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Startup CEO touts immunology technology to cure cancer and more.
Daniel Getts, CEO of Myeloid Therapeutics, wants to cure cancer. He admits it’s a legitimately bold thing to say, but he has a strong belief that he will make an impact someday. When he walks into his office in Cambridge, Mass., he is reminded of the potential he has to save lives—the view from his window is of Moderna’s headquarters across the street. “Every day I say there’s no reason with the products we have and what we’re doing that we can’t come up with solutions for people with the cancers we’re targeting and keep them alive,” he says.
Growing up in Australia, Getts was the first person in his family to attend college. He enrolled in the University of Sydney in 2000 with the hope of becoming a doctor but soon realized it wasn’t for him. He then had the opportunity to research how West Nile virus modulates the immune system in the brain. “It was interesting because we worked on everything from how the virus causes seizures to how the virus causes pathological damage and changes neuro perspectives,” he says. “That was interesting to me because my mother suffered from debilitating schizophrenia, so this was in my family and I’d seen that growing up.”
The team soon recognized that the immune system in the virus-infected mice was causing more damage than the virus itself, which is a similar response seen in COVID and Ebola. They found that one of the nanoparticles used could prevent the death of the animal. “We went on to show this prevents relapse in MS and heart damage after a heart attack,” he says, “so the potential of this polymeric nanoparticle to modulate the immune system was tremendous.”
In 2008, Getts relocated to the US and earned his postdoc at Northwestern University, where he and his team successfully applied the same nanoparticle approach to autoimmunity and immune tolerance. He later joined Tolera Therapeutics, a startup working on preventing renal transplant rejection.
Through that experience, Getts was able to attract angel investment in the nanoparticle technology and started Cour Pharmaceutical Development Company. Now a global leader for in vivo delivery of polymeric nanoparticles, Cour sold its product for inducing immune tolerance in celiac disease patients to Takeda for $420 million in 2019, which is now in Phase II/III clinical studies.
After leaving Cour, Getts joined TCR2 Therapeutics to help the company build out its pipeline, which includes the first engineered T cell to show response in solid tumor indication for ovarian cancer. He also was part of the leadership team that managed the company’s IPO. Toward the end of his time there, Getts started exploring the potential of myeloid cells. That prompted him to launch Myeloid Therapeutics in March 2019 along with renowned researcher Ronald Vale, PhD and pioneering author and oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, DPhil.
Myeloid went from having no offices to occupying an incubator space to having 27 people, and is about to double again. The company has raised more than $60 million and is starting two clinical programs in a pipeline of four products. “We are a small company that’s building quickly,” says Getts. As it grows, he understands that building a healthy company culture is essential. He boasts a diverse workforce at all levels and realizes the importance of listening and clear communication. He is also a supporter of gender equity. With three daughters under 5, he wants to make sure his girls grow up appreciating that they can do whatever they want. (He also has a son on the way as of press time.)
An immunologist at heart, Getts is excited to see the prominence his field has gained over the years, from checkpoint inhibitors to COVID therapies and vaccines. When Getts was in college, he says immunology wasn’t even taught. “It’s becoming more mainstream. When COVID came, the entire world looked to our industry for the solution. This is not something we can underestimate or take for granted. We haven’t seen anything like it in over 100 years. What Moderna, J&J, Pfizer, and others are doing is nothing short of remarkable.”
Getts sees immunology’s potential to treat myriad ailments. “We’re starting to realize that heart attacks are an immunological phenomenon,” he says. “I think the next great advances in diseases like Alzheimer’s, temporal lobe dementia, and stroke will be immunological-based approaches. As we start to peel this onion and have the capabilities we have with cell and gene therapy, the possibilities are vast.”
Getts says Myeloid, which uses RNA to modulate the innate immune system, has a wide range of opportunities based on its technology, and that picking the best ones will require a thorough process. As he navigates the many options before the company, he’s open to whatever can move the science along, including collaborations. “Our job is to find solutions for patients,” he says. “We can only make what we do better with more people around the table.”
Developing novel cancer therapies is not an easy task. Getts likes to lead by example and says it takes open mindedness, focus on the core business principles, and being a team player to get things done. He also values honesty, emotional intelligence, and a willingness to go the extra mile.
He admits he has extremely high expectations and that the goal requires an extraordinary amount of effort, but he says pressure can be positive and motivating. “We all have to embrace the target, we have to set aside our personal agendas, we have to do our jobs,” he says. “I try and get everyone on the team to embrace what we’re doing from a team perspective.”
Getts looks at his career as being in the middle innings. While uncertainty is part of the process, knowing that he has built a quality team gives him reassurance that Myeloid’s products have a good chance of succeeding into the ninth inning.
“The next five years will be about maintaining our momentum when it comes to innovation and product development,” he says. “On the skills side, it will be taking the company further and deeper into the development cycle and bringing on more great team members to help financing and commercialization strategies and building that out.”
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Elaine Quilici is Pharm Exec’s Senior Editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.