Carter, 47, has a reputation as a leader in the world of antibody drugs, which zero in on specific targets on cells. In a 14-year run at Genentech in South San Francisco, Carter led the effort to engineer Herceptin with more human genes and fewer mouse genes, which can cause side effects. That antibody drug went on to pass clinical trials and is now one of the world’s best-selling cancer medicines, generating $1.29 billion in U.S. sales for Genentech in 2007.
Outside experts are hailing the move as a sign of promise at VLST. “Paul is, without a doubt, one of the best antibody guys out there,” said Doug Williams, president of Seattle-based ZymoGenetics (NASDAQ: ZGEN), and an Xconomist. “He is an ambitious and talented guy and I’ve heard him say he wants to paint on a bigger canvas.”
Carter moved to Seattle in 2000 for a job at Immunex, where he got to know Craig A. Smith, the co-discoverer of the rheumatoid arthritis drug Enbrel (also an Xconomist.) They parted ways in 2003, when Carter went to Seattle Genetics. Smith later went on to co-found VLST.
VLST, which uses viruses and high-speed computer screening techniques to identify promising targets on cells for drugs, has found about 40 promising targets, says CEO Martin Simonetti. Carter’s responsibility will be to prioritize which ones to pursue first, and strategize about what kind of molecules (maybe antibodies or fusion proteins like Enbrel) will do the best job at treating the diseases, which are mostly autoimmune conditions at this point. Even though antibodies are Carter’s specialty, that doesn’t mean VLST will be wedded to that technique alone, Simonetti says.
“We’re more than excited about it,” Simonetti says. “He brings a ton to the table.”