Karuna Pharmaceuticals Names Sage Founder and Eli Lilly Vet Steven Paul as its New CEO


Days after it closed on a $42 million Series A funding round, Karuna Pharmaceuticals has named a new chief executive officer. The company appointed industry veteran and founder of SAGE Therapeutics Steven Paul as its new top officer.

Paul has decades of experience in the industry with a particular focus on developing medicines that treat central nervous diseases. Karuna is aimed at developing muscarinic cholinergic receptors to treat psychosis and cognitive impairment in numerous central nervous system (CNS) disorders. Those disorders include schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as neuropathic pain.

Karuna’s lead therapeutic KarXT (Karuna-xanomeline-trospium chloride) will soon enter Phase II as a potential treatment for patients with schizophrenia. Paul is well familiar with the work Karuna is doing. He currently serves as chairman of the company’s board of directors. Paul said targeting muscarinic receptors “is one of the most promising approaches to treating both the psychosis and cognitive impairment that characterize many disabling neuropsychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Paul has an extensive history in this area. For years he worked at Eli Lilly and was instrumental in the development of CNS drugs such as Zyprexa and Cymbalta. He also helped oversee the development of xanomeline, which has shown antipsychotic and procognitive properties.

“Having been one of the scientists involved in the original work on xanomeline at Lilly, I am excited by the progress that Karuna has made to unlock this important new class of therapeutics. I am looking forward to helping Karuna become a leader in the field and believe in the potential for KarXT to be the first antipsychotic drug with a truly novel mechanism in over 60 years. We are also excited by recent preclinical work suggesting that KarXT may be an effective non-opiate treatment for pain,” Paul said in a statement.

In addition to his time at Lilly and the founding of Sage, Paul spent 18 years at the National Institute of Health (NIH) and served as the Scientific Director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Karuna founder Andrew Miller will assume the role of Chief Operating Officer. He said the company is thrilled to have Paul at the helm as it moves KarXT into Phase II trials.

“Steve has an extensive track record of successfully advancing the R&D activities of novel molecular entities for CNS disorders, having led efforts from discovery through commercialization for blockbuster treatments. His expertise will be immensely valuable as we drive Karuna forward,” Miller said in a statement.  

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