Thomas Hughes leaves Zafgen to take CEO role at Navitor

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Thomas Hughes, Ph.D., has left Zafgen to become CEO at mTORC1 startup Navitor Pharmaceuticals. Hughes helmed Zafgen through a turbulent time in which it abandoned its lead candidate after patients died in a phase 3 study.

The patient deaths and subsequent cratering of Zafgen’s stock price came to define Hughes’ time as CEO of the metabolic disease startup. Prior to those events in 2015 and 2016, Hughes guided Zafgen through early development and onto public markets, setting it up to run the phase 3 trial of ill-fated obesity drug beloranib. Since the blowup, Hughes has worked to get Zafgen back on track.

Hughes, who switched from CEO to CSO in October, leaves Zafgen having seen the turnaround effort make some progress. In June, Zafgen reported ZGN-1061 met the primary endpoints in a phase 2 proof-of-concept trial, sending its stock back above the $10 mark for the first time since 2015.

That done, Hughes is moving on to take charge of Navitor, which recently advanced its lead candidate into phase 1. The drug, NV-5138, is designed to address treatment-resistant depression by activating the mTORC1 pathway in the brain. Suppression of the pathway is associated with depression and other brain disorders.

Navitor reached this point under the leadership of George Vlasuk, Ph.D., who will continue to work at the company in the newly created role of CSO. The switch in leadership is illustrative of Navitor’s ambitions.

“George had the foresight to propose bringing a CEO on board with public company and translational experience, while he looks to focus his efforts on continuing to advance the science of Navitor,” Alan Crane, co-founder and chairman of Navitor, said in a statement.

While Navitor has its CEO-CSO team in place, Hughes’ departure will leave Zafgen missing a key piece of its C-suite. Zafgen is now searching for someone to take over as CSO when Hughes leaves in a few weeks. In the interim and beyond, Zafgen will continue to draw on Hughes’ expertise through his involvement in the company’s scientific advisory board.