“You can achieve greatness and success no matter how humble your beginnings. Always give the best that you can contribute based on your skill set and surround yourself with the right people.” –Troy Ignelzi, CFO, Karuna Therapeutics
Troy Ignelzi’s CFO career is rooted in an unlikely place. In fact, some might describe it as the least likely of all places, for the environs of his early vocational path were not those of a growing company but instead a place where businesses had stopped growing.
So it was in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the late 1990s when Ignelzi—part of the region’s economic development team—became tasked with creating jobs in the wake of Pfizer’s decision to remove a number of business operations from the region, including a large plant.Read More
“They moved all of the R&D jobs and everything business-related out of Kalamazoo and Portage, Michigan, and all they left was a very large manufacturing plant,” explains Ignelzi, who notes that the move by Pfizer began putting the area’s larger biotech sector at risk.
“What happened was that this big vacuum got created, so what we said was, ‘Let’s keep these other smart guys in town,’” continues Ignelzi, who adds that preserving the region’s biotech jobs became part of a bigger project known as the “Pfizer Disaster Relief Plan.”
As Ignelzi diligently worked to crack the code for job creation inside the biotech realm, he increasingly found his interests leaping well beyond the region’s economic ebb and flow.
Comments Ignelzi: “What first drew me to economic development was the idea of helping companies to create jobs and making a difference. Then this passion kind of spilled over into companies in the pharmaceutical and the biotech worlds, where firms were developing life-changing medicines.”
To date, Ignelzi says, he has helped to lead the financing of six approved drugs representing different therapeutic areas and has helped seven different companies to go public.
Meanwhile, it’s clearly a point of pride for Ignelzi that Kalamazoo’s once empty biotech plant is today playing a part in the greater biotech community’s COVID response.
Says Ignelzi: “It’s that same manufacturing plant that is now making the pandemic therapy that we’re all hoping gets us through this right now, right down the street from where I still live, in western Michigan.” –Jack Sweeney
Made Possible By
CFOTL: Tell us about what Karuna Therapeutics does and what its offerings are today …
Ignelzi: Karuna is a Boston-based clinical stage biopharmaceutical company where our mission is to create and deliver transformative medicines for people with psychiatric conditions. In Sanskrit, “karuna” actually means “compassion in action.” It’s like they had me at “compassion in action” when we started talking about the passion and the things that they were trying to accomplish here. When we think about it, it’s like Esperion was with Lipitor, where all of the drugs in that treatment area were statins, which means that they had the same mechanism by which they helped patients. You look at patients with psychosis and schizophrenia, and what you find is that the drugs that are used today are based on the same mechanism to treat the diseases as was developed 25 or 30 years ago, that is, through dopamine and serotonin. Basically, these drugs work by affecting dopamine or serotonin at one level or the other. Every drug that’s been approved in the past 25 years has been some modification—minor in a lot of cases—of this simple way.Read More
What Karuna is going to do is to usher in a new treatment paradigm. We have this mechanism that ironically 25 years ago was being studied as a therapeutic that was going to help patients with cognition. They were working with elderly Alzheimer’s patients for cognitive benefit. What they found serendipitously was that this drug also had a significant and robust impact on a patient’s psychosis. This is what we hope to accomplish with our lead product, which is unofficially called KarXT. It doesn’t have a name for marketing yet because it’s still in development. We’re in phase three. But what we hope is that we are going to foster this revolution, this new care for patients, with a new mechanism. It’s a muscarinic, but I don’t want to get too technical with the folks here.
Another interesting tie-in with the past, like Esperion and Pfizer Upjohn, is now a drug off the shelf of Eli Lilly. Interestingly, I spent a couple years in sales and marketing at Lilly. Our CEO and present chairman, Steve Paul, is also from Eli Lilly. He was actually working on this drug some 20 ears ago. So, this just goes to show that these drugs come back and, at least if you’re a scientist, this brings hope. On the CFO side, what this tells me is that we’re looking to make a difference and that I get a chance to work with a potentially life-changing therapy in a disease state that just really hasn’t seen much advancement.
Karuna Therapeutics | www.karunatx.com | Boston, MA