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Seeking Meaningful Work, Chinook Therapeutics CEO Takes on Kidney Disease

Analysis  |  By Robin Robinson  
   May 31, 2023

Chinook Therapeutics President & CEO Eric Dobmeier's focus has been on finding where he can make a difference.

Heading a biopharma startup was not what Eric Dobmeier, President & CEO, of Chinook Therapeutics, had in mind for his career trajectory.

However, influenced by his physician-father, graduating from Princeton, becoming a lawyer, being a cancer survivor, rising to COO at Seattle Genetics, serving as CEO of Silverback Therapeutics, Dobmeier then joined Chinook Therapeutics in April 2019. His career path may have been haphazard, but his goal at Chinook is crystal clear: Make dialysis and kidney transplant unnecessary for patients living with rare, severe chronic kidney diseases including Berger's disease or Immunoglobulin A nephropathy (IgAN), a condition that damages the glomeruli inside kidneys and can lead to kidney disease.

"I didn't have a grand master plan for my career, but I tried to work jobs that interested me, and that I thought I could be good at and challenged by," Dobmeier says. "My focus has been on doing meaningful work, challenging myself and putting myself in situations where I felt I could make a difference. It worked out."

Dobmeier might not have planned to head a biopharma as part of his career, but his timing couldn't have been better to have started. In the past few years, there has been an increased focus on glomerular diseases. For example, in December 2022,Tarpeyo (developed by Calliditas) became the first FDA-approved product specifically for IgAN, while in mid-February 2023, Travere gained approval for Filspari, according to a report by Spherix Global Insights.

Dobmeier thinks Chinook could be next in line to receive FDA approval for its two lead drugs for IgAN. Chinook's lead program is atrasentan, a phase 3 endothelin receptor antagonist for the treatment of IgAN and proteinuric glomerular diseases. BION-1301, an anti-APRIL monoclonal antibody, is being evaluated in a phase 1/2 trial for IgAN, with a phase 3 trial initiation planned for mid-2023.

"We have two potentially best-in-class drugs for this disease," Dobmeier says. "Our goal is to make dialysis and kidney transplant unnecessary for these patients. We hope that by having different therapies with different mechanisms of action, we can turn IgAN into a truly chronic disease and allow patients the possibility to outlive it. We've got a good chance to make a big impact on these patients."

Career Choices

It is that impact on people's lives that drove Dobmeier out of law and into life sciences.

"I'm a recovering lawyer," he says. "I practiced law for almost 10 years in different capacities and I realized I didn't want to do litigation. I really wanted to be involved with helping companies build their businesses and doing deals."

As an attorney, Dobmeier worked with high-tech companies, but he felt his work was not improving the lives of others as much as he hoped. With his physician-father, he had always been interested in medicine. After working with Seattle Genetics as outside counsel, Dobmeier was offered a job as in-house counsel. He accepted.

"One of the things that really attracted me to biotech is the possibility of helping people live better, healthier lives," he says.

He stayed 16 years at Seattle Genetics, which was "a wildly successful company," he says, although it had its share of failures over that time period as well. After serving 16 years at Seattle Genetics and rising to COO, Dobmeier moved to Silverback Therapeutics as CEO, a position that lasted six months.

His next step was to lead Chinook into its next chapter of growth.

"I've always been someone who's willing to say, 'sure, I'll try it. I'll figure it out.' Not being afraid to try new things has really helped me in my career," he says.

Growing Pains

One of Dobmeier's major challenges when he took the reins at Chinook was keeping pace with the rapid growth of the company during the virtual environment of the pandemic.

"When I started [at] the company, which was about a year before COVID, we had 15 employees in Vancouver, British Columbia, and I was the only employee in the United States. We in-licensed atrasentan from AbbVie and started building a development team, mostly in the U.S. At that time, we were a team of about five people in the U.S., and 18 people in Canada. Since 2020, we've grown very quickly to more than 240 people, all working virtually in both countries."

Dobmeier says the reverse merger with Aduro in October 2020 and going public as a result was a major catalyst for propelling the company forward so quickly.

"In the early days, we were all doing six jobs and it was crazy," he says. "We were a research-only company. Then we did the reverse merger and became a public company all during a pandemic. But you know, sometimes doing the crazy thing and taking some chances pays off and it has so far."

The new Chinook team functioned well working virtually during the pandemic, but Dobmeier would prefer to have more in-person interactions with and between employees. To that end, he is establishing a hybrid operating model at Chinook. He'd like to have employees in the office whenever it is a reasonable request; for example, twice a week, or once a month.

Dobmeier says he recognizes the benefits of a virtual environment, such as the ability to hire the best people regardless of their location, but by not having people together face-to-face he feels employees miss opportunities for greater creativity and teamwork. But the days of working five days a week on site is a thing of the past.

"I think a lot of CEOs want to see more people in the office and a lot of employees don't really want that," he says. "We'll have to figure out the right balance, because we're not going back to five days a week in the office. "I think everyone in the industry is struggling right now with what does the 'new normal' look like."

In the years before joining Chinook, both Dobmeier and his wife were diagnosed with cancer, making them living examples of the benefits of life saving treatments developed by the industry. Both are doing well today, but Dobmeier was diagnosed with lymphoma while at Seattle Genetics and his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. This experience solidifies his commitment to developing treatments that improve and save patient lives.

"It really brings the mission home and personalizes it and drives home the importance of what we're doing," he says. "If not for the work that biotech and pharma companies have done, my wife and I might not be alive today. This makes my work with Chinook very meaningful."

Editor's note: This story was updated on June 2, 2023.

“Not being afraid to try new things has really helped me in my career.”

Robin Robinson is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders. 


Eric Dobmeier guided Chinook through a successful reverse merger out of the gate.

Under his leadership, the company of 20 employees grew through the COVID pandemic to a headcount of 250 people today.

Chinook currently has a $1.6 billion market cap, increasing by 108% in one year.

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