Gary Glick, a chemist and well-known biotech entrepreneur, has raised more than $200 million to launch the latest company aiming to harness advances in medicinal chemistry to invent new drugs for cancer and inflammatory diseases.
Called Odyssey Therapeutics, the startup is backed by OrbiMed Advisors, SR One Capital Management and half a dozen other venture capital firms that collectively staked Glick and his team with the sizable Series A financing round.
For now, Odyssey isn’t revealing much about the diseases or targets it hopes to go after, although its funding has allowed the company to sketch out seven drug discovery programs. The biotech’s goal, Glick said in an interview, is to advance between one and three drug candidates into clinical testing by the end of 2023 or early 2024.
To help accomplish that goal, Glick has assembled a veteran team of drug hunters that includes Shifeng Pan, director of discovery chemistry at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation for the past eight years. Pan, who was Odyssey’s first hire, helped discover the cancer drugs Braftovi and Odomzo, as well as Novartis’ new multiple sclerosis treatment Mayzent.
Joining Glick and Pan are Robert Abraham, most recently the chief scientific officer at Vividion Therapeutics and previously the head of oncology R&D at Pfizer; Natalie Dales, formerly head of portfolio and strategy for Novartis’ discovery chemistry group; and Joseph McDonald, who’s worked as an executive responsible for machine learning and physics-based simulation at Bristol Myers Squibb and Celgene.
“These are people who have seen so much,” Glick said. “We’ve put together a team that arguably could be a senior team and a discovery team at any major pharma.”
According to Glick, the team’s experience helped Odyssey raise its sizable funding round. At $218 million, Odyssey’s financing is one of the largest Series A’s for a biotech this year and several times larger than the $60 million average funding for cancer drug startups, according to data from Evaluate Vantage.
The financial backing has also helped Odyssey quickly hire nearly 100 employees since July — a “mad dash of recruiting,” Glick said.
The idea for Odyssey came together in the spring, some months after Glick departed as CEO of Scorpion Therapeutics, another well-funded biotech startup focused on cancer. Rather than targeting rare diseases, as many young drugmakers do, Odyssey plans to focus on diseases affecting larger numbers of people. Its focus will be small molecule drugs, although it will also work on protein-based medicines, too.
While Odyssey has not disclosed any specific drug targets yet, Glick said none of the ones it plans to pursue have approved therapies available.
“Our initial group of targets are focusing on targets that have some degree of clinical validation,” Glick said. “We’re also interested in identifying targets that hold a lot of promise [but] they’re very challenging [and] have yet to be cracked.”
Odyssey has also invested heavily in what’s known as computational chemistry, or using advanced computing techniques like machine learning to better predict how would-be drug candidates bind to or interact with cellular targets. About 30 of Odyssey’s employees are data scientists, according to Glick.
A little over a year ago, Glick had just founded Scorpion, which quickly raised nearly $300 million to develop targeted cancer medicines. By February this year, however, Glick had left and was replaced by an interim CEO. (Axel Hoos, a GlaxoSmithKline executive, has since taken over the job.)
“I’m very proud of all that Scorpion has accomplished under my leadership over the last year or so,” Glick said. “I remain very confident — extremely confident — of future prospects.”
Before Scorpion, Glick had founded and led IFM Therapeutics, which spun off several companies that were acquired by Bristol Myers Squibb and Novartis for substantial sums in 2017 and 2019. Glick also started Lycera, which Celgene grabbed an option to acquire in 2015.