Former Allergan executive Sanjiv Patel becomes the new CEO and President of upstart Relay Therapeutics.
Relay Therapeutics announced the appointment of Sanjiv Patel, M.D. as its new Chief Executive Officer and President. He has succeeded the interim CEO Alexis Borisy. Patel comes to Relay after over ten years at Allergan, where he played an important role in that company’s sustained growth and value creation by overseeing some of the industry’s biggest transactions as the Chief Strategy Officer.
Relay, launched in 2016 with $57 million in Series A financing from Third Rock Ventures and an affiliate of D. E. Shaw Research, is a privately owned company located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The company’s current programs are focused on developing oncology drugs through an approach that integrates their expertise in structural biology, biophysics, computation, chemistry and biology.
Rather than focus on a more conventional approach to drug discovery using a static model of a target protein’s three-dimensional structure, Relay considers the dynamic structural changes of the protein over time, as the protein sways through different conformations. In this sense, instead of working with a “static photo” of the protein, Relay utilizes a “3-D movie” that can reveal different states and positions over time.
Their novel approach allows for the discovery of targets that are distinct from the protein’s active site. This potential for allosteric regulation, as it is known, has significant implications. Many pharmaceutical companies design drugs to target a protein’s active site, but often these compounds interact with other proteins in a similar class, causing a flurry of unintended effects. Relay’s allosteric drugs will target an area of a protein that is not an active site, to induce a structural change in the protein which will thereby inactivate its active site. This approach makes for more precise drugs, with fewer side effects. Relay must rely on computational modeling to study many of these protein characteristics.
Several companies have jumped into the in silico drug discovery market, which is expected to increase to USD $6.5b in 2023, from $1.6b in 2015, when North America controlled 30% of novel in silico tools.
Notable companies include Nimbus Therapeutics, who struck a deal with Gilead Sciences in 2016 worth up to $1.2b, and who recently made a strategic partnership with Charles River Laboratories International. Nimbus and Relay were both founded by the same chemical simulation software company, Schrödinger.
Another notable company in the in silico drug discovery market is Icagen, who last week secured a 2-year partnership with Bayer that includes undisclosed milestones. Icagen expanded their operation last year to a facility in Tucson that houses a state-of-the-art computational platform for drug discovery and compound library.
Two of Relay’s partners, X-Chem Pharmaceuticals and D. E. Shaw Research, are also involved in silico approaches to drug discovery. Like Icagen, X-Chem Pharmaceuticals houses a compound library to screen small molecules using bioinformatics; whereas D. E. Shaw Research, similar to Schrödinger, designs algorithms that study the motion of molecules and proteins.
“Relay is uniquely positioned to design innovative drugs,” says Dr. Patel, “by visualizing protein motion through integrating emerging computational and experimental methods. I look forward to working with the team to build a pipeline of groundbreaking therapies with an initial focus in oncology.” Patel’s experience in Global Strategic Marketing and general management of Emerging Markets at Allergan will bring a paradigm shift to Relay’s novel approach to drug discovery.