From pharma to diagnostics: how Rhythm Biosciences found its new COO
Health & Biotech
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Special report: Glenn Gilbert started out “literally pushing eggs around in a trolley” at biotech giant CSL in 2004 — and has risen through the ranks to become COO at bowel cancer tech startup Rhythm Biosciences.
That was the same year Rhythm Biosciences (ASX:RHY) launched its flagship technology: inexpensive blood tests that can identify patients at high risk of having colon cancer.
Mr Gilbert was one of two high-profile appointments Rhythm made in May.
He says the jump from his last gig at drug developer Medical Developments (ASX:MVP) wasn’t too big a leap.
“It’s a short step across from pharmaceuticals and medical devices to diagnostics,” Mr Gilbert told Stockhead.
“Both fields expose you to highly regulated environments and there is overlap in the value propositions between the fields.
“At the end of the day, we are always working towards making a difference for patients, payers and society.”
That opportunity he’s taking up is to commercialise the ColoSTAT test, which measures the concentrations in blood of a set of proteins which are known to change concentration in patients with colorectal cancer.
Currently, the first port of call for early screening is a fecal test — the ‘FIT’ test — which is sent out every two years to all eligible adults over 50. This involves scraping a sample of your poo over multiple days and then sending in the post.
For people who can’t for clinical, cultural or religious reason or those who are just squeamish, the only other way to accurately test for colon cancer is an expensive colonoscopy — and waiting times for those are between 116 and 180 days for most patients in the public health system.
From growing pains to commercialisation
Rhythm only listed in late 2017 — whcih is one of the reasons Mr Gilbert says he made the leap.
“I moved because of the opportunity,” he said.
“It’s the opportunity to work for a startup that’s going places, one that has a very competent board, and of course to have the ability to choose and influence high performing teams to create shareholder value.”
Mr Gilbert started at $90 billion behemoth CSL but was identified as a talent they could nurture into a leadership and management role.
He moved to Medical Developments eight years ago, a company which is making its name with a non-opioid painkiller called Penthrox.
There, Mr Gilbert implemented regional quality-control systems, looked after intellectual property and product development, and later moved into commercial licensing.
He was a key driver of Penthrox’s Phase 3 clinical trial and was behind licensing deals in the UK, Ireland, Europe, Mexico, Russia, Singapore, South Korea (and others), and was leading merger and acqusitions.
“I’ve been through the growing pains of globally commercialising products and delivering business outcomes as a company grows in size,” he said.
“I know what it takes to achieve commercial success. I’ve negotiated deals across multiple global jurisdictions, overseen the execution of key business initiatives and I know what a successful culture looks like and am excited to bring that into Rhythm,”
New gig new challenges
Mr Gilbert stepped into the job at the end of May, and says the key challenge is — as with most startups — prioritising which tasks need to be done now.
“I’ve never worked in a company this size before, so this is a new experience.”
As COO, his job to keep everything on track while keeping an eye on developing the commercialisation plans, which the company expects to put into play, after clinical trials next year.
“We’re currently focusing on the development of the reagents. These are effectively the juice — the antibodies and antigen — of the whole testing kit that we’re making. From here we will finalise the optimisation and subsequent scale-up manufacture of the test kits. All while in the background implementing an ISO13485 quality system and completing pivotal clinical trials”
“One of the reasons for moving to Rhythm is that there is over 10 years of research behind ColoStat. While it is a startup, a lot of R&D has gone on in the background between Rhythm and its research partners – that has de-risked large aspects of the product development.”
“We’re at the cusp of turning research into development, and shortly thereafter into a commercial product. With such a significant global application, it is hard not to get excited about the future.”
This special report is brought to you by Rhythm Biosciences.
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