CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER
Jesse appears in the Top 100
U.S. Business Leaders Magazine
On December 30, 2019, Chinese ophthalmologist Li Wenliang sounded the COVID-19 alarm alerting the international community about a concerning respiratory syndrome developing in China. His heroic actions would save many lives. In the long months that followed, as biopharma and medical research labs worked fervently to find a cure, a chorus of learned voices from physicians and medical leaders ushered the public through one of the deadliest pandemics in American history. Among them was Jesse Pelletier, co-founder and chief medical officer of Veloce BioPharma. He is a doctor who has shared his COVID-19 expertise across a legion of television, radio, podcasts, popular writing, and in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association. He is a physician scientist and a thought leader in virology, immunology, and infectious disease. He is also an ophthalmologist and not unlike many of the physicians across this country who struggled to deliver care during an unprecedented time, Jesse is also a biopharma expert with over a decade in the field, with a passion for advancing treatments in order to better protect our most vital sense organs, the skin and eyes.
On the heels of a historic acquisition for a viral conjunctivitis drug candidate, Veloce BioPharma was officially born in 2016 as a clinical-stage, private biopharmaceutical company, developing PVP-I based, novel drugs for indications across dermatology and ophthalmology. Simply put, the company focuses on topical therapeutics for unmet needs. With the world settling into a “new normal” of donning masks and remote working, Jesse and the medical team at Veloce BioPharma are driven to solve the growing trend of skin and eye disease emerging as a result of new, learned behaviors and interventions. With a well-developed pipeline that includes the completion of a pair of phase II clinical trials and a third scheduled to complete in 2022, and yet another set to commence just months later, one thing is clear—Jesse’s passion and determination remain unabated.
We sat down with Jesse to learn more about Veloce BioPharma’s work in groundbreaking pharmaceuticals and what it means to be a doctor and a chief medical officer in the time of a global pandemic.
Your core expertise is in topical therapeutics for dermatology and ophthalmology. Tell us about your dual roles as the leader of Veloce?
My success in Veloce BioPharma is commensurate with and reliant upon the success of my colleagues. I’m referring specifically to our CEO, Joe Capriotti, and president, Kara Capriotti. We work seamlessly together. The expertise that Kara brings in dermatology and Joe and I bring in ophthalmology is truly synergistic. This is a very exciting time for our company.
The role of the chief medical officer has certainly evolved during the pandemic. Traditionally, my role has been to provide leadership and direction for the pipeline of clinical development programs. I’m responsible for strategy and execution of the clinical development plans. But my role now has really bifurcated in the sense that the CMO has become a notable figurehead representing the company in external affairs involving the media, key stakeholders, key opinion leaders, and patient organizations. For many CMOs, their updated, COVID-related objective now includes protecting the health and safety of the workforce. To accomplish this, a healthy understanding of the basic tenets of virology, immunology, vaccinology, etc., is compulsory, and ophthalmologists are well versed in these areas.
Give us a summary of what Veloce BioPharma does.
We focus on topical therapeutics for unmet needs. We’re essentially a biopharma company that is focused on the skin, treatment of disease that affects this vital organ, and how it interacts with the eye. The skin plays an important role across a variety of disease indications. For example, the thin skin of the eyelid contains myriad complex structures that contribute to the health of the eye and the ocular surface. The skin is also intimately linked to the nail and nail bed, which is a specialized form of skin epithelium. Therefore, not only are we looking to cure diseases of the skin, but also those of the nail bed and, to a certain extent, the eye.
What types of pharmaceuticals do you focus on?
Our current pipeline of pharmaceuticals is focused on the use of iodine technology in the form of povidone-iodine (PVP-I). PVP-I has been used by the medical establishment as a safe and effective antiseptic for decades. Our technology enables us to extract the maximum safety and efficacy from this powerful antiseptic. Our formulations stabilize PVP-I at low concentrations and simultaneously increase the amount of free iodine available for antimicrobial effect. We then use, in combination with our iodine technology, a skin penetration enhancer. With this advancement we are able to push the iodine into deeper layers of the skin and treat all sorts of conditions, including warts, molluscum contagiosum, onychomycosis or paronychia, or even a specific type of eyelid inflammation called blepharitis.
You have a healthy pipeline of developments. Tell us about some of these and what you’re currently working on.
Our current pipeline includes a variety of drug candidates that are at different stages of development. We have completed two phase II clinical trials with positive results in the indications of chemotherapy associated paronychia (CAP)and molluscum contagiosum. These are two very disabling diseases that greatly impact patient quality of life. In each case, there exists no current FDA approved therapy. With respect to CAP, we’re the first medical therapeutics company to pursue this indication in an attempt to address significant unmet need. We’re also currently finishing our third phase II clinical trial for verruca vulgaris, or common warts. While the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed this read out, we expect results by mid-2022. Finally, one of our priorities in 2022 is to move into the ocular surface, dry eye, and blepharitis space, as the skin is critical to the health of the ocular surface. We have generated excellent data with one of our drug candidates for blepharitis with respect to its effects on thin skin and delicate structures of the eyelid. The eyelid is responsible, in part, for maintaining ocular surface homeostasis because of the key lipids produces there. You can therefore see how having expertise in treating dermatological conditions segues nicely into the field of ophthalmology.
Because of trends you saw with COVID, draw a line to ophthalmology and your efforts to treat unmet needs in this area and your expertise in COVID-19.
I am both a biopharma entrepreneur and a practicing ophthalmologist. Ophthalmologists are generally well equipped to understand a viral disease like COVID, as we are well schooled in pertinent scientific disciplines, and we were—and remain—on the frontlines of the pandemic, treating an increasing number of eye diseases that have emerged from it. As a doctor with expertise in COVID-19, I found the media coverage to be generally uneven, especially in the early months of the pandemic-likely the result of a desire to inform quickly combined with a lack of understanding of the virus. I really felt an obligation, not only as a physician, but as a leader, to be a voice of reason and provide objective, unbiased, educated opinions without stoking fear.
From a biopharma perspective, there are some noteworthy ophthalmological trends that will guide Veloce. First, we are all spending much more time in front of computers, especially with interfaces like Zoom, which creates tremendous stress for the eyes and ocular surface. These activities decrease our blink rate and render our blinks incomplete. When this happens, the oils produced in our eyelids tend to stagnate, stop flowing, and we develop ocular surface disease and blepharitis. This is further exacerbated by our use of masks, which amplify both dry eye and blepharitis. Because these trends are unlikely to abate, we can use them to inform and better guide our company. For instance, the global blepharitis market size will easily reach 2B dollars in the next few years. This is testament to how impacted patients are by ocular surface disease and pharma’s commitment to this address present and future needs. We believe that our future at Veloce should be one that reflects our continued work on dermatological conditions, but also one that now embraces important, worldwide ocular trends.
Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of Veloce BioPharma