as general manager of Millennium UK, with responsibility for the company’s European operations. He received his B.A. from the University of Cambridge and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of London.
“It has been an honor and joy to work over the last four years with the Decibel team to pioneer the field of drug discovery for hearing and balance loss. I have been equally privileged to have known Laurence for some 25 years and can think of no one better suited to lead Decibel forward. I believe our outstanding team is strongly positioned to advance Decibel’s exciting pipeline and discovery programs. I look forward to working with Laurence in an advisory role.”
“Hearing and balance disorders have an enormous impact on hundreds of millions of people worldwide, yet there are no medications to treat those disorders. That’s astounding,” Dr. Reid said. “Decibel’s deep understanding of the biology of the inner ear gives us a unique opportunity to develop life-changing therapeutics for these disorders. I believe that Decibel has built a superb research and drug discovery team, and I am excited to help that team exploit these opportunities in transformative ways.”
Strategic Research Focus on Regenerative Medicine for Inner Ear
In addition to appointing a new CEO, the company also announced today a new strategic research focus on regenerative medicine approaches for the inner ear. The company is also announcing a collaboration and option agreement that gives Decibel exclusive access to novel compounds targeting proteins in a critical regenerative pathway.
Decibel’s research focus on regeneration will be powered by the company’s research and translation platform. The company has built one of the most sophisticated single cell genomics and bioinformatics platforms in the industry to identify and validate targets. Decibel has also developed unique insights into regulatory pathways and inner ear delivery mechanisms that together enable precise control over gene expression in the inner ear and differentiate its AAV-based gene therapy programs.
“Our deep understanding of the biology of the inner ear and our advanced technological capabilities come together to create a powerful platform for regenerative medicine therapies for hearing and balance disorders. We see an exciting opportunity to leverage this platform to address a broad range of hearing and balance disorders that severely compromise quality of life for hundreds of millions of people around the world.”
–Laurence Reid, Ph.D., acting CEO of Decibel
The first program in Decibel’s regeneration portfolio aims to restore balance function using an AAV-based gene therapy (DB-201), which utilizes a cell-specific promoter to selectively deliver a regeneration-promoting gene to target cells. In collaboration with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Decibel will initially evaluate DB-201 as a treatment for bilateral vestibulopathy, a debilitating condition that significantly impairs balance, mobility, and stability of vision. Ultimately, this program may have applicability in a broad range of age-related balance disorders.
There are currently no approved medicines to restore balance. Decibel expects to initiate IND-enabling experiments for this program in the first half of 2020.
Decibel is also pursuing novel targets for the regeneration of critical cells in both the vestibule and cochlea of the inner ear; these targets may be addressable by gene therapy or other therapeutic modalities. As a key component of that program, Decibel today announced an exclusive worldwide option agreement with The Rockefeller University, which has discovered a novel series of small-molecule LATS inhibitors. LATS kinases are a core component of the Hippo signaling pathway, which plays a key role in regulating both tissue regeneration and the proliferation of cells in the inner ear that are crucial to hearing and balance. The agreement gives Decibel an exclusive option to license this series of compounds across all therapeutic areas.
The agreement also establishes a research collaboration between Decibel and A. James Hudspeth, M.D., Ph.D., the F.M. Kirby Professor at The Rockefeller University and the director of the F.M. Kirby Center for Sensory Neuroscience. Dr. Hudspeth is a world-renowned neuroscientist, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Dr. Hudspeth has been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the 2018 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience.
“Rockefeller scientists are at the leading edge of discovery, and we are excited to see the work of Dr. Hudspeth move forward in partnership with Decibel. The ambitious pursuit of harnessing the power of regenerative medicine to create a new option for patients with hearing loss could transform how we address this unmet medical need in the future.”
–Jeanne Farrell, Ph.D., associate VP for technology advancement at The Rockefeller University
In parallel with its new research focus on regenerative strategies, Decibel will continue to advance key priority preclinical and clinical programs. DB-020, the company’s clinical-stage candidate designed to prevent hearing damage in people receiving cisplatin chemotherapy, is in an ongoing Phase 1b trial. Decibel will also continue to progress DB-OTO, a gene therapy for the treatment of genetic congenital deafness, which is being developed in partnership with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. The DB-OTO program aims to restore hearing to people born with profound hearing loss due to a mutation in the otoferlin gene and is expected to progress to clinical trials in 2021.
To support the new research focus, Decibel is restructuring its employee base and discontinuing some early-stage discovery programs.
About Decibel Therapeutics, Inc.
Decibel Therapeutics, a development-stage biotechnology company, has established the world’s first comprehensive drug discovery, development, and translational research platform for hearing loss and balance disorders. Decibel is advancing a portfolio of discovery-stage programs aimed at restoring hearing and balance function to further our vision of a world in which the benefits and joys of hearing are available to all. Decibel’s lead therapeutic candidate, DB-020, is being investigated for the prevention of ototoxicity associated with cisplatin chemotherapy.
Source: Decibel Therapeutics