Editor’s note: This story is part of our 2022 PharmaVoice 100 feature.
Our honoree: Jonathan Steckbeck
His position: CEO, founder, president, Peptilogics
The company: Peptilogics is a clinical-stage company that specializes in peptide-based drugs for several conditions. The company currently has six drugs in discovery for phase 1 development. Its lead candidate, PLG0206, is in a phase 1b proof of concept trial for periprosthetic joint infection (PJI), while its other drugs target a range of diseases — from oncology to cystic fibrosis.
Although there are dozens of peptide drugs approved by the FDA, the field — which combines the characteristics of small molecules with the high potency and targeted power of biologics — has been stymied by several development challenges including oral bioavailability. Yet, with Steckbeck at the helm, Peptilogics is engineering its way around this hurdle.
“It is commonly believed that peptides have too short a half-life, on the order of only two or three minutes, to be usable as drugs. With PLG0206, [Steckbeck] engineered a half-life of 15 hours,” a nominator explains.
Peptilogics has also created a drug discovery platform that combines AI with a “purpose-built supercomputer” that enables “rapid, cost-effective, scalable peptide synthesis coupled with rich data collection, to allow continual improvement over time,” the company says.
“Peptilogics may not be widely known, but what [Steckbeck] initiated here is game changing,” a nominator says.
What makes Steckbeck stand out: Steckbeck isn’t the kind of CEO who’s only focused on the day-to-day work of business development. With a master’s in business and Ph.D. in biochemistry, Steckbeck is a “life-long learner” who’s deeply involved in the science behind his company’s work, a nominator says.
“[Steckbeck] loves rolling up his sleeves and diving into technical challenges, which is an inspiration to the multidisciplinary team that he has built,” a nominator writes. “He not only knows the science inside and out, but he can also convey the story of the machine learning platform better than anyone.”
“Unlike other industries, success in the life sciences, and biopharma in particular, directly leads to improving and saving the lives of people.”
CEO, founder, president, Peptilogics
And in an area of the industry in need of drug development innovations, Steckbeck has positioned himself as a pioneer.
“He challenges ideas and conventional wisdom, finding insights and new ways of seeing solutions by deeply connecting biology and technology,” a nominator says. “His burning desire to solve some of the most challenging problems in life sciences is forging a revolution in peptide therapeutics.”
Why he’s inspiring: Throughout its growth, Steckbeck has never lost sight of Peptilogics’ big-picture mission of helping patients. In fact, a nominator recalls witnessing this steadfast devotion during a meeting Steckbeck once had with a patient.
“I was a little concerned as the conversation was already 30 minutes and I knew [Steckbeck] has a packed schedule,” a nominator says. “When the patient began opening up, [Steckbeck] listened intently, and they spoke for almost an hour. He missed another meeting to ensure that this patient’s voice was heard and that he understood their journey — that is true leadership and the embodiment of living the company’s core values as no one witnessed this other than me.”
Steckbeck’s nominators also note his ability to hire the “brightest minds” and then provide supportive leadership that prioritizes the “health and well-being of his team” while creating a collaborative environment for innovation. Steckbeck has focused on initiatives that could increase diversity at the company such as the establishment of a Women of Peptilogics committee, which is aimed at bringing more women into the fold.
“[Steckbeck’s] compassion for everyone around him is heartening and inspiring. He is the best of us, and he brings out the best in us,” a nominator says.
In his own words: “The most meaningful item in my office is the drug kit for our first in-patient trial. It's a tangible reminder of how far we've come, having advanced from an idea to a drug that we hope will change the treatment paradigm for PJI patients,” he says.