Former Principia CEO Tapped to Lead Esker Therapeutics

Leadership Concept

Foresite Capital-backed Esker Therapeutics tapped Martin Babler, the former chief executive officer of Principia Biopharma, to helm the company after founding CEO June Lee has stepped away to pursue other opportunities. The transition comes four months after Esker Therapeutics launched to treat autoimmune diseases.

Babler, who guided Principia through its $3.6 billion acquisition by Sanofi, said he is excited about joining Esker and guiding the development of its lead asset for psoriasis, ESK-001, a highly selective TYK2 inhibitor. 

It is believed that ESK-001 has greater selectivity for TYK2 over JAK1 compared to current therapies in clinical development. ESK-001 is currently being assessed in a Phase I study.

“The mission of Esker is bold, and we have the resources and now an expanded team with a proven track record of building and leading successful companies as well as advancing several molecules from discovery into the clinic,” Babler said in a statement. “Leveraging the team’s deep expertise, we will build on our existing assets and further expand a pipeline of molecules against immunology targets of interest based on our analytical insights. I am excited to partner with this exceptional team and our board of directors to advance our programs and foundational science so that we may bring meaningful treatments to patients.”

Psoriasis is just the first indication Esker is aiming at. In addition to that common autoimmune disease, Esker plans to expand the study of ESK-001 across multiple known and novel autoimmune indications. 

In addition to ESK-001, the company is developing a pipeline of discovery-stage assets that will be aimed at causal drivers of multiple autoimmune disease indications. The company also expects to continue to leverage Foresite Labs’ advanced platform for large-scale data generation and analysis. This will allow the research team at Esker to gain insights into immunology-associated pathophysiology at the patient, tissue, cellular, sub-cellular and molecular target level.

In addition to Babler, Esker also announced other key members of its leadership team. David Goldstein was named chief scientific officer and head of CMC. Roy Hardiman was tapped as chief business officer and general counsel. Kenneth Bameld will be head of research and Claire Langrish will head up immunology and biology for Esker. Other executives include Phil Nunn, senior vice president, pharmacology and project team leader; Mike Taylor, vice president of toxicology; and Victoria Lowell, human resources business partner.

Jim Tananbaum, founder and CEO of Esker lead investor Foresite Capital, expressed his excitement about the appointment of Babler. He said Babler’s depth of experience in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries will be critical to the long-term success and growth of the startup. He also thanked Lee for her leadership during the launch of the company. 

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