Insights Blog

By Patti Hall
on Jan 9, 2018
  • Life Sciences
Key People In Early Drug Development

Anthony (Tony) J. Coyle, PhD, is originally from England, where he earned both his bachelor's degree and PhD in pharmacology from King's College London.  He worked as a post-doctoral assistant at the Institut Pasteur, and as a post-doctoral research assistant with the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine before being hired as a research scientist with the Glaxo Institute for Molecular Biology, concurrently serving as a scientist with Ciba-Geigy, which later merged with Sandoz to create Novartis.

In 1997, Dr. Coyle joined Millennium Pharmaceuticals, a leading biopharmaceutical company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which has since been absorbed into its parent company, Takeda Oncology.  Millennium had a growing clinical development pipeline of product candidates, with research, development, and commercialization focused on the areas of oncology and inflammation, and was one of the first companies to systematically search for genes linked to disease.  Dr. Coyle served as the director of inflammation biology for Millennium Pharmaceuticals for seven years, leading a group responsible for the identification of novel target genes, as well as for late-stage lead optimization and delivery of both small-molecule and biologic development candidates.

Dr. Coyle joined MedImmune in 2004 as the head of respiratory inflammation and autoimmune research biology, a position he held for two years before being promoted to vice president and global head of inflammation biologics.  MedImmune, a division of AstraZeneca, has one of the largest, most robust pipelines in the industry, with more than 120 research projects and product candidates in the areas of oncology; respiratory, inflammation, and autoimmune; and cardiovascular and metabolic disease.  It represents almost half of AstraZeneca's overall R&D portfolio, and is served by approximately 2,200 global employees.  There, Dr. Coyle was involved in early drug discovery, advancing a biologic portfolio from discovery to Phase 2, particularly targeting lupus, asthma, and COPD.

In 2010, Dr. Coyle was hired by Pfizer to launch the company's Centers for Therapeutic Innovation.  He has served as a senior vice president of Pfizer and as the chief scientific officer of CTI since that time, during which it has been highly successful and experienced rapid growth.  Based in Boston, Dr. Coyle is responsible for the strategy and scientific direction of CTI's four sites (New York City, Boston, San Diego, and San Francisco), overseeing the leaders of each site, as well as an operations team and project management function.  CTI is a unique model for driving innovation in biotherapeutics R&D through collaboration among Pfizer scientists, 25 academic medical centers, five foundations, and the National Institutes of Health, in order to bridge the gap between early scientific discovery and its translation into new medicines.  Pfizer's development expertise and resources complement academics' research expertise in disease biology, targets, and patient populations, shortening the traditionally linear process of drug development.  Pfizer offers funding for pre-clinical and clinical development, as well as access to compound libraries, proprietary screening methods, and antibody development technologies.

In addition to his role with Pfizer, Dr. Coyle teaches in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at McMaster University in Ontario, and is on the scientific advisory board of the Alliance for Lupus Research and the Clinical & Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Consortium Coordinating Center.  He has authored more than 200 manuscripts.

Melinda Richter earned a bachelor's degree in commerce from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, and an MBA from INSEAD global business school in France.  While working internationally for global telecom company Nortel Networks, she received a bug bite in Beijing that led to a severe, acute illness doctors believed to be fatal.  When she did, in fact, recover, Ms. Richter was driven to focus her career on helping the healthcare industry advance by breaking down barriers to developing and commercializing new therapies, medical devices, and diagnostics.  Although she had no scientific or medical background, Ms. Richter put her business background to work through raising capital and completing large corporate deals for several companies in both the life science and technology spaces.

In 2004, Ms. Richter founded Prescience International, an award-winning full-scale management firm dedicated to accelerating research to the patient by creating the necessary supporting infrastructure, educational programs, and financing for life sciences and cleantech entrepreneurs.  Prescience created, managed, and developed centers of excellence that included incubators, research centers, research foundations, research institutes, and emerging companies, all dedicated to the commercialization and global adoption of science and technology; its successes include the San Jose BioCenter, Janssen Labs, Environmental Business Cluster, UC Berkeley BioExec Institute, UC Berkeley Cleantech Institute, and InnovateMD.

Under Ms. Richter's leadership, the San Jose BioCenter – a $15 million, 40,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art life science research center and incubator – was named one of the best life science incubators in the U.S. by CNN, was honored by the National Business Incubation Association with its 2009 Incubator of the Year Award, and was granted Harvard's Bright Ideas Award.  Also in San Jose, the Environmental Business Cluster – one of the first cleantech incubators ever to be established in the U.S. – was ranked as one of the "Top 10 Incubators Changing the World" by, one of the "Top 10 Start Up Incubators to Watch" by, one of the top incubators in the country by CNN, and named by Popular Science Magazine as one of three "Places Where Inventors Are Born"; the EBC has successfully attracted more than 180 cleantech companies and continues to lead the way in pushing forward innovative emerging green technologies.

Johnson & Johnson recruited Ms. Richter in 2013 to help build out its flagship San Diego JLABS site and to help sell the JLABS concept to young biotechs; merging Prescience with Johnson & Johnson, she utilized the model she had created for her own company to form the basis for JLABS, which is now potentially the best-known incubator in the biopharma space, encompassing six locations across the country and hosting 144 companies.  JLABS is a "no strings attached" model, with no first look, no first right of refusal, and no equity assigned to Johnson & Johnson, which allows its companies to have complete entrepreneurial freedom.  It provides operational management and programming resources, core research facilities with specialized capital equipment, shared administrative areas, a curriculum to help innovators through the product development process, deal teams that expand opportunities for venture capital funding, and commercialization expertise.  The focus of JLABS is on the pharmaceutical, medical device, and consumer and digital health industries, with particular therapeutic emphasis on oncology, immunology, neuroscience, cardiovascular and metabolism, infectious diseases, and vaccines.

In addition to serving as the head of JLABS, Ms. Richter currently sits on the boards of the University of California Berkeley's Haas School of Business Center for Executive Education BioExec Institute, the San Jose State University's Masters of Biotechnology Program, and UC San Francisco's School of Dentistry, and has previously served on the governing board of the National Business Incubation Association.

Robert (Bob) Tepper, MD earned his undergraduate degree in biochemistry at Princeton University, and his MD at Harvard University.  In 1990, he began working as a PI for the MGH Cancer Center, as well as co-founding Cell Genesys/Abgenix.  He then became the president of R&D for Millennium Pharmaceuticals, which he helped expand from a drug discovery company to a fully-integrated biopharmaceutical company.

In 2007, Dr. Tepper co-founded Third Rock Ventures with Kevin Starr, a finance executive, and Mark Levin, a biochemical engineer, both of whom were also Millennium Pharmaceuticals alums.  The trio was inspired by the innovation they found in academic research facilities, but concerned about its frequent inability to reach patients, which they saw as the result of a lack of funding for biotech startups.

In creating their company, Dr. Tepper and his colleagues hired PhDs and MDs from Harvard and MIT, and had raised $378 million in just ten weeks.  Third Rock Ventures has recently embarked upon its fourth drug discovery fund, raising $616 million, which represents one of the largest funds in the world devoted to life sciences investment, and was actually oversubscribed; since its inception, the company has raised a total of $1.9 billion.  With each fund, Third Rock invests in 10-12 companies, providing 10,000-15,000 hours of time to each company in helping them develop and leading them until they go public or are acquired. Third Rock is unique in that, rather than funding existing biotech companies, it "builds" them, identifying science and placing Third Rock partners in lead roles to shape the strategic focus of the prospective company – they are investing in ideas.

Third Rock currently has 43 portfolio companies, 45 clinical studies underway, and 60 diseases being targeted (ranging from cancer to immunological and neurodegenerative disorders).  A dozen of its companies have gone public, including Agios Pharmaceuticals, which makes drugs to treat genetic disorders and cancer; Bluebird Bio, which uses gene therapy to treat rare diseases; Editas Medicine, which focuses on genome editing to develop transformative medicines; Voyager Therapeutics, a gene therapy company developing life-changing treatments for severe diseases of the central nervous system; and Foundation Medicine, which sells a diagnostic test that uses DNA sequencing to help determine which cancer drugs could best fight a particular patient's tumor.  (Notably, Agios and Bluebird were among the top four biotech stocks in 2014, with 300% ascents.)  In addition, four of Third Rock's investments have been sold to larger companies.  Along with helping to identify investment opportunities, Dr. Tepper has held leadership roles in a number of the portfolio companies as a board member and chief strategic officer.

In 2015, Dr. Tepper and his colleagues received the Ellen M. Zane Award for Visionary Leadership from Tufts Medical Center for "possessing the extraordinary and transformational leadership to launch, fund, and lead businesses that ultimately make dramatic differences for patients, particularly those fighting cancer."

Dr. Tepper currently serves as an adjunct faculty member at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and is an advisory board member for several leading healthcare institutions, including the Partners HealthCare Center for Personalized Genetic Medicine and Harvard Medical School.  He is a board member of Cerulean Pharmaceuticals and is on the board of overseers at Tufts University, as well as serving on the council of the National Center for the Advancement of Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).