Epizyme, a high-flying startup focused on the hot field of epigenetics, has recruited a new CEO and a new chief dealmaker. Robert Gould started work this week as chief executive of the Cambridge, MA-based biotech, having resigned from a big job at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
Gould has served on the board of directors at Epizyme since its founding two years ago, as it has grown from one to 20 employees and closed a $40 million Series B financing. (The firm has now raised a total of $54 million from New Enterprise Associates, MPM Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Bay City Capital, Astellas Venture Partners, and Amgen Ventures.) He’s replacing founding CEO Kazumi Shiosaki, a managing director at MPM, as part of a transition plan in which she will remain a board member of the company.
Besides Gould, Epizyme has also brought on Jason Rhodes, a former VP of business development at Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALNY), to lead deal-making activities as the startup’s chief business officer. Rhodes certainly got exposed to a lot of deals during his stint from 2007 to this year at Alnylam, the RNA interference company; Alnylam has active partnerships with Roche, Novartis, Takeda Pharmaceuticals and other big drug companies.
Both executives spoke of the huge opportunity for Epizyme in the field of epigenetics, which involves turning on and off certain genes without altering the underlying code of DNA. Based on the company’s epigenetics research, Epizyme is in the early stages of pursuing small molecule drugs that block enzymes believed to be involved in cancer, called histone methyltransferases. The startup says its research could also lead to the discovery of drugs for diseases outside of the cancer field, where it will focus its initial efforts. It’s got a local rival in Cambridge’s Constellation Pharmaceuticals, which is also doing epigenetics research to find cancer therapies.
Gould, 55, left the Broad Institute after spending three years in charge of a group that looked for potential medical applications for scientific discoveries made at the renowned genomic research center in Cambridge. He was previously a vice president at Whitehouse Station, NJ-based Merck (NYSE: MRK), where he worked on ushering 20 drugs into clinical trials. In his new post, Gould hopes to eventually begin testing Epizyme’s drugs in cancer patients, but he declined to provide a timetable for when trials will begin or the specific types of cancer the company plans to treat.
When asked why he took the job, Gould said he is “anticipating the exciting possibilities in treating cancer and in epigenetics.” He added, “[It] seemed to me to be a great opportunity to continue building a company.”