25+-Year Veteran of Large Pharma, Willem H. Scheele, M.D., to Progress Company’s Clinical Development Program for Sickle Cell Disease, Thalassemia, and Pipeline
Cambridge, Mass. (Business Wire) March 27, 2019 – Imara Inc., a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on sickle cell disease and other hemoglobinopathies, today announced it has hired Willem H. Scheele, M.D., as Chief Medical Officer. Dr. Scheele will guide the advancement of Imara’s IMR-687, currently in a Phase 2a clinical trial for the treatment of sickle cell disease, and manage the strategy, direction, and execution of the company’s overall clinical drug development efforts. Dr. Scheele replaces interim Chief Medical Officer Shi Yin Foo, M.D., Ph.D., MMSC of Cydan, an orphan drug accelerator that launched Imara in 2016.
“Imara is fortunate to bring Willem on board on the heels of raising a $63MM Series B financing and at a time where we are thinking through accelerated clinical development and regulatory interactions,” said Rahul D. Ballal, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of Imara. “His background and broad experience in leading rigorous clinical development for rare diseases like Gaucher disease and transthyretin amyloid cardiomyopathy at leading pharmaceutical companies will be a tremendous asset. We would also like to extend our gratitude to Shi Yin for her invaluable leadership and guidance since our inception.”
“I believe Imara’s lead compound IMR-687 has real potential to both reduce the red blood cell sickling and blockage of blood vessels that are the underlying causes of the sickle cell disease pathology,” said Willem H. Scheele, M.D., Chief Medical Office of Imara. “Imara is poised for success and I’m confident through our shared vision and my deep bench of experience in clinical development, we will be able to make great strides in drug development for patients with sickle cell disease and also advance novel programs that enhance fetal hemoglobin, a protein critical in transporting oxygen, for other hemoglobinopathies.”
Willem H. Scheele, M.D., began his career ~30 years ago in internal medicine at Spaarne Hospital in Haarlem, the Netherlands, affiliated with the Vrije Universiteit Medical School in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Prior to joining Imara, he was Executive Director, Clinician Group Lead, Rare Diseases, for Pfizer leading the clinical development teams for the company’s rare disease portfolio, which included programs for Gaucher disease, a lysosomal storage disorder and transthyretin amyloid cardiomyopathy (ATTR-CM), a hereditary form of heart disease. At the company, Dr. Scheele led the Clinical Development and Operations team responsible for the successful submissions of New Drug Applications (NDAs) for tafamidis for the treatment of ATTR-CM. Previously, Dr. Scheele was Senior Director, Global Innovative Pharma, Medicines Development for Pfizer responsible for clinical strategy through delivery and reporting for clinical studies in patients with Type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease. Earlier in his career, Dr. Scheele was Director, Women’s Health and Bone (Global Medicine Monitor) at Wyeth Research and Global Clinical Research Physician and Associate Clinical Research Physician at Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis and Nieuwegein, the Netherlands, respectively.
Dr. Scheele earned his Medical Doctor degree at Vrije Universiteit Medical School and has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and abstracts and presented at various congresses. Currently, he serves as the Honorary Consul for the Kingdom of the Netherlands for New England in Boston. He also serves as mentor for both the Global Investor’s Forum (MERLN Institute, University of Maastricht, the Netherlands) evaluating start-up and scale-up biotech companies and is a mentor for the Boston Children’s Hospital Post-Doc Association.
About Sickle Cell Disease
Sickle cell disease is a rare, genetically inherited condition that alters hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body. The altered hemoglobin distorts red blood cells into a sickle, or crescent, shape. Painful episodes can occur when sickled red blood cells, which are stiff and inflexible, get stuck in small blood vessels. These episodes deprive tissues and organs of oxygen-rich blood and can lead to vaso-occlusive crisis (VOC), acute chest syndrome (ACS), and permanent damage to organs including the liver, spleen, kidney and brain.
IMR-687 was designed to address the underlying pathology of sickle cell disease. An orally-administered, highly-potent and selective phosphodiesterase 9 (PDE9) inhibitor, IMR-687 is a potentially disease-modifying therapeutic for sickle cell disease as well as other hemoglobinopathies. Pre-clinical data demonstrate IMR-687 reduces both the sickling of red blood cells and blood vessel occlusion that cause debilitating pain, organ damage, and early mortality in affected patients. A Phase 1 clinical trial in healthy volunteers showed IMR-687 to be safe and well-tolerated.
IMR-687 has been granted both U.S. Orphan Drug Designation and U.S. Rare Pediatric Designation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Imara Inc. is dedicated to developing novel therapeutics for patients with sickle cell disease and other hemoglobinopathies. Imara is currently developing IMR-687, a highly selective, potent small molecule inhibitor of PDE9, to treat patients with sickle cell disease. IMR-687 was specifically designed to treat patients with sickle cell disease by both reducing red blood cell sickling and blockage of blood vessels that are underlying causes of the pathology of sickle cell disease. IMR-687 successfully completed a Phase 1 study in healthy volunteers and is currently being evaluated in a multi-national Phase 2a study in adult patients with sickle cell disease.