- Decibel Therapeutics CEO Steven Holtzman is stepping down and the company is laying off employees as it tries to focus its portfolio on gene therapy and regenerative medicine.
- Stepping in as acting chief executive is Laurence Reid from Third Rock Ventures, the venture capital firm that launched Decibel in 2015 with SR One.
- Decibel said it will focus on a gene therapy aimed at correcting a severe balance impairment, which is subject to a partnership with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Laboratory work to prepare DB-201 for testing in humans will begin this year.
Decibel has raised more than $107 million in five years and received collaboration revenue from Regeneron. In the Wednesday announcement, the company said it is "restructuring its employee base and discontinuing some early-stage discovery programs."
A company spokesperson said the privately held company will not disclose how many employees will be laid off and how many will remain.
Holtzman was appointed chairman in mid-2016, eight months after Third Rock launched the company with a $52 million series A round. A company press release said he is retiring as CEO but will continue as a strategic business adviser.
Reid, an "entrepreneur in residence" at Third Rock, had previously served as CEO at Warp Drive Bio before it was acquired by Revolution Medicines. He also held posts at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Millennium Pharmaceuticals.
The regenerative medicine portfolio will be led by DB-201, an adeno-associated virus gene therapy that seeks to promote the growth of vestibular hair cells in the ears. Profound loss of these cells can destabilize balance and vision in a condition called bilateral vestibulopathy, which can be caused by use of aminoglycoside antibiotics.
In the first half of 2020, Decibel will conduct trials on DB-201 aimed at supporting an Investigational New Drug application to the Food and Drug Administration.
The company will also continue to support DB-OTO, a pre-clinical AAV gene therapy aimed at correcting a deficiency in a protein called otoferlin, which also falls under the Regeneron collaboration.
It will continue to work on the Phase 1 candidate DB-020, a special formulation of sodium thiosulfate, which is already used as a means of preventing hearing loss induced by the cancer chemotherapy cisplatin.
As part of the focus on regenerative medicine, Decibel also announced a partnership with Rockefeller University, where researcher James Hudspeth has studied how hair cells help translate sound in the human ear as well as how larval zebrafish regenerate hair cells.