Entrepreneuring in the Pharma Industry
Episode

Brian Fiske, founder, and CSO at Mythic Therapeutics

Entrepreneuring in the Pharma Industry

Mythic is merging science and business for groundbreaking drug development.

 

In this episode, Brian Fiske, founder, and CSO at Mythic Therapeutics talks about the work Mythic does, the journey that led him to create the company, and what he has learned along the way. After earning experience in the pharma industry, Brian wanted to start his own company and focus on making drugs for patients rather than on technology. At Mythic, he and his team looked at antibody-drug conjugates focusing on the antibody side to target affected cells. He discusses the importance of connecting with people at the company and work teams and interpreting their feedback. Brian also shares his thoughts on shipping and data management as challenges that, when addressed properly, can make drug development much more efficient.

 

Tune in to this episode to learn from Brian Fiske about the inner workings of Mythic Therapeutics in drug development!

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Entrepreneuring in the Pharma Industry

About Brian Fiske:

Brian Fiske is one of the premier young entrepreneurs in biotech. In July 2017, he co-founded Mythic Therapeutics, a product-platform company developing a pipeline of antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) designed to exhibit unparalleled therapeutic index and efficacy. He currently serves as the company’s Chief Scientific Officer and as a member of the Board of Directors. Mythic’s FateControl technology specifically enhances ADC uptake in targeted tissues by manipulating the fate of the ADC within the cell, thereby expanding the disease and patient profiles that can be treated with Mythic’s ADCs. Prior to Mythic, Brian was a co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Ohana Biosciences and a Senior Associate at Flagship Ventures, where he co-founded Ohana and KSQ Therapeutics. In 2016, he was nationally recognized for healthcare entrepreneurship by Forbes 30 under 30. 

Before Flagship, Brian completed his Ph.D. in Biology in Matt Vander Heiden’s lab at MIT where he published over 10 papers in the field of cancer metabolism. He also worked closely with Agios Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AGIO) on their cancer metabolism programs, which have since translated into 4 clinical programs including two approved drugs. Before his Ph.D., he worked at Bain & Company with pharmaceutical, hedge fund, and industrial clients. He holds an A.B. summa cum laude in Biochemical Sciences with a secondary field in Economics from Harvard University.

 

LabOps Leadership_Brian Fiske: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

LabOps Leadership_Brian Fiske: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Samantha Black:
By building a platform to share challenges, network, and thoughts from leaders, the LabOps Leadership Podcast is elevating LabOps professionals as well as the industry as a whole. With the intent of unlocking the power of LabOps, we deliver unique insights to execute the mission at hand, standardize the practice of LabOps, their development, and training. Welcome to the LabOps Leadership Podcast.

Kerri Anderson:
Welcome to the LabOps Leadership podcast. I’m Kerri Anderson. I’ll be one of the co-hosts today and I am the co-founder of the LabOps Unite community.

Samantha Black:
Awesome, thanks, Kerri. We’re so excited today to have Brian Fiske, who is founder and chief scientific officer of Mythic Therapeutics, with us today. Thanks for joining us, Brian.

Brian Fiske:
Thanks, Samantha. Thanks, Kerri.

Samantha Black:
Awesome, so just to kick us off, can you just tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to start a company?

Brian Fiske:
Sure, so I’m sitting here in our offices in Waltham, Massachusetts. I grew up just north of here in Andover, Massachusetts, for many years. I guess my fun fact where I would start growing up, I was a competitive swimmer growing up. So I had the opportunity to travel all over the country for that. As an 11-year-old, I raced a young Michael Phelps and he won, by the way, so that can serve as a summary of my childhood. Eventually, I made my way to Harvard College, and after that, did a stint in management consulting at Bain and then entered my Ph.D., completed my Ph.D. in cancer biology at MIT and Matt Vander Hyun’s lab. So he works on cancer metabolism, and he’s now the director of the Koch Institute at MIT. During the time I was at MIT, I had the opportunity to consult for a company called Agios Pharmaceuticals or Agios Therapeutics. At the time, they were around 30 people, very focused on discovery, and had the opportunity to see them grow into 130 people and focused on clinical. And they were in their phase one and had a fantastic outcome for patients and I think generated two or three approved drugs. And actually someone in my, a classmate at MIT who was actually diagnosed with a brain cancer who they were able to treat, and so that was quite fantastic to see. So having had that experience, both from the patient perspective as well as the company perspective, seeing them have such ideas, have such huge impact, I wanted to get involved with something that looked like that. And so after my Ph.D., I went to Flagship Ventures, which is now Flagship Pioneering, I was in their venture creation arm for almost two years, started two companies out of their balance sheet, one of which is called K Askew Therapeutics, which is still around, it’s at the intersection of oncology and CRISPR. And so after having done that two different times at Flagship, I wanted the challenge of starting something independently and wanted the opportunity to focus a little bit more on making drugs for patients rather than technology, which is, I think, my reflection on what a lot of Flagship companies are focused on, they’re more technology-focused and then figure out the patient part. Obviously, that’s gone well for them, having started Moderna. But after Flagship, I left to start Mythic independently of Flagship out of my living room table.

Samantha Black:
Yeah, I mean, you’re going to have to tell us a little bit more about that. Like what happened? How did you get from a living room to the office that you’re at today?

Brian Fiske:
Sure, sure, many different steps, many different twists and turns. So when we started out, we started with literally nothing other than the idea that we should start a biotech company and that we might be good at that. We might know something about that based on experience at Flagship and sat down for a while, really with a blank slate as to what we should do. And I guess during that time period it started, it was the time in early 2017 when people were starting to figure out, Oh my God, there are like 150 and now something like 300 PD-1s in oncology, entering clinical trials, and PD-1 is the checkpoint receptor that we all know about. And so that became very interesting to us because we wanted to figure out like what’s going on here, because it seems like a phenomenal waste of human endeavor, right? Like, why would you decide to be the 11th PD-1 or even like the 300th PD-1, right? Why would you do that? Why are people interested in that? So I think there’s one reason that is not that interesting for a startup, which is that having to do with PD-1s being used in combination and it being very hard to run a trial where you don’t own one of the drugs. But the other reason that we thought that was going on was that fundamentally antibody technology is super powerful, but no one really knows what to do with it other than take an antibody and make it find a target, maybe that’s a drug. And so we started thinking about what we could do with antibody-based technology. At the same time, we realized that ADCs, antibody-drug conjugates, where you conjugate chemotherapy to an antibody and use that to deliver more chemotherapy to a tumor, make it more specific for the tumor. We started to look at ADCs and see that while the field had worked on the linker toxin side, right, how, what the chemotherapy is that you attach to the antibody and how you link it to the antibody, they’ve been focused on that for decades, they hadn’t really done much on the antibody side. And so putting two and two together, that’s how we came up with our focus today. As far as I know, we’re the only company focusing on antibodies for ADCs, and that’s our scientific focus. From a corporate perspective, it’s been incredibly rewarding, and to build our team. So you said at the beginning before we started recording here that you had Nimish Gera on last time, and Nimish was our first scientist and we consider him our scientific co-founder at Mythic, incredible experience in antibody engineering. And so building the team, raising money along the way, bringing on our great scientific advisory board, our board of directors, all of our major investors, then Rock Viking first round. And that led us to where we are today, which is we’re about 30 people here in Waltham and we’re funded out of a series B we raised last winter to go to clinical proof of concept for a lead drug.

Samantha Black:
So exciting, so exciting. No, that’s amazing, I think it seems like it’s been an adventure to build it from the ground up, and I think, I really applaud you for that effort. I’m sure it’s been a lot of ups and downs, but I think the technology you said, being the only one in the space, you know, that can be great because you have a lot of opportunity, but it can also be very lonely like you are figuring it out all on your own. So just kind of wondering what that’s like, you know, being the only ones doing a particular, going down a particular path for development. Do you have any learnings from that? Like things that you think are like helpful, and are you just like so sure that this is what needs to be done, that you keep on going down the path, or like what drives you to keep doing this even though you’re the only ones who seem to be doing it?

Brian Fiske:
Yeah!

Samantha Black:
That’s a crazy question.

Brian Fiske:
No, no, no worries. So I think, first off, it’s probably helpful to define as like what does, we’re the only ones, mean. So I’ll define my own version of that, which is we’re the only company doing that, but as a company, we have dozens of team members and almost hundreds of stakeholders who have bought into, and are really excited about what we’re doing. So it’s a team effort and we’ve built that organically over, we built that excitement organically over time. And so, as an entrepreneur, like I don’t, that energizes me enough. And I think we can, what’s really exciting about where we are now is, as we enter clinical trials, is I think, our clinical data. We’re super excited about our clinical data that’ll be coming out in 2023, based on what we see in our preclinical models, and we’re very confident, and we know how it’ll translate and etc., etc. I think we look forward to clinical data as the opportunity where people will finally say, wow, what these guys at Mythic are doing is really exciting. I should take a deeper look and figure it out because it does seem a little different than what other people are doing. So that’s how we think about it. And it’s a team effort, and you look forward to the point at which other people will have to pay attention.

Samantha Black:
Yeah, no, I love that. I think it’s very inspiring, and I hope that more people pay attention if it really is effective. So that would be my hope for you. So I would pass it over to Kerri. I know she’s got some questions for you.

Kerri Anderson:
Yeah, I have many questions. This is really fascinating. One thing I’m intrigued by is, so in your role, you’re doing kind of both science and business, you have a little bit of both aspects there. And I think a lot of people, especially that will listen to this podcast, that are in lab operations can relate to that because a lot of us started at the bench and then transitioned into operations. And I’m curious your thoughts on how that can actually help you out. Because I know for me personally, being a scientist previously, a lot of what I look at in the lab, I want to make data-driven decisions. I want to be able to make smart decisions and be strategic about what we’re doing, and that’s kind of my science background coming in there. And I’m curious, your thoughts on that and how it can help you in business by being able to have a science background.

Brian Fiske:
Yeah, it’s a good question. I mean, fundamentally as a therapeutics company, right? I can talk about my experience at Mythic, we’re trying to help patients transform their lives by bringing new therapies to market. The, everything we’re doing is related to science in some way, and the hard part is it keeps changing, right? And so the critical path first it was discovery, then it was preclinical, then it was CMC, then it’s early clinical, back to CMC again, right? So it’s constantly, constantly changing, but all of those areas relate back to science. And so the like, the fun questions I think are the things that are easy to get energized about, are all those scientific questions that sort of surround it, surround those, those different topics. I think what the challenges as a scientist who spent five years, for me personally, who spent five years in grad school with my head down at a lab bench, pretty much is, wow, people exist and people are really important and the team is really important. And you know, 80% of your team and 80% of the people that you interact with are doing great and fantastically positioned for success, everything’s aligned. But it’s that other piece, right? 20%, hopefully, less than that, right? Where, you know, someone’s been doing a really great job, but you have to figure out what their next step is and enable that for their career. Or, you know, you have a vendor who you don’t understand what’s going on, they were working really great, and a lot of those problems come down to people. And so I think that, to me, was the big learning in the last several years, and I’m still learning. I’m still not, I think it’ll be a lifetime of work to figure all that out.

Kerri Anderson:
Yeah, absolutely, yeah, the people are really what makes a company. And I think being able to understand them and realize that is really important. So when it comes to lab operations, a lot of times we’re helping to drive science faster. And what’s something you’re seeing in your lab that’s being, bringing the drugs to development faster through lab operations, like how they’re helping the team?

Brian Fiske:
Sure, sure, so I think the two areas that we’ve found are most critical to get right, one is shipping, which is pretty, pretty basic. But like, for example, during the whole Texas freeze thing, I forgot, maybe that was last year, we, shipping was totally messed up and we couldn’t get anything through FedEx, for example, to our CROs, even though we weren’t our CROs weren’t in Texas, they were in North Carolina, they were in Nevada, but shipping was terrible. And we, as a result of losing some shipments, some shipments being so delayed that they thawed out and didn’t have any dry ice, we diversified our vendors and put in some additional SOPs, and so that’s one thing. I think the other thing is more generally data management, right? And data management is especially complicated because you’re often, I mean, we probably have more, I don’t know how many, but we probably have more people working at CROs for Mythic than we do at Mythic itself. And so they have their data systems, we have our data systems. Oftentimes the only link between those two is PowerPoint, which is not a great, which is not a phenomenal database software. And so how does that all, how do you think that all together, how do you make that work? How do you make that work in the context of like a small startup where we’re not going to have a giant IT and data management department, but how do we get the data to people who need it at the right time and then be able to communicate that up to the organization?

Kerri Anderson:
Yeah, yeah, that’s a big area. Having worked in about every sized company, it’s a problem I’ve seen everywhere.

Brian Fiske:
Absolutely, I would also say to your, I did, I saw this as a question that you guys had beforehand. I think the, you talked a little bit about faster, right? And I actually think that I would posit that for the most part, we’re kind of, maybe not in discovery, right? Which is what this podcast focused on, but we could probably always go faster in discovery and do more in discovery. But once you get towards, sort of, past preclinical and into clinical, you really I think most companies and most people in biotech are pretty good at going as fast as you can and you’re really actually limited by the institutions and like GXP. So unless we’re going to change GXP, which that’s a whole other interesting conversation, but assuming we’re not going to change that, I actually think we’re going kind of as fast as we can. And what might be more important and what I think I would love to see more companies in our industry do is design drugs in a way where you have, you know, that they’re going to have a higher probability of success, being very honest about what that probability of success is. There’s a lot of pressure as a small company, for example, to get your first drug out the door or whatever worked first, whatever version of that is. But creating a company where stakeholders are bought into have a really high bar and designing the drug in a way, and tweaking it where you can link it maybe to prior human clinical data, especially if you’re in a space like ADCs where there’s lots of clinical data, that’s what I would love to see. That’s how I think we could improve our industry rather than, I think we’re going as fast as we can.

Kerri Anderson:
Yeah, absolutely, I mean, that’s something I think we’re seeing more of and we’re just going to continue to keep seeing, especially as we start merging technology and science more and more. So what’s something your biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Brian Fiske:
Sure, I think I would link it back to what I said earlier, which is about people, right? I think engaging as many people, from the perspective of a founder, engaging as many people as you can as early as you can. I’ve never regretted going out and talking to people. Although sometimes it’s, as a scientist, again, your tendency is to be a little bit more introverted than that, or at least my natural tendency is, so getting out there, talking to people. And then what’s, what I think is equally as important as going out and talking to lots of people is understanding how to interpret what they’re saying and its applicability to you. So what are people’s biases? What are, like pervasive biases, for example? So the one that I see the most often is people will tell you to do what they did. And so you can learn something from that because you can learn something about what they did and how they thought about what they did, but the problem is it’s fundamentally end-of-one. That’s fundamentally backward-looking, which is not very useful for you if you’re trying to get advice because you want to apply it in a forward-looking sense, and the world is changing all the time. So I think that would be my biggest lesson learned that I would share.

Kerri Anderson:
Yeah, that’s a great one. I mean, I think you never know what you’re going to learn from anyone. So these conversations with, getting out there and talking to a lot of people is really important.

Samantha Black:
Yeah, and I think also, you know, being in a leadership role that you are like just being willing to talk to everybody on the team and hear what they have to say like, that, you may get something out of that, but you’re also giving them a gift as well, because, you know, especially if we’re talking about the LabOps community, I know a lot of people feel like their voices aren’t like maybe heard with the leadership because they’re so far away. So I think it’s really valuable when you’re at the leadership table and you can still be willing to hear all the voices, right? That’s really powerful. And you’re getting something, but you’re also giving something at the same time. So I think that’s really great.

Brian Fiske:
That’s really important, Samantha. So one thing I started doing once I wasn’t interacting, when we were six people, I was interacting with everyone on a day-to-day basis. But now that we’re 30 people, one thing that I’ve instituted along the way is exactly that making sure that I have one-on-ones with everybody on the 16, 17-person R&D team on a regular basis. And what’s interesting about that in terms of having people’s voices heard is that I think I don’t get a ton of like strong feedback at those meetings, but I think just the fact that I have those meetings means that if people did have strong feedback, I hear it sort of in a more immediate way, which is frankly more useful than waiting the three or four months until I catch up to someone on my one-on-one schedule. So yeah, making sure that people are connected. One value we have at Mythic is Build Together, which we mean that we’re most excited to work with people who want to come to mythic and build something that’s relevant for their expertise. And I have some interesting examples for maybe LabOps that people have come in and built stuff. But you can’t get that without the right balance of engagement, encouragement, and making sure that people feel like if they spend the time and effort to like, put their personal passion into the company, that’s going to have an impact.

Samantha Black:
Yeah, I love that. I think that that’s awesome. And it also, I think leads us into our final question, which is just, you know, is there anything else about Mythic that you want to share? And, you know, if people are interested in the technology, the science, where can they find more info? Where can they keep up with you and how can they connect with you?

Brian Fiske:
Sure, so I’m not the strongest with social media, but you could probably connect with me on LinkedIn. My, yeah, why don’t I say, try that? If people wanted to contact me after the podcast. In terms of Mythic, we, I think we’ll have a lot of exciting things to say as we enter the clinic next year. I think the, part of the reason why I wanted to come on the podcast and start getting the word out is we are, we think we have something really exciting. We are very different, right? And I think people in the field, in the ADC field, have sort of, have an automatic expectation that ADC companies are working on linker toxins, and so one thing I’d love to do is raise awareness of what we’re doing and change that automatic perception because we’re obviously working on the antibody side of things. So, I think the other thing that’s really exciting is that our platform is fundamentally payload agnostic. So to the extent, people are excited about a linker toxin, there’s probably a way for us to work together, and in fact many of the new payloads people are thinking about beyond oncology and beyond cytotoxic, for example, steroids for autoimmune conditions or RNA for different genetic conditions is commonly suffer from potency, which is exactly the problem that we’ve solved in oncology, in the work that we have in-house with cytotoxic. So I guess I would encourage people to reach out to me if you have some idea for delivering something inside of a cell-based, on a protein marker or any marker you can hit with an antibody in the surface, we can probably have at least an interesting discussion about how to work together. And like I said, the proof is going to be in the pudding in terms of our clinical data next year. So I’m sure we’ll be putting out press releases and you can check out our website MythicTx.com.

Samantha Black:
Awesome, all right, great. Well, Brian, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show. We wish you the best of luck and we look forward to seeing that data next year.

Kerri Anderson:
Sounds like an incredible culture, leadership team, and science. So we’re excited to see and follow your journey.

Brian Fiske:
Thanks, Kerri, thanks for having me on.

Samantha Black:
All right, thank you, Brian.

Samantha Black:
Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the LabOps Leadership Podcast. We hope you enjoyed today’s guest. For show notes, resources, and more information about LabOps Unite, please visit us at LabOps.Community/Podcast. This show is powered by Elemental Machines.

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Things You’ll Learn:

  • Mythic Therapeutics ensures that the antibody molecule they use can kill the targeted tumor and not affect the normal tissues.
  • It is very hard to run a trial where you don’t own one of the drugs.
  • Mythic Therapeutics is the only company focusing on antibodies for antibody-drug conjugates.
  • There’s a lot of pressure as a small company to get your first drug out.
  • If you’re a company founder, engage with many people as early as possible, but try to understand what they’re trying to share with you and how you can apply it.

Resources:

  • Connect with and follow Brian Fiske on LinkedIn.
  • Follow Mythic Therapeutics on LinkedIn.
  • Explore the Mythic Therapeutics Website!
  • Connect with and follow co-host Kerri Anderson on LinkedIn.