May 23, 2024
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A2 Bio’s new CEO aims to grow platform


James Robinson, the new CEO of Agoura Hills-based A2 Biotherapeutics, has several priorities he wants to tackle, not the least of which is to accelerate the company’s proprietary Tmod cell therapy platform.

“First principle for us is to maximize the value of the platform that we’ve built,” Robinson, 54, told the Business Times on April 1, the day he started at the life sciences firm.

“You’ll hear a lot about the Tmod platform in anything you read or hear about A2 Bio,” said Robinson, who has more than 30 years of experience in the biopharmaceutical industry.

James Robinson, new CEO of A2 Biotherapeutics. (courtesy photo)

He succeeds Scott Foraker, A2’s first CEO, who led the company from early discovery through dosing of its first clinical candidate. 

Founded in 2018, having raised $57 million in Series A financing, A2 is a clinical-stage cell therapy company.

It develops first-in-class logic-gated cell therapies to address the high unmet needs of cancer.

The firm invented the Tmod cell therapy platform to address the fundamental challenge in solid tumor treatment — the ability of cancer medicines to distinguish between tumor and normal cells.

Robinson said that as the company continues to build upon the Tmod platform, it gives A2 the chance to remain open-minded about other diseases that potentially can be treated with the platform, including autoimmune diseases.

“We’re still in the early stages of understanding what cell therapy can do,” he said.

Robinson’s appointment as CEO and a board member was announced March 25.

Before coming to A2, Robinson was president and CEO of the former Urovant Sciences — now Sumitomo Pharma America, Inc. — from March 2020 to July 2023, guiding the company through its first product launch and subsequent acquisition by Sumitovant Biopharma in March 2021.

Earlier in his career, he served as president and COO of both Paragon Biosciences and Alkermes.

“I share with the A2 Bio team and board a deeply held, enduring commitment to making a meaningful impact on the lives of patients and their families suffering from some of the most devastating medical conditions,” Robinson said in a press release.

Noting Robinson’s three decades in the biopharmaceutical industry, A2 founder Alexander Kamb said the new CEO’s “outstanding track record leading teams across research, clinical, regulatory, medical, manufacturing, operations and commercial will help us accelerate progress toward bringing promising therapies to the patients who need them.”

Board Chair David Goeddel said that Robinson’s arrival at A2 coincides with the significant progress the company has made on its novel logic-gated cell therapies with two programs currently in the clinic. 

“We are thrilled that Jim will spearhead further evolution of the company at such an exciting time,” Goeddel said.

Robinson said A2 is also focused on a collaboration with New Jersey-based multinational biopharmaceutical giant Merck to develop allogeneic cell therapy for solid tumor cancers.

“We take that very seriously,” he said. “We want to make sure we deliver on our responsibilities to them.”

Another one of Robinson’s priorities is to make A2 an employer of choice.

As well as a partner of choice.

Toward those goals, Robinson said A2’s culture “is important to me because it’s about creating an environment where you become that employer of choice.

“And when you create that environment, you’ll be able to attract the talent necessary to really realize the vision of the company,” he said.

A2 has about 150 employees.

“And by virtue of having the right talent and driving toward achieving your vision, you become a partner of choice too,” Robinson said.

Much of drug discovery and drug development requires partnerships, he said.

“Whether it’s partnerships with other strategic biotech companies, investors, academics or other like-minded scientists, that’s the goal,” he said.

A2’s location certainly can’t hurt.

It’s in the Conejo Valley biotech hub, home to nearly 20 life sciences companies, most in Thousand Oaks, including biotech titan Amgen.

“People know that this is an area where there are other life science people, whether it’s scientists or executives who are all focused on developing the next treatment for you name it,” Robinson said.

And such an environment is important to attracting talent, partnerships and the right level of investments to generate life-enhancing medicines, he said.

Robinson said A2 is an ideal fit for him.

“If you’re looking at companies that are going to have a meaningful impact and have worked hard to really skillfully move the science forward, A2 without exception fits the bill in terms of what I was looking to accomplish in terms of my next role,” he said.