SAN FRANCISCO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–BlackThorn Therapeutics, Inc., today announced the promotion of company co-founder and seasoned CNS drug discovery and development expert, William J. Martin, Ph.D., to chief executive officer and his appointment to the Board of Directors. Dr. Martin has previously served as the company’s president and chief operating officer, as well as its chief scientific officer.
“BlackThorn has made important progress in the advancement of its programs to address the current challenges in CNS drug discovery,” said Paul L. Berns, BlackThorn’s executive chairman of the Board of Directors and venture partner at ARCH. “As the company moves into phase 2 development with its lead program, it is invaluable to have Bill’s leadership of the organization. Since BlackThorn’s founding, he has been instrumental in the company’s growth and has made numerous impactful contributions, including developing its state-of-the-art computational psychiatry platform to fuel innovation while advancing a pipeline of targeted therapeutics. On behalf of the Board, we are highly confident in his ability to lead BlackThorn into its next phase of growth as a clinical-stage company and beyond.”
Under Dr. Martin’s stewardship, BlackThorn has engineered pathfinder™, a cloud-based computational psychiatry platform that enables multimodal data to be collected, integrated and analyzed at scale. Leveraging pathfinder™, the company creates a quantitative, brain-based understanding of neurobehavioral disorders. BlackThorn applies these data-driven insights to create treatments targeted to biologically-based subtypes of patients with the goal of increasing the precision of therapeutic intervention.
BlackThorn expects to begin a phase 2 clinical trial of its lead molecule, BTRX-140, a selective KOR antagonist, by year-end. The company believes that KOR antagonism has the potential to address key drivers of disability, such as depressed mood, anxiety, anhedonia and cognitive impairment, which commonly occur in multiple disorders. The initial phase 2 trial of BTRX-140 will enroll patients with major depressive disorder, who have symptoms of anxiety and anhedonia. The company is also advancing a V1aR antagonist for the potential treatment of autism spectrum disorder and expects to begin a phase 1 trial in early 2020.
“At BlackThorn, our goal is to transform the way we understand and treat neurobehavioral disorders in order to empower affected individuals to live better lives,” said Dr. Martin. “To do this, we have built pathfinder™ to increase the probability of success in finding the right targets, molecules and well-defined patient subgroups most likely to respond to treatment. I am honored to now take on the CEO role to work alongside the Board and our talented workforce to advance our pipeline of targeted therapeutics. I believe we collectively have the deep domain expertise and operational experience to address historical challenges in CNS drug discovery and bring new medicines to the millions of people in need of better treatment options.”
Prior to joining BlackThorn, Dr. Martin held multiple leadership positions at Theravance Biopharma, including leading the company’s research portfolio planning initiative and serving as a member of the strategic partnership team and project team leader for an advanced clinical-stage CNS program. He began his career at Merck where he contributed to the strategic direction of Merck’s neuroscience franchise and
chaired multiple CNS development teams. Dr. Martin serves on the Advisory Council for Brown University’s Carney Institute for Brain Science and is an At-Large Member of the Coalition for the Life Sciences Board of Directors. He is co-chair of the Federal Engagement and Regulatory Affairs Committee of the Alliance for Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare. Dr. Martin graduated from Swarthmore College, earned a Ph.D. from Brown University, and conducted postdoctoral research at the Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco.
About BlackThorn’s Lead Clinical Program: BTRX-140
BTRX-140 is a potent, selective small molecule antagonist of the kappa opioid receptor (KOR), which was discovered as part of a research collaboration with The Scripps Research Institute. The KOR/dynorphin system is known to be a major stress response signaling pathway in the brain. KOR/dynorphin ‘tone’ contributes significantly to regulating brain circuits involved in motivation and emotion, and recently BlackThorn demonstrated the involvement of KOR/dynorphin in executive functions. Dysfunction of the KOR/dynorphin system is associated with anhedonia, anxiety and cognitive impairment, which are key drivers of disability in numerous psychiatric and neurological disorders. BTRX-140 is intended to normalize dysregulated brain networks by altering activity of KOR through dynorphin blockade. BTRX-140 was found to be well tolerated in single and multiple ascending dose studies in healthy volunteers.
About BlackThorn Therapeutics
BlackThorn Therapeutics, Inc., is a clinical-stage, neurobehavioral health company committed to improving the lives of people with neurobehavioral disorders through the discovery and development of novel, targeted therapeutics. Our goal is to empower patients and physicians to make treatment decisions and plans based on an individual’s profile across the spectrum of neurobehavioral health. In order to address historical challenges in CNS drug development, we have engineered pathfinder™, a proprietary computational psychiatry platform to capture, quantify and model multiple data types. We use pathfinder™ to better understand how networks of brain activity relate to normal and disordered behavior, and we employ high performance computing, predictive models and artificial intelligence (AI) technology to accelerate the entire process. We apply pathfinder™ outputs to identify novel targets, small molecule drug candidates and biologically-based patient subgroups. Our lead clinical program is focused on BTRX-140, a selective KOR antagonist, for which a phase 2 trial in major depressive disorder is expected to begin in 4Q:19. Our second clinical program is focused on a selective V1aR antagonist for the potential treatment of autism spectrum disorder, for which a phase 1 trial is expected to begin in early 2020. Both molecules were discovered in collaboration with The Scripps Research Institute. BlackThorn is headquartered in San Francisco, California. For more information, please visit blackthornrx.com.
Laura Hansen, Ph.D., VP, Corporate Affairs