Earlier in his career, Paul Bolno worked with neuroscientists at drug giant GlaxoSmithKline PLC. Today, as chief executive of Wave Life Sciences Ltd., he is leading the Cambridge biotech’s effort to advance two experimental drugs that could become the first treatments for the progressive brain disorder Huntington’s disease.
Bolno’s move from Big Pharma to biotech reflects a broader transition at businesses working on medicines for neurological diseases. As more than 10,000 doctors and scientists converge on Boston this week for the annual convention of the American Academy of Neurology, much of the field’s progress is being made inside smaller entrepreneurial companies.
“The biotechs are moving the science forward,” said Bolno, whose company last week closed on a $100 million financing round and will open a Lexington plant this summer to make drugs for clinical trials. “There was a mass exodus of pharma companies from the neurological space, and that created an opportunity for companies like ours. The large companies are now on the sidelines trying to get back in.”
With new neurodegenerative treatments finally emerging after more than a decade during which there wasn’t much innovation going on, a cluster of local biotechs – including Wave, Sarepta Therapeutics Inc., Sage Therapeutics Inc., Voyager Therapeutics Inc., and Yumanity Therapeutics Inc. – is attracting investment money, making the Boston area a growing hub for drug development in the field. They are working on some of the most intractable diseases of the brain and nervous system, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s.