Mirati Adds Execs With Commercial Experience at Spark, Bristol-Myers

Xconomy San Diego — 

Cancer drug developer Mirati Therapeutics is beefing up its leadership team as its lead programs advance through human testing.

The San Diego-based company (NASDAQ: MRTX) this week added two executives to its C-suite as part of a strategic effort to ready the biotech for its potential transformation into a commercial company.

For San Diego, it’s a relatively unusual development. Biotechs in the region have historically tended to sell their core assets to biopharma companies rather than build out commercialization operations. That leaves biotechs that do look to go the distance with relatively few people in the area with first-hand knowledge of the process.

Mirati’s new executives—one in San Diego and another who is relocating to the area—have that experience.

Daniel Faga, Mirati’s new chief operating officer, was most recently part of the executive team at Philadelphia gene therapy developer Spark Therapeutics, where he served as chief business officer through the approval of its first drug, a treatment for a rare genetic retinal disease. Spark’s subsequent acquisition by Roche for $4.3 billion, after several delays, closed last month.

Benjamin Hickey, Mirati’s new chief commercial officer, was most recently in the same role at San Diego’s Halozyme Therapeutics (NASDAQ: HALO). After 17 years at Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY), Hickey joined Halozyme as CCO in September 2018 to oversee its oncology efforts, but the company shuttered that part of its business in November after its lead drug candidate, an investigational treatment for pancreatic cancer, failed a Phase 3 trial. At Bristol-Myers, Hickey was involved in multiple commercialization efforts, including that of ipilimumab (Yervoy), the first approved checkpoint inhibitor.

On Friday, before Faga and Hickey came aboard, Mirati executives Chris LeMasters and Jamie Donadio left the company. LeMasters, Mirati’s chief business officer, and Donadio, its chief financial officer, were with the San Diego-based biotech since 2016 and 2013, respectively. Donadio will provide consulting services during the transition.

In a research note, SVB Leerink analyst Andrew Berens said company management attributed the changes to a plan to “better align the strategic, long term vision of the company.”

Mirati’s share price closed down 10 percent Tuesday to $102.77.

The company has two drugs, both oral, in the clinic: MTRX849 and sitravatinib.

Designed to inhibit KRAS, a genetic mutation known to drive several cancers, MTRX849 is in a Phase 1/2 trial in patients with non-small cell lung cancer. Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) is advancing a competing drug.

Sitravatinib targets receptor tyrosine kinases implicated in resistance that patients develop to a type of cancer therapy called a checkpoint inhibitor. Mirati is studying sitravatinib in a Phase 3 trial in combination with nivolumab, a checkpoint inhibitor, in patients with non-small cell lung, bladder, and other cancers.

An update on Mirati’s lead KRAS drug could come at the American Society Of Clinical Oncology meeting this summer in Chicago, Berens said. In the meantime, he anticipates Mirati will pick a compound from its preclinical program targeting another KRAS sub-mutation to advance into human studies.

As of Sept. 30, Mirati reported a net loss of $140.8 million, compared to $70.1 million in the same time the year prior.