Becoming CEO: The First 18 Months
I’ve held many titles and even more roles at Kymera since founding the company with Bruce Booth and Atlas Venture four years ago. But it’s been just over 12 months since we announced my appointment to CEO, and nearly 18 months in the role. Looking back now, I could not imagine a more challenging and rewarding year both for the company and for me personally. I think we all recognize and can appreciate what operating through COVID-19 has been like but this has been a catalyzing time for our organization on many levels.
In stepping into the role of CEO, the most exciting and fundamental change has been the opportunity to define “success” for the company – to give shape to the vision, the mission, the ambition, the trajectory and to the “how” while building and empowering a team that feels as vested and responsible as I do. Our industry rightly defines “success” based on the ability to impact patients and diseases, and that certainly is a grounding metric for us too at Kymera. But this company was built on a once-in-a-generation modality – Targeted Protein Degradation – one that has the potential to change how we think about medicines.
We decided that “success” had to be measured by the number of diseases, patients, technologies, drugs, and by our ability to build a sustainable and eventually profitable model.
Together with our leadership team—CFO Bruce Jacobs and CMO Jared Gollob, we shaped a business plan not only to fund Kymera for the next few years, but also to build a fully integrated disease and technology agnostic degrader medicine company. In the past 8 months, we closed three major business transactions that brought more than $450M to the company. Although the sheer dollar amount is important, the how and why are much more significant.
When we embarked on our Series C (Crossover) financing last winter, our goal was not strictly financial. This was the first step to establishing an investor base that would allow us to begin the transition to become the type of company we wanted to build. While valuation and total amount raised was important, the alignment with investors on what we wanted to build was our north star. By the time we closed a $102M Series C in March of 2020, we not only had the financing we needed, but an investor base that believed in the long-term potential of our platform and pipeline, and in this team.
Similarly, our partnering discussions around our IRAK4 degrader program in immunology and inflammation, which ran in parallel with our Series C financing, were driven by our long-term vision and not purely by financial motivations. The goal was to ensure our therapies would reach as many patients as possible, as soon as possible, while providing Kymera with access to the kind of development and commercialization power that would make us competitive with other immunology powerhouses. Importantly, we maintained strategic rights to run the Phase 1 program, key to de-risking the program/platform, and the option to participate equally in US development and commercialization, a critical move that would enable us to build that fully integrated business I’ve described. Sanofi embraced this philosophy and we are excited about the opportunities ahead for the partnership and for the millions of patients in need of oral, effective and well tolerated therapies in many I/I diseases. When we announced this deal in July of 2020, obviously the financial terms, $150M upfront and >$2B in milestones, attracted a lot of attention but the strategic fit is what is most exciting for Kymera.
By the time we launched our IPO roadshow in August, Kymera already had more than $300M on our balance sheet. The IPO was in fact a strategic opportunity to increase our investor base to accelerate the path to building a degrader medicine company with broad impact. We were able to continue the conversations we had been having with investors since the winter of 2019 and add a large number of new, strategically aligned investors, many of whom we grew to know well but had not been able to accommodate in our Series C round due to timing or the round’s significant oversubscription. Our chairman and co-founder, Bruce Booth, wrote a great blog after our IPO with more about our strategy and approach.
Over the past 4 years, we have built a platform and pipeline that we strongly believe not only capitalizes on the true potential of the technology but also allows us to move beyond the current translational hypotheses of TPD. The team has been able to advance three first-in-class programs against un-drugged or poorly drugged targets, with planned clinical entries in 2021. And we have developed what we believe to be the most unique platform in TPD, with the potential in the next few years to match the biology of the target that we wish to degrade with the expression and biology of the E3 ligase, increasing our clinical probability of success. This will allow us to develop degrader drugs to elicit pharmacology in disease relevant tissues while sparing the ones that are negatively impacted – a feat with the potential to transform drug development paradigms.
We have accomplished an incredible amount of work and made tremendous progress in the past 18 months. But I am most proud of how we have been able to deal with and work through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and everything else that 2020 has thrown our way.
I’m proud of the resilience of our team, the sense of belonging, the empathy and the trust we have generated. It has not been easy and not without missteps. But we all gave it our best and focused on how to live through these unique times while progressing our science, growing our team and supporting each other.
We have believed from early on that our job as leaders was to provide our employees with an environment where, through the most advanced de-risking protocols, they would have an opportunity to retain connectivity, face-to-face interactions, mentoring and, importantly, time for themselves as well. Working with a group of other Boston CEOs, we were among the first to establish and implement a series of protocols, including weekly testing that has allowed us from the early days of the pandemic to establish a very effective hybrid model in which all employees can access our facility any given week. I’m proud to say after 6 months of implementing our protocol, our now more than 75 employees have been COVID-19 free and that we are a better company for it.
Like every other biotech company, we still face many challenges and I could write a full blog on those, but at Kymera, we are proudly moving forward and we are excited about the opportunity to invent a class of new medicines and creating our own path to the “success” that we have so carefully chartered. While 2020 has been a year of great accomplishment, we all believe the best for Kymera is still ahead of us.