Adrian Gottschalk’s father passed away Thanksgiving night 2019 of a very rare and aggressive cancer. His father, diagnosed only months before, had been a professor of orthopedic surgery.
Gottschalk was already settled into his biotech career, having worked at Biogen for 13 years. But this personal experience helped the CEO of Foghorn Therapeutics realize the importance of personalized cancer therapy even more deeply. Now, in his position as the leader of a biotech that specializes in precision medicines, he also understands that to make new therapies possible, development collaborations are key.
For nearly five years, Gottschalk has been at the helm of Foghorn, which has advanced over 10 programs across a wide range of cancers and is set to explore treatments for other diseases. Its two lead product candidates entered the clinic in 2021.
Partners are drawn to Foghorn’s proprietary platform that is a tool for understanding and modulating the chromatin regulatory system, and its BRM-selective program that addresses brahma-related gene-1 (BRG1) mutated cancers using two distinct approaches including protein degradation and enzymatic inhibition.
The biotech’s most recent collaboration with Loxo Oncology at Eli Lilly and Co. will utilize Foghorn’s selective BRM oncology program to address an undisclosed oncology target, and its proprietary Gene Traffic Control platform for three additional discovery programs. Under the deal, which was announced in December, Foghorn will get $300 million up front, along with an $80 million equity investment and up to $1.3 billion in milestone payments.
While those numbers are sizable, Gottschalk, a 2019 PharmaVoice 100 honoree, says his aims in precision medicine are even larger. And to reach those goals, he says collaborations are crucial — here’s why.
PharmaVoice: Why are collaborations so important in the oncology/ precision medicine space?
Adrian Gottschalk: For a company like Foghorn, that has a platform that allows for a rich set of targets and a deep set of programs, collaboration is a really important part of growth.
Partnerships help build the company in a strategic way that allows you to build as you go, and provide not only financial capital, but significant capabilities on a global development basis, as well as validation that someone else other than us believes in the science. Biopharma companies tend to have a deep appreciation for the science, when not all investors can. In our case, with our colleagues and friends at the Loxo team, our partnership is absolutely a meeting of the minds and the science. They are a very sophisticated group of scientists and biotech individuals who understand targeted oncology and the type of work we're doing, as we want someone who shares our vision for what the science can do and has an appreciation for what our capabilities are.
You want a thought partner that is an enabler not only for the partner programs that we have, but that will allow us to execute our wholly owned pipeline.
What makes collaborations successful?
First, there's got to be an appreciation of the science. There's got to be a shared sense of what value can be created. And by that I specifically mean how do you view the potential medicines and the future patients that you want to treat to create a sense of purpose? I spend a lot of time with colleagues talking about the importance of treating cancer and why we're doing what we're doing. So, it's not just this is cool science; we're actually aligned on a principal basis on what we're trying to do and how we want to make a difference for people with cancer. Another aspect, which is probably obvious, is trust is a really important piece of partnerships.
Are collaborations in precision medicine increasing?
My humble view is these collaborations have been going on for quite some time. What might be newish, as in the last decade, is the realization that orphan-type drugs can be valuable. Biopharma has realized that you don't have to treat millions of patients to bring value, but you can do it in a targeted way to a few thousand people. I do think there's been a revitalization of that thinking over the last decade plus. For example, this collaboration with Loxo enables an acceleration and expansion of our pipeline and significantly strengthens our balance sheet as we strive to bring new medicines to patients and their families.