Andrew Bellinger, MD, Ph.D. became interested in the issue of medication adherence after hearing from his patients struggling with managing chronic disease as a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). “I started to see patients with serious illness routinely struggling with the idea of taking medicine every day. I realized we needed to do a better job giving patients a feeling of control, of health and wellness,” said Andrew. Giovanni Traverso, a gastroenterologist at BWH with deep expertise in drug delivery, saw the same challenge in inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn’s and IBD. They asked themselves, “Can we develop oral therapies that provide patients with better options for managing their conditions?” This question started out as a translational effort in Robert Langer’s laboratory at MIT to develop an extended-release oral capsule that’s designed to last for a week or more. While Andrew and Giovanni first envisioned the oral delivery platform as a treatment option for cardiology and GI patients based on their work at BWH, they soon recognized that it could work for a number of interventions, whether it was atherosclerosis, anti-inflammatory indications, or even malaria (of particular interest to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an early collaborator and funder). Soon it was clear that the platform had a great breadth of opportunity and the robustness to enable a new company. A conversation with Robert Langer and Polaris Partners led to the involvement of Amy Schulman, a partner at Polaris Partners. Amy began visiting the Langer Lab and pressure-testing Andrew’s and Giovanni’s work from a commercial and regulatory perspective. This pressure-testing led to the creation of Lyndra Therapeutics, a venture-backed startup with Amy as CEO, Andrew as chief scientific officer, and Giovanni and Robert as members of the board.
For Andrew, it was an easy decision to pair up with Amy as an industry executive who has great expertise in drug development and commercialization from her days at Pfizer. “I have always been passionate about the translation of science into development. The CSO role was a natural one for me,” said Andrew. “Amy was the business and commercial thought partner I needed. She complemented my clinical insight in a profound way, and our relationship provided a compelling argument for me to join the company and to start building it together.”The principal job of a CSO at an early stage company is to recruit talent and grow capabilities in a thoughtful way. For example, you have to be ahead of the curve in hiring if you want to have people with the appropriate skill set that matches the company’s needs. Andrew has learned a great deal about leadership and organizational dynamics, to a large extent through on the job training. It was critical that he was open to making mistakes and internalizing feedback, especially in the first couple of years.
Andrew notes that there is a tremendous amount to learn as a first-time founder. As he said, “make mistakes, find coaches and a mentor (like Amy), and learn from the board as well.” Partners is a big place with often transient relationships, whether that’s with a nurse or a patient for the length of a patient’s clinical care. The world of biotech is wholly different; you have to forge long-term relationships and keep at those relationships through all the trials and tribulations of life in a biotech company, even one as successful as Lyndra (it recently raised a $60 million Series B round). Andrew closed with a word of encouragement to others at Partners to consider starting companies and to step into an operating role. But he points out: “People think that when they make a leap, the challenge is risk. The real challenge isn’t risk, but change. While certainly the risk is there, the skill you need to succeed is the ability to embrace change, walk in with an open spirit and be ready to grow as a person.” Andrew feels grateful for the opportunity that Partners created (both through providing the platform and the early investment in Lyndra), is especially grateful to Amy for her mentorship, and to the remarkable team at Lyndra for providing daily motivation.