Platform & Science

2024 Flagship Pioneering CEO Chat with Conley Chee, Syros Pharmaceuticals

February 22, 2024

Conley Chee, CEO of Syros, sat down with Lindy Devereux of Flagship Pioneering to discuss the Company’s platform, the therapeutic areas it’s focused on and what’s ahead for 2024. 

Lindy (L): Welcome to the flagship Studio on the third day of the JP Morgan Healthcare conference. I am joined here by Conley Chee, CEO of Syros Pharmaceuticals. Let’s start on a personal note. You took the helm of Syros in December 2023, but it’s not the first time that you joined the company, you joined Syros about two or so years ago to lead the commercial business. Tell us what excites you the most about your new role.

Conley (C): I've really enjoyed my time at Syros for the last two years focusing on the commercial and BD&L efforts. Recently in December, I moved into this new role as CEO, which is incredibly exciting - maybe a little more exciting than I originally thought because we had released data about two days after I took over the helm, which was followed by a financing event as well, so it's been a fantastic first 30 days. It’s wonderful working with such inspired people at Syros and it makes you want to go to work every day.

L:  Syros is one of the most mature companies in our Flagship ecosystem with a clinical-stage asset in two different forms of blood cancer. For those of us who are new to the Syros story, can you tell us more about the company and your area of focus?

C: Syros was created about 11 years ago, focused on genomically guided targeted therapies. Through organic growth and a few very specific product acquisitions, our lead compound is tamibarotene. Tamibarotene is used in AML and MDS of which we both have ongoing trials for. These trials are focused on patients with RARA gene overexpression. RARA stands for retinoic acid receptor alpha. In patients with RARA overexpression, our drug acts as an agonist to bind to the overexpression to normalize it which allows the blood cells to differentiate and grow normally. Without it, the RARA overexpression causes blast cells and these forms of diseases.

L:  How common is RARA overexpression in these blood cancers you are focused on?

C:  In MDS, approximately 50% of the patients have RARA overexpression. In AML, it’s approximately 30% of the patients have this, so although it's a targeted therapy, it's actually quite pronounced and a significant unmet need.

L: Great. I understand that you had some really exciting data that you mentioned earlier which came out in December 2023. Can you tell us a little more about that?

C: We have a Phase 2 AML trial currently ongoing, and we announced the first set of randomized data from the study. It’s an 80 patient trial, and we showed the first 20 patients or so. In the overexpressors where we're using tamibarotene on top of the standard of care, which is venetoclax and azacitidine, we saw a 100% CR/CRi rate versus venetoclax/azacitidine alone, which had a 70% CR/CRi. What I think is even more exciting is that the CR rate, which are the complete responses, and those most likely to signal overall survival, was 78% in the triplet arm versus 30% in the doublet arm. 

L: That’s a big jump! So you're almost supercharging the current standard of care? 

C: Yes, we’re very excited about the efficacy. The other thing we were really focused on was the safety aspect because venetoclax and azacitidine are very difficult drugs to give together. Our hope was that adding tamibarotene would drive not only efficacy, but not add any sort of additional adverse events. And what we saw was that there were no added side effects with the addition of tamibarotene. In fact, when we look at the hematological profile, we see a bit of a reduction in some of the side effects in the triplet arm versus the doublet. Now we'll see if that holds out in the 80 patients, but it's a very exciting initial signal.

L: That’s great. Tell me a little bit about how you might hypothesize how that could play out for our patient care. What does that mean for patients and the treating physicians?

C:  Adding tamibarotene on top of the standard of care could really increase the efficacy for these patients who sorely need a new therapy. If tamibarotene doesn’t add side effects to the standard of care, then it's really a home run for these patients. 

L: Wonderful. What are you most excited about coming into 2024?

C: In 2024, we expect to have our pivotal data in MDS which is the other indication we are working on. This is a Phase 3 study where we are evaluating tamibarotene/azacitidine versus azacitidine alone. We expect to have that pivotal data by mid-Q4 of this year (2024), and if it's positive, we're going to file on that and hopefully, grow up into a commercialized company, and that’s very exciting for us.

L: Wow, a big milestone year potentially for Syros!  Thank you so much for telling us about it and we're looking forward to watching the progress. 

C: Thank you so much, it was a pleasure being here.