Founder-CEO Interview Series

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Andrew Parker

Andy has been CEO at Step Pharma since Sept 2019. He has twenty-five years of experience in senior leadership and managerial positions in international pharmaceutical, biotech and start-up companies, including Shire Pharmaceuticals, Opsona Therapeutics, AstraZeneca and Janssen as well as VC experience as General Partner and Scientific Director at Eclosion2. Before joining Step Pharma, Andy was CSO at Zealand Pharm. Andy holds a PhD from the National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill, London, conducted post-doctoral research at Johns Hopkins Medical School, Baltimore, USA, and has an MBA from the University of Warwick Business School, UK. He has published more than 30 scientific articles in renowned international journals.

Founder-CEO Interview Series

with Andrew Parker

If you had to describe yourself with one word, what would you choose?

Purposeful.

What is your background?

I grew up in the south of England, always loved biology and the natural world, spent lots of time chasing and photographing insects in the New Forest, progressed my passion by studying Microbiology at University of Surrey and then focused on cell and molecular biology obtaining my Ph.D. from the National Institute for Medical Research, London (sadly no longer in existence).

You’re the current President and CEO of Step Pharma. What is the team building?

We are building a company focused on developing precision oncology drugs. The team has decades of experience in oncology drug development and is passionate about making a difference to cancer patients. Initially, we are focused on the pyrimidine synthesis pathway, a known therapeutic vulnerability in cancer, and specifically inhibition of the enzyme CTPS1. We are the world leader in this approach and are trail-blazing with a first-in-class CTPS1 inhibitor, dencatistat. 

It’s very exciting that the platform targets CTPS1. What does this mean to the layman? How is it differentiated compared to other inhibitor technologies?

Loss of CTPS1 is genetically linked to blockade of lymphocyte proliferation providing a selective therapeutic option for lymphoproliferative diseases such as lymphoma. Having human genetic validation of the concept brings increased confidence in the approach. Our lead compound dencatistat (STP938) has already demonstrated clinical activity in our first Phase I clinical study in relapsed/refractory lymphoma patients. We have also identified a synthetic lethal opportunity for CTPS1 inhibitors in solid tumours using a genetic biomarker. We are about to start a Phase I clinical study in solid tumour patients with a focus on ovarian cancer where the prevalence of the biomarker is approximately 1 in 5.   

Why is cancer such a tricky disease? 

Cancer is not one disease but many with each having specific characteristics and sensitivities. Cancer cells are particularly efficient at evading death due to their high rate of mutagenesis, consequently, most patients will eventually relapse following treatment. Chemotherapy is a relatively effective but crude treatment approach, and we need to develop an armoury of more selective targeted therapies to deliver increased efficacy with better tolerability profiles. This in turn will allow future development of double and triple combination therapies which brings the promise of making cure the future norm.

What gave you the impetus to take on a Chief Executive role? Was it simply a natural career progression or was it a difficult step to take?

Taking the CEO role seemed a natural progression in my career. I am very scientifically focused and in a small biotech environment, it is possible to remain very close to the science while leading the company and dealing with the other responsibilities that fall on the CEO.

How did your time in Pharma develop your mindset and skillset?

Pharma was key to developing my understanding of drug discovery and clinical development. This is not something easily learnt in the classroom and requires hands-on experience. My time at Janssen and AstraZeneca exposed me to all the disciplines required in drug discovery and shaped my ability to prioritise activities and projects. These can all be translated into the smaller biotech environment where it is possible to be more creative and reactive.  

What are the upcoming milestones for the team? 

We expect to complete our lymphoma Phase I later this year and start our solid tumour Phase I in the next few months. 2025 will be an important year as we expect to deliver robust clinical efficacy readouts for both lymphoma and ovarian cancer.

What have been some highlights in your career thus far?

I have had the privilege to work with many great teams on different projects over the years. More recent highlights include building a strong pipeline of preclinical assets while CSO at Zealand Pharma, a successful licensing deal with Alexion and being part of the team that delivered a US IPO. At Step, it has been amazing to be part of the journey of turning a human genetic observation into dencatistat, the first selective CTPS1 inhibitor to enter clinical development and to already see signs of clinical activity in Phase I meaning we are providing patient benefit.

Who or what has shaped who you are? 

My love of the natural sciences was shaped at school by an amazing biology teacher, Julian Cremona. His passion and enthusiasm led me and many other students to pursue careers in science. I have also been fortunate to find excellent mentors, too numerous to mention, who taught and guided me as I navigated academia, big pharma and then start-up biotech.

What is one interesting fact about yourself that few people know of (a hobby, etc.)? 

I love photography, being introduced to my first camera by my grandfather as a child, and then being taught by my school biology teacher who was a very skilled wildlife photographer. Perhaps less well-known is that I am also an avid stamp collector.

Do you have any final remarks/advice to share?

I remember Angus Russell, former CEO of Shire, telling me when he was mentoring me through my MBA that the CEO should never lose sight of the details. Something that I have always tried to remember and apply. 

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