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massive restructuring at NPS, cutting costs and slashing the company’s workforce significantly. Coles left in 2008 to run Onyx, and handed the reins at NPS to Nader; NPS has since gone on to reshape itself as a developer of orphan drugs, and won FDA approval of its first product in 2012.
It’s at Onyx that Coles enjoyed his biggest success, however. He came aboard the company in 2008 to a less than stellar reception from investors. But Coles took some risks and essentially turned Onyx from a half-a-product company—one that only drew cash via a revenue split Bayer on the cancer drug sorafenib (Nexavar)—to one with three different drugs on the market.
For one, under Coles’s watch, Onyx fought and won a legal dispute with Bayer ensuring it would retain a share of sorafenib’s revenue in the case of a buyout, and a 20 percent royalty stream to a next-generation version of sorafenib called regorafenib (Stivarga) that was approved by regulators in 2013.
Coles also made a shrewd call in 2009 to buy Proteolix for $276 million up front and $811 million overall. Proteolix was developing a cancer drug called carfilzomib that was in mid-stage trials at the time. The move wasn’t popular with investors, who wanted to see Onyx focus its resources on maximizing sorafenib—not diversifying and taking on a risky project.
“We knew we couldn’t be a one product company,” Coles told Luke Timmerman in an interview with Xconomy a few years ago. “It took courage, because buying an untested asset is a scary thing. It’s daunting. The question I posed to our team on the eve of the acquisition was not one of business judgment. It was one of courage.”
But the deal was a winner for Coles. Carfilzomib went on to win FDA approval as a treatment for multiple myeloma. Called Kyprolis, it was the biggest reason Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) bid $125 per share, or around $10 billion, for Onyx in August 2013. Coles reportedly pocketed more than $50 million from the buyout.
Coles’s move to Yumanity is reminiscent of the one Deborah Dunsire made to Forum Pharmaceuticals last year. Just two months after abruptly stepping down as the head of Takeda’s Millennium Pharmaceuticals unit in Boston (a division that has since scrapped the Millennium name), Dunsire became the CEO of a Watertown, MA-based startup then called EnVivo Pharmaceuticals, which is similarly developing treatments for neurological disorders.
The big difference? EnVivo, now known as Forum Pharmaceuticals, already had a drug in mid-stage trials when Dunsire came aboard. Yumanity is essentially starting from scratch.
“I am thrilled and inspired to be at the forefront of innovation in an area of real, global medical need,” Coles said in today’s statement. “We believe the time is now to translate the remarkable advances in protein folding science achieved by Sue and her colleagues into a drug discovery engine that we believe can have a rapid and transformational impact on neurodegenerative diseases.”