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Seattle’s Adaptive Bio to Base New Drug-Hunting Team in San Diego

Xconomy San Diego — 

Diego Miralles, an immunologist and leader in HIV therapeutics, has joined Seattle’s Adaptive Biotechnologies to lead a new business initiative focused on developing new drugs for cancer, autoimmune, and infectious diseases.

The new business, Adaptive Therapeutics, eventually will be based in San Diego, Miralles said by phone yesterday from Seattle. He is joining Adaptive after a long stint at Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), where he helped formulate the strategy to find biomedical innovation outside company walls.

Brothers Chad and Harlan Robins founded Adaptive Biotechnologies in 2009 upon next-generation sequencing technology that details and catalogs the immune specificity of T-cell and B-cell receptors. As key components of the immune system, the genetics of T and B cells rapidly shift in response to an infection or danger signals.

While Adaptive’s core business has been immunosequencing and providing its bioinformatics expertise for academic and drug industry researchers, the company has ambitious expansion plans. It acquired San Francisco-based Sequenta last year to bolster its clinical diagnostics business. Adaptive also announced last year its ambitions to be a drug developer, thanks in part to new sequencing technology that CSO Harlan Robins and colleagues created. Its executives believe, like many biotech leaders before them, that the biological insights from their technology—how the immune system interacts with various disease states—will lead to therapeutic products that they can pursue themselves.

Those ambitions will play out farther south, however. “Part of the reason I’m doing this is that we can build the company in San Diego,” said Miralles, who has lived there since 2008.

Miralles said he already has identified office space in Torrey Pines, but as Adaptive Therapeutics’ president and first employee, he’s initially spending his time in Seattle. He said he wants to think deeply about Adaptive’s strategy for developing new immune-based drugs, and how the business should be structured.

He should have plenty of cash to play with. Last May, Adaptive Biotechnologies raised $195 million from Matrix Capital Management and others. Including that round, the Seattle company has raised over $400 million from investors that include Senator Investment Group, Tiger Management, Rock Springs Capital, Viking Global, Casdin Capital, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Illumina, Celgene, BD Biosciences and LabCorp.

Neither Miralles nor Adaptive CEO Chad Robins got into specifics of what the company’s drug development program might look like.

“The question for me is always about playing to your strength,” said Miralles. “What is the strength of Adaptive, and how do we put it to use? I want to understand the talent, the data, the corporate partnerships and other relationships. I’m going to be patient before I pull the trigger.”

In an e-mail, Chad Robins said Miralles has been brought on “to determine where we want to point this powerful gun that we’ve built and when (and how many times) we want to pull the trigger.”

Asked how Adaptive plans to mitigate the risks of drug development, Robin wrote, had “Risk mitigation comes in the discipline of ‘how’ we leverage our technology, data insight, and sample access to discover therapeutics.  We look at other examples to guide us on what not to do as we don’t want to make mistakes that have already been made.”

Miralles, 53, was previously J&J’s global head of innovation. The Argentina-born specialist in virology and immunology obtained his medical degree from the Universidad de Buenos Aires and completed his internal medicine residency at the Mayo Clinic. He joined the pharma giant’s Tibotec group in 2005 and helped develop several HIV drugs, then moved to San Diego in 2008 to head J&J’s Janssen R&D site in La Jolla, founded the JLABs startup accelerator here in 2012, and was instrumental in developing J&J’s innovation strategy over the past three years.

A spokeswoman for New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson said Andreas Koester, who heads clinical trial innovation, now heads the San Diego site. Robert Urban, most recently head of J&J’s Boston Innovation Center, has taken over J&J’s global innovation organization with Miralles’s departure.