New CEO at Phio Pharmaceuticals ramping up R&D

Photo | Courtesy
Photo | Courtesy
Dr. Gerrit Dispersyn will become the new CEO of Phio Pharmaceuticals in March.

Marlborough startup drugmaker Phio Pharmaceuticals has changed its name, CEO and model as it attempts to become a cancer therapeutics firm. In an interview, Chief Operating Officer Gerrit Dispersyn – poised to become the company’s CEO in March – spoke about the company’s future.
What is the company hoping for from its new CEO?
The company will continue to develop a very promising next generation of immuno-oncology therapeutics based on our self-delivering RNAi platform. In that respect, the company will continue outgoing CEO Geert Cauwenbergh’s vision. 
What does the name change to Phio signify?
The name change from RXi Pharmaceuticals to Phio Pharmaceuticals reflects the completion of our company's transition from a platform company to one that is fully committed to developing groundbreaking immuno-oncology therapeutics based on our self-delivering RNAi platform.
It's now been over a year since the company said it was focusing on the immuno-oncology field. How has the company made true on that statement?
Since its focus shift, the company has finished and reported out several clinical studies in dermatology and ophthalmology, which allowed us to start business development activities to monetize these assets. In addition, it has allowed for the establishment of several extramural collaborations with leading companies and academic institutions active in the immuno-oncology space and for our internal R&D efforts to be 100-percent dedicated to driving our immuno-oncology pipeline.
Are any Food & Drug Administration filings anticipated in 2019?
The company plans to execute on a regulatory strategy in support of our corporate objectives, which includes advancing into the clinic with our lead immuno-oncology program as soon as possible in collaboration with our partners. Thus far we are on track.
The company has a solid runway through most of 2020. What needs to happen between now and then to keep things moving?
Being able to have other immuno-oncology and adoptive cell transfer companies sign on to collaborations is going to put us on the radar screen of several companies in the immuno-oncology space. Being able to out-license our sd-rxRNA platform in other therapeutic areas is also going to be helpful in keeping things moving.
What is the status of the company's dermatology program?
Even though the process is taking more time than anticipated, we are continuing with our business development activities related to our dermatology and ophthalmology assets and we are actively engaged with several interested parties.
How has the company grown since the IPO in October?
We have been busy internally, as shown by the publications on our natural killer cell work, but we have also made great progress with our partnerships in relation to tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes and T-cell receptor technology.
 What are the future expansion plans?
In addition, we are actively working on further expanding into other areas of strategic collaborations for immuno-oncology and adoptive cell transfer. Lastly, we are hiring to support the increased level of internal and external R&D work.
This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Staff Writer Zachary Comeau.