The ‘Grit’ to Get It Done

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-05-01-2022, Volume 42, Issue 5

Fast riser in biotech strategy execution seizes on opportunities in immunotherapy.

Growing up in Chicago, Ill., and attending the University of Notre Dame, Matthew J. Hawryluk, PhD, executive vice president, chief business officer and Cambridge site head of Gritstone bio, was always on the fast track to working in biotech. “I always had a passion for both science and the application of science,” he tells Pharm Exec. “That really began at an early age.”

A named inventor on multiple issued US patents and a co-author on 12 peer-reviewed publications, Hawryluk studied biochemistry at Notre Dame before moving on to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where he earned his PhD in cell biology and biochemistry. Rather than pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship or faculty position, Hawryluk wanted to follow his passion for bringing medical advances to patients. “I think that you can most effectively do that within a biotech or pharma landscape,” he says.

To complement his already rigorous scientific training, Hawryluk attended the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, where he went on to earn an MBA with concentrations in entrepreneurship, finance, marketing, and strategy, and was recognized as a Swartz Entrepreneurial Fellow.

Following his education, Hawryluk spent nearly three years in various roles in Thermo Fisher Scientific’s leadership development program. He would spend the next four and a half years at Foundation Medicine (FMI), building and eventually leading its biopharma business.

This role included being the key architect and implementing the strategy for FMI’s platform as a universal companion diagnostic—a radical idea during a time when single companion diagnostics, approved one at a time, reigned. In addition, Hawryluk was a leader in executing the majority sale of FMI to Roche, which was worth over $1 billion.

Hawryluk’s interest in targeted therapies grew during his time at FMI and spurred his next move to Gritstone bio (then Gritstone Oncology) in 2015. “At the time, targeted oncology and small molecule therapies were amazing and definitely helping patients, but oftentimes [the patients] would develop resistance and succumb to their disease,” he explains. “I thought there was a huge opportunity for immuno-oncology to really start to use the word ‘cure.’”

Being one of Gritstone’s first employees, Hawryluk recalls a time when he only had a handful of coworkers. Now, the organization has around 200 employees, including more than 60 who are in full-time roles at the Cambridge site.

Hawryluk’s day-to-day involves overseeing company strategy and external partnerships. He also is the head of the Cambridge, Mass., site, which includes various functions ranging from research to manufacturing.

Gritstone is currently focused on oncology as well as infectious diseases. The company’s first oncology program, GRANITE, is an individualized neoantigen-based vaccine. It is currently being evaluated in a Phase II/III study as a maintenance treatment in patients with newly diagnosed, metastatic microsatellite-stable colorectal cancer (MSS-CRC) who have completed FOLFOX- bevacizumab induction therapy. GRANITE currently has fasttrack designation from FDA for the treatment of MSS-CRC.

Gritstone’s other oncology program, SLATE, is similar to GRANITE, but instead contains a fixed set of neoantigens that are shared across a subset of cancer patients rather than neoantigens unique to an individual patient. It is currently in the Phase II portion of a Phase I/II study for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer in patients with relevant KRAS mutations who have progressed on prior immunotherapy. “It’s going to be a big next 12 to 18 months for Gritstone on the oncology front, for sure,” says Hawryluk.

In addition, Gritstone has vaccines in the pipeline for COVID-19 and HIV. With Gritstone now in the infectious disease space as well, Hawryluk adds, “These are areas where people have enormous passion to change the world to create both prophylactic as well as therapeutic vaccines. You’ve got to come in and have the passion to do it.”

Looking back on his career, one of the achievements Hawryluk is most proud of is his work at FMI in putting together the universal companion diagnostic platform. “People often talk about putting the strategy together; it’s more than that, you have to put the strategy together, implement it, and you have to execute it,” he says. “This strategic vision plus that execution is what I’m most proud of.” The platform has now been run on hundreds of thousands of patients and has more than 20 FDA approvals.

Outside of work, Hawryluk is a husband and father to three young children. His family is very interested in sports, which naturally flows into his passion for coaching hockey and lacrosse. He also enjoys cooking meals at home as an outlet.

Rather than looking at all the inconveniences the pandemic has brought to most, Hawryluk credits it for allowing him more time to be at home and cook meals for his family, as well as giving him more time to coach his children’s sports teams. The pandemic also has brought a new hobby to him and his friends: rowing on the Charles River in Massachusetts.

While there is much to be proud of throughout his career so far, Hawryluk looks forward to what lies ahead for Gritstone. “A number of key data points are coming,” he says. “Hopefully in a couple of years, we’ll be talking about how those data points and advancements made a profound impact on the whole industry.”

Andy Studna is Pharm Exec's Associate Editor. He can be reached at astudna@mjhlifesciences.com.