Propel Bio is seeking to raise a $150 million pooled investment fund, according to a Friday morning filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The investment firm’s team includes senior partner Dasom (Christine) Yoo, former director of business development at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Propel plans to invest in life science companies at various stages of development, seeking “to help founders and management teams fulfill the urgent mission of advancing human health with disruptive therapies and technologies.”
The company’s advisory board includes Ronald Lee Krall, former chief medical officer of GlaxoSmithKline and current director of the NIH Foundation, as well as other industry veterans.
“My involvement with Propel demonstrates my confidence in Leen,” Krall said in a statement. “I believe she has the skills and ability to help promising entrepreneurs bring breakthrough new therapies and technologies to market, and I look forward to working with her and the rest of the team in our shared quest to advance human health.”
Kawas, a Jordanian immigrant, got the idea to pursue biomedical research after her grandmother died of cancer.
“I look forward to offering promising and passionate entrepreneurs the same opportunity that Ric Kayne and others gave me when I started Athira,” Kawas said in a press release announcing Propel’s formation.
Kawas co-founded Athira (originally M3 Biotechnology) in 2011. Named Startup CEO of the Year at the 2019 GeekWire Awards, she took Athira public in 2020, as the first woman to lead a company to an IPO. fellowship in Washington State in over two years. decades.
Athira shares fell more than 50% in June 2021 after Kawas was initially placed on leave from Athira as questions emerged about her research at Washington State University. Athira stock continues to trade at half of its previous peak.
In findings released in October 2021, a special committee of Athira’s board of directors determined that Kawas had altered images in his 2011 thesis and at least four scientific research papers. However, the company said documents containing altered images were not cited in its patent filing for its lead development candidate, ATH-1017.
Athira Pharma CEO Leen Kawas accepts the Startup CEO of the Year award at the 2019 GeekWire Awards.Photo GeekWire/Kevin Lisota
“I regret that the mistakes I made as a grad student many years ago have distracted Athira today,” Kawas wrote in an internal memo at the time, obtained by GeekWire. “At the time, I was navigating an unfamiliar environment and didn’t fully understand the significance of my decision to improve the images I was using in my research. I want to clarify that the enhancement of the images was not a modification or manipulation of the underlying data. »
Company investigators concluded that Kawas had “modified” – not enhanced – the images containing data.
Articles with an altered image were cited in an earlier patent licensed to the company from WSU. The university launched an investigation into Kawas’ research in June 2021, but has yet to announce any results.
Editorial “expressions of concern” were recorded over data from four studies co-authored by Kawas, published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics between 2011 and 2014. The journal’s editors said they were waiting for WSU to complete its review.
GeekWire reached out to WSU for comment Friday morning. A spokesperson replied, “Washington State University does not comment on pending research misconduct actions and has no further information to provide at this time.”
The WSU spokesperson added: “The university expects its researchers to adhere to the highest ethical standards in the conduct of their research activities. WSU takes allegations of research misconduct very seriously. The process is conducted in accordance with the university’s Executive Policy 33, which governs how the institution responds to allegations of research misconduct.
Through a spokesperson, Athira declined to comment in response to GeekWire’s investigation into Propel Bio.
A representative for Propel Bio said Kawas was not conducting interviews alongside the announcement.
In statements coinciding with the launch of Propel Bio, several of those advising the company or investing in the new fund made it clear that their involvement was an endorsement of Kawas as an entrepreneur, leader and scientist.
Fluke, the board member of Athira, was enthusiastic in response to GeekWire’s inquiry into his decision to invest.
“I am investing in Propel for the same reason I invested in Athira: I have ample hard evidence that Leen will lead Propel to identify and fund the most promising medical technology companies which, in turn, will bring amazing improvements to human healthcare – and deliver consistently superior returns to investors,” Fluke said via email.
The involvement of early Athira investors in Propel indicates an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the outcome of Kawas’ tenure as CEO of Athira among his supporters, countered by a desire to see Athira reach its potential. .
Mike Flynn Sr., former publisher of the Puget Sound Business Journal in Seattle, summed up the sentiment in his Flynn’s Harp newsletter in October, explaining that he and other Kawas supporters “decided together not to make any fuss with the company out of fear that any negative expressions from such prominent people towards Athira’s board of directors will have a negative effect on the company or its progress.
Kayne, co-founder and general partner of Propel, is a former director of Cantor Fitzgerald who founded Kayne Anderson Venture Partners. He said in the announcement that he was proud to partner with Kawas in the new venture.
“Leen is a visionary entrepreneur with a unique blend of drive, intelligence and business acumen. In just six years, she has built a company from the ground up, taking it through the early stages of drug development, through its public offering, and into the final stages of developing its potentially breakthrough therapy,” said Kayne. .
He added, “Under Leen’s leadership, I believe Propel is uniquely positioned to identify great opportunities to help entrepreneurs on the road to success.
Strategy and operations expert Carol Criner, an early Athira investor who was introduced to Kawas by Flynn, is one of eight members of Propel Bio’s medical and investment advisory board. Criner said she also plans to invest. Throughout the trip, Criner said, “I’ve only gained confidence in Leen.”
In addition to Krall and Criner, the other members of the Propel Bio advisory board are:
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