Seagen founder Clay Siegall is jumping back into the biotech world as CEO and president of Morphimmune.
Founded in 2020, the Purdue University spinout will relocate its headquarters to the Seattle area, with Siegall at the helm.
“I put together my vision for what this could look like going forward, to build on what they started. And they really liked my vision,” Siegall said in an exclusive interview with GeekWire on Wednesday.
Siegall resigned as Seagen CEO and chairman in May. He was arrested April 23 at his home near Seattle following an alleged domestic violence incident involving his then-wife.
Prosecutors said in December that Siegall would not face charges. The Seattle Times reported that prosecutors cited inconsistent and contradictory statements about the April 23 incident as reasons for why they did not pursue charges. Siegall and his former wife finalized their divorce in October.
More than two decades ago, Siegall helped start Seagen, then called Seattle Genetics, and took it public in 2001. The company pioneered a class of drugs called antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) and brought four oncology drugs to market under Siegall’s watch.
Last week Pfizer said it planned to acquire Seagen for $43 billion. It would be the largest biopharma transaction in three years.
Siegall, 63, told GeekWire he thought about launching a startup or joining a larger firm. But he was drawn to Morphimmune.
“I can have a little bit of whiteboard,” he said.
Morphimmune is built on the research of Ralph Corley and Philip Low, the startup’s scientific founder and board director. Both are chemistry professors at Purdue University. Low has started multiple biotech companies, including Endocyte, which was acquired by Novartis for $2.1 billion in 2018.
Morphimmune’s board chair is Isaac Barchas, CEO and co-founder of investment firm Research Bridge Partners. The company has raised about $17 million to date.
“I’m building a biotech [company] in Seattle and I’m going to be needing to hire a lot of people,” said Siegall, who is joining the Morphimmune board.
The company targets molecular payloads to immune cells, with the aim of boosting the cells’ ability to fight tumors.
“It’s akin to pressing the gas on the immune system” to make it more active, said Siegall.
One of Morphimmmune’s experimental agents recognizes a molecule found at high levels on certain immune cells, the folate receptor. The agent recognizes the receptor and delivers an immune-modulating molecule called TLR7 to the cells.
Another agent under development delivers a radioactive molecule by targeting cells through a protein common in solid tumors.
Morphimmune’s repertoire has some resemblance to ADCs, which deliver a payload like a toxin via an antibody that recognizes a target on cells. But Morphimmune dispenses with the antibody in favor of a smaller molecule. The company’s website said it delivers the payload with “antibody-like specificity.”
The advantages include better penetration of tissue, access to targets inside cells and the potential for oral dosing, according to Morphimmune’s website.
Morphimmune had previously appointed Ronald Martell as CEO and president; Martell recently moved to Jasper Therapeutics, where he is CEO and president.