Gene Editing, People

AbbVie vet John Leonard moves up to the helm at CRISPR/Cas9 pioneer Intellia, focused on looming human studies

John Leonard

John Leonard, the former top scientist at AbbVie and founding chief medical officer at CRISPR/Cas9 player Intellia Therapeutics, is being kicked up to the CEO’s office.

Spawned by Atlas and its clinical partner Novartis, Intellia $NTLA jumped out with a quick and successful IPO in early 2016, when the idea of gene editing aroused intense investor interest. The honeymoon phase didn’t last long, though, leaving Intellia angling for the clinic in the race to start testing the tech in humans as investors considered the long R&D trek ahead. And along the way the scientific founders of the top companies like CRISPR Therapeutics and Editas $EDIT have been wrangling over control of the IP.

This is the second switch at the top for this group of tech revolutionaries. CRISPR Therapeutics $CRSP CEO Rodger Novak handed the reins over to chief business officer Samarth Kulkarn on December 1, another changeup inspired by its first looming human study.

Nessan Bermingham

Initially, Atlas partner Nessan Bermingham helmed the biotech he had helped found. But the board decided that someone with Leonard’s resume would be better suited to run the company as it lined up Phase I.

At AbbVie Leonard was credited with work on HIV and HCV, while taking a lead role on Humira — the world’s top earning drug — during his 22-year tenure there. And just a few days ago the biotech highlighted some successful preclinical gene editing work for its sickle cell disease program.

Bermingham graciously tipped his hat to Leonard, prepping his return to the VC life.

“After nearly four years of building Intellia and this exceptional team, the company is now poised to begin development of CRISPR/Cas9-based therapies. At this stage, Intellia requires a CEO with a track record of successful drug development. John was the first to join me in starting Intellia, and was an ideal partner because of his unmatched R&D expertise and biopharmaceutical leadership experience. As I return to my roots in biotech venture capital, I am confident that Intellia, the science and our employees are in great hands.”


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