BioBoss

#21 - Jason Meyenburg: CEO, Gemini Therapeutics

June 13, 2020 John Simboli
BioBoss
#21 - Jason Meyenburg: CEO, Gemini Therapeutics
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BioBoss
#21 - Jason Meyenburg: CEO, Gemini Therapeutics
Jun 13, 2020
John Simboli

Gemini Therapeutics CEO Jason Meyenburg share his thoughts about leadership in biopharma with BioBoss host John Simboli.  Jason also discusses Gemini Therapeutics pioneering approach to developing precision medicines by leveraging genetics to work in diseases like dry AMD and linked diseases that have limited or no solutions.

Show Notes Transcript

Gemini Therapeutics CEO Jason Meyenburg share his thoughts about leadership in biopharma with BioBoss host John Simboli.  Jason also discusses Gemini Therapeutics pioneering approach to developing precision medicines by leveraging genetics to work in diseases like dry AMD and linked diseases that have limited or no solutions.

Jason Meyenburg 
I like things that are hard. I want to be able to break things down and figure out, okay, it's so hard and we're saying we don't have the answers for how to do something. Let's go do it. 

John Simboli 
That's the voice of Jason Meyenburg, CEO of Cambridge, Massachusetts based Gemini Therapeutics. Listen in now, to hear my conversation with Jason, his thoughts about leadership and biopharma, and developing precision medicines by leveraging genetics to work in diseases like dry AMD, and linked diseases that have limited or no solutions. 

John Simboli 
I'm John Simboli. You're listening to BioBoss.

John Simboli 
This morning, I'm speaking with Jason Meyenburg, CEO of Gemini Therapeutics, headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Jason, welcome to BioBooss.

Jason Meyenburg 
Thanks. Good morning, john. How are you?

John Simboli 
Jason, How did you find yourself here at Gemini Therapeutics?

Jason Meyenburg 
I had been talking with a couple of members of the board, not about Gemini, but just about our different views on biotech and helping me try to explore leading a company and all of a sudden found myself talking with these two board members of Gemini about Gemini and trying to ascertain what was my fit and my interest. And how much was I interested in Gemini as well.

John Simboli  
Did it seem like something that earlier in your professional life, that would be something that might happen someplace along the way? Was it a goal? Was it something that fit when it was supposed to fit?

Jason Meyenburg 
Certainly, earlier in my life and career, it was a goal. I think in the last few years, it was, am I ready for, the kind of question, that I've been asking myself. And I think it's also come to be something that I looked to enjoy while I at the same time aspired to become a CEO.

John Simboli 
When you were thinking about your opportunities to perhaps lead a biopharma company at some point, did you go through a lengthy process of comparing, looking, trying to find the thing that was of the most interest? Or when it came clear that this was an opportunity? Was it pretty clear?

Jason Meyenburg 
There were certainly elements of my background and my experience where I knew that I was most comfortable, like, rare disease or precision medicine or genetic medicines. So I had some comfort and experience there. I then thought about different therapeutic areas where I've had experience, whether it's neurology or hematology, so on and so forth. I think, though, that was good thinking, a good analytical process for me to go through, personally. Ultimately, when I started talking with people at Gemini and the board, some of the elements of Gemini were not things immediately or directly in my experience. But I think that as Gemini became a possible opportunity I was already in sort of that analytical process where I was thinking about, okay, so if I imagined myself in Gemini, how do I deal with these different elements where I am experienced and bring some experience to bear, as well as the ones where I'm not experienced. And how do I personally deal with those things and enable the company as best possible to succeed?

John Simboli 
What were you hoping to achieve that you thought perhaps could be done there at Gemini and not at another company.

Jason Meyenburg 
You know, one thing about Gemini that was different from other opportunities that I was interested in or thinking about, Gemini was fairly close to becoming a clinical-stage company. It had had some challenges. You know, most of them pretty normal challenges but was trying to work through them. So a lot of what I saw at Gemini was the raw sort of ingredients of the recipe. But how do we put these ingredients together and some of the ingredients were really profound technology that that could be leveraged, I think moving into a therapeutic area in dry AMD, where there's some interest, but it's not a huge interest like oncology has become over the last couple of decades. Nonetheless, dry AMD afflicts millions of people all the time in the U.S. alone, 

Jason Meyenburg 
I saw talent in the management team that I had met during the interview process, and I saw that these were people who were engaged and excited. And I think finding the right combination of all of these ingredients in the recipe, that's part of what the attraction was for me, how do I help to put the recipe together and ask other people who want to help cook, if you will, to put that recipe together and work in a functioning kitchen. And it was not only what attracted me to Gemini, but where I also saw there was a great opportunity to build success, as well, and to have people join in that success, whether it be the employees of the company or eventually KOLs and investigators and researchers beyond the company.

John Simboli 
Jason, did your background in complement help you to anticipate what some of the possibilities might be when you took this on?

Jason Meyenburg 
I had a really wonderful informative experience at Alexion, for some time, earlier in my career. And, obviously, that company continues to be heavily grounded in complement. When I left Alexion I wanted to try something else, something beyond complement. And at the time, I felt very strongly about that, when I started to talk to Steve Squinto, who's the Chairman of the Board, in particular, I don't know if I was immediately hesitant about Gemini. But I had to look at the other aspects of Gemini beyond complement modulation. I had to look at dry AMD. I looked at, in particular, the precision play through genetics and whether that's identifying the right patients to consider in clinical Investigation or in how the company was drugging assets. And then I got to complement, actually. 

Jason Meyenburg 
And it's a lot of the way that I actually think about what Gemini represents. And the opportunity that Gemini represents. I start first through that precision lens. And then I think if we can prove out some of the biology that's related specifically to complement, then I think about what complement can actually leverage here. I think that if we can prove out some biology, I think we're going to yet again in a very different way, have the opportunity to prove how powerful complement can be. It's simple and very elegant, but ultimately incredibly powerful as an innate system and in the body. And I think how the company is differentiated, as well. If all we say is that we're complement, lots of companies can study complement, and they should, and lots of research is being done in complement. And it should, but in a sense, going back to some of the recipe or the cooking analogy, I feel like just using complement alone is not expanding how can we use complement actually,

John Simboli 
is it possible to talk about what it is that you do for a living? People that you know who are intelligent, thoughtful, but aren't from the industry, who ask, what's up for you? How do you go about answering that?

Jason Meyenburg 
When your kids start asking you, Daddy, what do you do when you go to work? You know, I wanted to be able to answer them. Honestly, if I can answer that it's almost one of my passion buttons and I hope that I can say that I make or I participate and work with a team to make medicines that help people who have diseases that don't have a lot of solutions or don't have any solutions right now. And I think depending upon who it is, obviously, John, we can start to talk about how do we do that, or we also talk about that lengthy process. We also can talk about how do we shorten the process of developing drugs and making the medicines available, hopefully, more rapidly, and so as many people as is as appropriate as possible. 

Jason Meyenburg 
And I think that in addition to that how do we make sure that it's the best possible medicine that we can make, and that's with respect to obviously to quality, but I think it's also let's make the most purpose-built medicine for a disease that we possibly can. And, specifically with regard to Gemini and to the growing world of gene therapy and beyond it's how do we take a disease, bring it down to its least common denominator and then build a drug against that as closely as possible. I've been seeing my job, my role as a person who makes sure, and brings us together to make sure that we have a clear understanding of what we're going to do, why we're going to do it, how we're going to do it, and make sure that we can talk about that, each one of those components, very clearly. And then when we go to do it, to pull as many of these people in as possible, internally and externally, to enable all that and to go execute. And in the midst of all of that, whether it's answering all those questions or the execution, things do happen. 

Jason Meyenburg 
And things happen that are different than what you expected or anticipated at times, either in part or completely. Problems and challenges come up, some of them monumental, like what we're going through right now with COVID-19. And some of them kind of mundane, but I think that all of that is, I think the cornerstone of what I have been enjoying, and what I think I've enjoyed in helping to lead organizations that these last years, is bringing people together and giving people an opportunity to participate, to lead and to pull all of this through and seeing that we're asking them to lead and we're giving them this opportunity. And it's it's part of their responsibility to take hold of that opportunity, right and it's part of my responsibility and the leadership team's responsibility to make sure that we're alongside them as we go through this together and we keep trying to execute and achieve and hone in on what we want to accomplish, why the how, and so on? 

Jason Meyenburg 
And a lot of that, we think about that in biopharma as being an internal topic. I think that there's a much bigger ecosystem. And certainly, I'm by far not the first person that ever subscribed to that idea, but I think, though, that the more that we can enjoin a larger part of the ecosystem every day to participate in, in my case, what Gemini is doing, the better and sometimes people are aligned immediately. Sometimes people are not aligned at all. And another component is, hey, how can we figure out if we are aligned and get toward alignment or at least understand how we aren't aligned and why and, and still work together within that ecosystem somehow. So it's kind of like an air traffic controller in a way, or a traffic cop or something to that effect. But it's bringing in as many channels of information and people and happenings as possible and pulling them all together in one unified direction to the extent that we can.

John Simboli 
In your time as a leader, what have you learned about your management style, what works for you? What feels like you?

Jason Meyenburg 
I was given some really wonderful opportunities, the entirety of my career, and I think, earlier on when I had smaller and growing opportunities for leadership . . . I was talking with somebody last Friday, one of the colleagues in the company and the person asked me, how did I get to where I am? And was it purposeful and so on? And one of the things that I said to the younger colleague, I said, Look,, honestly, I've never had a person reporting to me who's been directly reporting to me who's been younger than me. And I think 10-15 years ago, I thought about that a lot. 

Jason Meyenburg 
And I had, actually, in my time at Alexian, I had a couple of really wonderful mentors, and some of them remain mentors for me. And one of them said something to me, and I sort of thought to myself, Jason, you're as young or old as you feel, but as long as you recognize you can't do everything yourself, and there's a lot of great support around you, there's a tremendous amount that we can accomplish. And I think that I had some really great experiences after that moment that led me to see everybody can contribute something. And I think that as far as me, working to be a leader every day is concerned to surround yourself with people who are fantastic and who are better than you in as many ways as possible. And when it all comes together, you become this functioning organism that is just wonderful. And I think, able to take on challenges that you never expected, willing to look for opportunities that nobody else saw, able to execute things that people were otherwise saying wasn't possible at all. And that, in my mind, that's what I love about challenges in front of me personally, and I think, I think people are also generally invigorated by any one of those things. And so it makes being at "work" a lot less like work and a lot more of a great set of challenges that help define you and build friendships and professional relationships that you you think about and you take forward every day. But I think it's probably one of the most fulfilling things about what we get to do in biopharma. And when you couple that with building great medicines, hopefully, for people who need them. I hope that means that we're doing something for other people and something that's good each day.

John Simboli 
Can you remember way back to when you were a kid and thinking, yeah, I'm gonna be like my dad or like my mom or like somebody I saw on TV. I mean, did you have a self-image of what your professional life would be when you were just a little guy?

Jason Meyenburg 
Yeah, and I've been thinking about it recently because the same children In the house asked me just a few weeks ago, Daddy, what did you want to do when you were in fourth grade or something. And I actually wanted to be a neurosurgeon, John. And I was, at the time extremely specific about it. Not a doctor, not a doctor in a hospital or something. I wanted to be a neurosurgeon. And I carried that idea with me for at that time, it felt like a long time up until college or so, I'd say.

Jason Meyenburg 
I don't know how I initially got the thought. But I think that as I was growing up and kind of reflecting on it when my youngest asked me a few weeks ago, I saw neurosurgery as something incredibly interesting from an intellectual perspective, because there was the potential of doing things with people's brains and sort of a fourth-grader, that's so mystical right at that age. And I think that in addition to that, and I think it's something that's still probably is a pretty strong set of elements within me, it sounded really complicated and really hard. And really challenging. And, and I like things that are hard I want to be able to break things down and figure out okay, it's so hard and we're saying we don't have the answers for how to do something. Let's go do it. Let's break it down and figure it out. And, and we may not get it at first try but let's do this. So when I look back, it makes a lot of sense to me. And I wonder, you always wonder what could be. But I think today, I'm getting a lot of that, let's do something that's hard. Let's do something that can convert someone's lifem if you will. So, in a way, I'm certainly not a neurosurgeon, neither have the schooling nor have had the sort of the patience for all of the training involved. But I think that I'm getting a lot of things out of it. What I, what I think I wanted, certainly at the time, and as I look back on it what, I believe I probably wanted, subconsciously as well.

Jason Meyenburg 
In different parts of my career, I've had the chance to work more closely with a person who's a patient. And we've all been a patient or have a loved one who's a patient at some point, and you feel pretty powerless and you can feel like you're in a closet with no light and can't find the doorknob too. And I think that we all have a, a huge opportunity to try to turn the light on for somebody or help them navigate out of the closet or whatever it might be to get better in some way or feel better somehow and it's really powerful to touch somebody's life like that. And I think that it's a little bit infectious or addictive that once you've done that you kind of want to keep trying to do that as much as you possibly can.

John Simboli 
Jason, what's new at Gemini therapeutics,

Jason Meyenburg 
About three, three and a half months ago, we've become a clinical-stage company. So we started enrolling in our first clinical trial for a recombinant complement factor h protein in December last year. And I think there's a lot of pride about that in the company and amongst the team. And it also means there's a lot of responsibility and a lot of work to get done as well, but it's a huge accomplishment sort of a culmination of a lot of work for a number of years,

John Simboli 
What can you tell me about the pipeline and how it helps to differentiate who Gemini is? 

Jason Meyenburg 
In and of itself, how we built, the pipeline is differentiated, right? We built the pipeline, following genetics. We have continued to set goals for ourselves and build our strategy and precision medicine, following from genetics, looking at targets that are clarified by genetics, and where we think that there's also reasonable fact and literature and science behind the pathophysiology of those diseases. And so, when we continue to make decisions within the pipeline or to shape it differently, or expand it we continue to follow the same few rubrics that we have from the time we first built the company and started to think about the pipeline itself.

John Simboli 
So when you have an opportunity to speak with people whom you need to reach, perhaps it might be an investor conference at this stage or might be all sorts of different people in all sorts of different disciplines, you get the opportunity, often in a very condensed period of time to tell people who Gemini Therapeutics is. And I'm sure it's satisfying afterward, when people come up to you and say, Yes, I understood, and it was what you intended. But I bet there are times when people come to you afterward and say, Oh, I understand it to be such. And you're thinking, no, that that's not what I intended at all. What that happens what are the misunderstandings then how do you help them follow what the story really is?

Jason Meyenburg 
I think that the reasonable sort of starting points for most folks, I think the first impressions are Oh, Gemini, you're an ophthalmology company, or you're an AMD company, or you're a complement company. And I think none of those are wrong, but I think that we're actually, first and foremost, a precision medicine company. And we leverage genetics to go work in diseases that have no solutions or they're limited solutions and build the most specific and accurate drug that we can to benefit those people. It happens to be that the first area that we're working is in dry AMD. And it happens to be that our lead candidate is a complement modulator, complement factor H. So all of those things are right, and talking about sort of that recipe earlier, those are some of the different components. But I think the end game or the final dish that we're trying to serve to everyone is a precision medicine in dry AMD.

John Simboli 
And then when you have that conversation, and you help make that adjustment and someone says, Oh, now I understand, I would guess there will be some times when there's an added level of interest because that's . . . 

Jason Meyenburg 
I think so. I think that we take from our prior experiences and I think amongst the different people that we talk with on a day to day basis, people have had experiences with genetics people have had experiences with large diseases that still largely go without therapies. People have had experience with complement and when you help them see how we're dealing with each of those and putting them together, I think they are interested, I think they are intrigued and see the opportunities closer to the way we do which is, how do we increase the probability that we could succeed in putting a therapy forward for dry AMD in our lead program.

John Simboli 
Who makes a good partner to Gemini Therapeutics?

Jason Meyenburg 
The best partners are ones who, who have a lot of likenesses to Gemini, and us as individuals and a collective but also offer things that are different than what we can do. And those two things I think can coexist. The likenesses tend to be people who want to solve things that are hard, do things that are seemingly very difficult at first glance, scratch beneath the surface and really understand what's behind what we're seeing, and can we incorporate it into how we move forward? I think that we have a professionalism inside the company where we simultaneously want to listen to one another a lot and also challenge one another and a lot and I think that that binds us closely together. So I think it's how we do things that probably are the likenesses that we look for in a partner. I think the differences are we're not the largest organization and we probably won't be for a long time or maybe never and so other parties out there have access to other information, they have access to the ability to introduce us to people who might be able to add to what we're doing. And all these other port parties have other experiences and might be able to provoke questions or challenge us as well. And I think all of that together is how we think about who could we work with really well, and who would enjoy working together with us at Gemini, too.

John Simboli 
I know you from your work in an ecosystem in metro New York, New Haven area. And I also know you from your work in the focal point of  Cambridge. Is your view, day to day within the ecosystem that's close by there in the Boston/Cambridge area? Is it regional? Is it national; Is it global? How do all these pieces fit together on q daily basis?

Jason Meyenburg 
I think you're bounded or you're limited if you only think about the Cambridge or the Boston metropolitan or the New Haven or the New York or the Northeast regional ecosystem. And I think if you keep saying, well, it's all global, it's also difficult to define yourself as global. Okay, well, what does that mean? And does that mean you're not also acting with respect to what's in front of you? So, I think it's got to do with who are you working with? And why are you working with them? What's the sort of commonality and is that person or is that party, hospital, government regulator, whatever it might be? Are they in Australia, or are they down the street in Cambridge?, And I think too, it's also kind of working and joining together at the right time as well, and for the right reasons, Cambridge and Australia and leveraging as much of that as possible because if one of us is always sort of the hub of a bunch of spokes, it's not really an ecosystem, right? Because it's only serving the edge of the wheel or the hub. But if we helped to create a lot of these different connecting points, right, then it is an ecosystem to the extent possible and a lot of the different parts of the ecosystem can work together and enrich one another, and ultimately the entirety of the ecosystem if you will. This is only my personal perspective, I think it'd be incredibly boring if you only thought about Cambridge or Boston or New Haven or New York or Sydney or something to that effect, right? I mean, it seems to me like there's a richness that you get by listening to and taking great points and ideas from somewhere else, and incorporating them into what you're doing on an hour by hour, a day to day basis.

John Simboli 
What do you find works well, as far as tapping into that system and then presenting your ideas and also receiving ideas? Do you primarily pick up the phone and talk to somebody? Do you primarily read the literature? What are the vehicles? Now we're in a time of strange life here in COVID-19, but excepting that just for a moment, how do you like to plug in and plug out of that ecosystem?

Jason Meyenburg 
It's personal, meaning it's not private, but I mean, I think we're all different. I have a tendency probably to pick up the phone or send a text or an email or something to reach out to. And if it's Hey, so and so working on something, do you have any experience with this? The answer might be no, but then it could easily be, hey, I do know someone who may have had experience with this and that's how I do it. Maybe because I want an answer immediately. But I think that's part of my communication style probably. I certainly see others doing it by like you're saying like literally, hey found this really cool piece of literature that I'd looked past before and they're doing some great work in the Netherlands, hey, let's connect up with them. Let's figure out what they're doing. Whether that means that they support us and they give us information or we incorporate that work into a broader clinical study or something or broader research. I mean, I think that can come in a lot of different forms. And sometimes it's as easy as picking up the phone.

Jason Meyenburg 
 I think the moments definitely happen, and there are moments that put smiles on your faces and they're usually moments that you, fortunately, get to share with other people sitting around the table looking at data together, hearing progress, even small incremental progress, even just enrolling a patient to finish up enrolling a cohort in the study or the first patient enrolled in a study or whatever it might be these are all moments that you get to enjoy with other people. I think the other time too, it's incredibly validating doing that and it's part of that ecosystem, John, where it can't just be within Gemini, it's where you have to enjoin other people from the ecosystem because they're going to help you also see, hey, look, this is or this isn't as phenomenally, broadly applicable as you might think. And those are great moments. Sometimes you feel a little bit deflated, but I think it just reinvigorates us and causes us to work harder at something. And I think, sometimes particularly speaking with physicians, they see patients every day all day and when you hear from them, their own perspective on a result, and if they're impressed by it, or they see how it could be a stepping stone to getting therapy to people. When they share that, `I think that's It's a really wonderful moment because I think it validates what we're doing. And I think that also deepens our vigor to kind of move forward as well.

John Simboli 
Thanks for making time to speak with me today, Jason.

Jason Meyenburg 
Thank you, John. I appreciate it.

John Simboli 
When I interviewed Jason Meyenburg for a corporate history film several years ago, I was struck by his sense of optimism and energy. When I recently sat down to talk with Jason for my BioBoss conversation. I recognized right away that same level of enthusiasm and vitality as he talked about leadership at Gemini Therapeutics. 

John Simboli 
Like several biopharma founders and CEOs I've spoken with, Jason draws inspiration from building high functioning teams and guiding them toward delivering medicines for patients in need. As Jason said, during our conversation, "Many of us have witnessed what it feels like to be a patient in a hospital, where you feel like you're in a closet, no light and can't find the doorknob." Jason's empathy is palpable as he talks about the satisfaction he and his colleagues feel, knowing there may be enough opportunity to turn the light on for somebody. As he says, "It's really powerful to touch somebody's life like that."

John Simboli 
Jason also talks about how he enjoys taking on the hard stuff and breaking things down to find out where the gaps in understanding are. As he told me, "We want to listen, at the same time challenge each other to find solutions. I think that binds us closely together." From my perspective, that's a pretty good definition of what leadership is about. 

John Simboli 
I'm John Simboli. You're listening to BioBoss.