Ex-Sarepta CEO Garabedian Returns to Run Bio Accelerator Xontogeny

Xconomy Boston — 

Chris Garabedian, a veteran biotech executive who helped turn Sarepeta Therapeutics around before his controversial exit in 2015, has returned to the life sciences scene—this time with a new venture to form some biotech startups and help others find their footing.

Garabedian is the chairman and CEO of a new Boston-based life sciences accelerator called Xontogeny. The accelerator announced Thursday that it has secured $15 million in funding, a sum that represents the first tranche of a $25 million Series A round. Perceptive Advisors, a New York life sciences investment firm, is the only institutional investor backing the accelerator.

In his new role, Garabedian will serve as a mentor and advisor to the accelerator’s startups. He is currently assembling a team of drug development experts to help find experimental therapies and technologies and funnel them into new ventures, according to a statement. Xontogeny, which Garabedian founded last June, will help these fledgling biotechs progress experimental programs from preclinical research through proof-of-concept studies in unspecified “serious disease areas.”

Garabedian is a former dealmaker at Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) and Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG), but is best known for his tenure as CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Sarepta (NASDAQ: SRPT). He was named the company’s CEO in 2010, when the company was still known as AVI Biopharma and based in Bothell, WA. Despite more than 30 years in operation, AVI hadn’t yet gotten one of its RNA-based drugs into late-stage clinical testing. It did have an experimental Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug, eteplirsen (Exondys 51), however, and Garabedian helped drive the program forward, largely on the back of a tiny, 12-patient study that would help turn the company around. Renamed Sarepta 2012 and relocated to Cambridge, Sarepta became a Wall Street darling and won support from a Duchenne patient community eager for a treatment for the disorder.

Despite the turnaround under Garabedian, his tenure ended in controversy. Regulatory delays, reported internal squabbles and an uncharacteristically contentious relationship with the FDA eventually unwound the goodwill that the Garabedian had earned. In April 2015, he abruptly resigned from the company, which handed the reins over to longtime chief medical officer Ed Kaye and vowed the company would have a more collaborative approach to working with the FDA. The move, incidentally, paid dividends for Sarepta. Under Kaye’s stewardship, Sarepta—in one of the more controversial FDA rulings in recent memory— won approval of eteplirsen, making it the first-ever FDA approved treatment for Duchenne.

Photo by Xontogeny.