Peer Review

Acceleron poaches ex-Ablynx CMO Robert Zeldin; Deborah Dunsire leaves for Lundbeck’s top job after XTuit implosion

Deborah Dunsire

→ After bouncing around the high-risk biotech world in Boston/Cambridge for the past few years, ex-Millennium chief Deborah Dunsire is now taking the top seat at Denmark’s Lundbeck, left vacant after Kåre Schultz jumped to Teva. A high-profile exec in the US, Dunsire left Millennium as Takeda absorbed and restructured the company, making it a central part of their US hub. She later took the helm at Forum Pharmaceuticals, leaving not long after the company was hit by a clinical hold on Alzheimer’s and a failed clinical program in schizophrenia. Her next stop, XTuit, was a combination cancer/fibrosis company that has now fallen off the map, with most of its senior staffers migrating to new positions, the website down and the voice mail full, with no visible signs of activity. Dunsire’s company email address is defunct. Lundbeck, though, offers Dunsire a chance to take a new, high-profile position in the biopharma world — the kind involving a viable company with revenue. Lundbeck Chairman Lars Rasmussen told Reuters that Dunsire’s biggest responsibility will be in R&D, which is where she’s had the least success. As for Dunsire, she’s looking to grow the pipeline, which may mean some new deals on the horizon.

→ SGI-DNA, a La Jolla spinout from J. Craig Venter’s company Synthetic Genomics, has named a new leader to the helm. Todd Nelson, the former CEO of San Francisco Bay Area’s DiscoverX Corporation, is joining SGI-DNA as CEO. Nelson has led several companies through phases of growth, including eBioscience, which was acquired by Affymetrix (now Thermo Fisher); and MP Biomedicals, which was acquired by Valeant Fine Chemicals. The news of Nelson’s appointment comes just weeks after SGI-DNA’s former president Nathan Wood announced he was leaving the company for a new gig at Swift Biosciences.

→ Now that the curtain is drawn on Sanofi’s acquisition of Ablynx, the biotech’s CMO is moving on to his next chapter as well. Robert Zeldin will now take on the same role at Acceleron $XLRN, the Celgene partner that recently got some attention for stellar Phase III results on its anemia drug, luspatercept. He succeeds Matthew Sherman, who will see a Phase III beta-thalassemia trial through the readout but leaves plenty of other early- and mid-stage programs in his hands. They span hematology, neuromuscular and pulmonary diseases — a diversity in therapeutic area that matches Zeldin’s own experience across Merck, Novartis and French pharma Stallergenes.

Parker “Pete” Petit

→ Besieged by shorts with a Justice Department probe reportedly under way, the purge at MiMedx $MDXG has now led to the exit of CEO Parker “Pete” Petit and COO William “Bill” Taylor. The audit committee at the biotech has been doing its own internal investigation, which has already led to the departure of the CFO and treasurer. David Coles was named interim CEO. “The Board is confident that now is the right time for MiMedx to transition its leadership team as we look to the future and prepare our Company for its next chapter,” said chairman Charles Evans. The biotechs shares swooned on the latest news, plunging 26%.

→ After guiding HistoIndex’s pivot from a medical device company to a clinical service provider specializing in nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), founder Gideon Ho is passing on the CEO role to focus on the commercial side of things. His successor is Poon Thong Yuen, a Singapore-based investor who’s been advising Ho in refining the company’s revenue model. Having served on the boards of both biotech and medtech companies, Poon is also tasked with cementing HistoIndex’s — and its subsidiary Hangzhou Choutu Technology’s — reputation in diagnostics.

Pritesh Shah just got a promotion at Novocure $NVCR, put in charge of the cancer drug developer’s worldwide commercial strategy as chief commercial officer. He will continue to report to CEO Asaf Danziger, just as he had while SVP of the Americas. In that position, together with managers of other regional markets, he covered the duties left behind by former CCO Peter Melnyk, who resigned last March. Now in his sixth year at the Jersey-based company, as it grapples with a product approved for glioblastoma and in Phase III for several other indications, the Roche/Genentech vet is still moving up the ladder.

→ Seasoned BD exec Thorsten Melcher has jumped from Google’s Calico to become chief business officer at immuno-oncology player Xyphos Biosciences. The team likes the spectrum of fundraising and dealmaking experience he’s amassed, from co-founding AGY Therapeutics and EnVivo Pharma (now Forum) to directing ventures at J&J Innovation, and they are counting on him to get the word out about their next-gen CAR-T technology.

→ As Zogenix $ZGNX lines up its FDA pitch for its late-stage drug ZX008, designed to tackle a severe form of childhood epilepsy, it wants to be sure it’s ready for the next step as well. Ashish Sagrolikar, who’s just been hired as chief commercial officer, will be their man on it. With 16 years of marketing rare disease and specialty pharmaceutical products under his belt, most recently at GlaxoSmithKline and Baxter, Sagrolikar is expected to stay laser focused on rolling out the drug to patients with Dravet syndrome as soon as the approval comes through. If approved, the therapy will face off with GW Pharma’s recently green-lighted cannabinoid drug.

→ Following its $75 million raise, Belgium’s iTeos Therapeutics has planned to move its operations to Cambridge, MA and expand its top team in the US in preparation for an IPO. That talent search has led them to Scott Chappel, who is leaving Surface Oncology, a biotech he helped found, to come shepherd iTeos’ immuno-oncology programs into the clinic. An experienced scientist and two-time entrepreneur, he most recently served in a technology (manufacturing, process management) role. He joins a “top scientific team” out of Ludwig Cancer Research and the de Duve Institute that was a key appeal for Series B lead investor MPM Capital. The company’s main drug is an adenosine A2A antagonist.

→ Almost a year after a dreadful FDA rejection that led to layoffs and study terminations, Boston-based Intarcia is gearing up for the resubmission of its implanted diabetes drug/device. And they’ve brought on Eli Lilly vet Thane Wettig as the first chief marketing officer and metabolic franchise head to start off right. In addition to drafting the game plan for ITCA 650, Wettig, who led multiple launch teams at Lilly Diabetes, also has a broad mandate over all of Intarcia’s marketing efforts and the development of other metabolic assets in the pipeline.

Novelion Therapeutics $NVLN board chair Jason Aryeh is leaving the rare disease company, handing over his duties to board director Mark Corrigan, who now assumes the title executive chair. Aryeh, Corrigan and COO Jeff Hackman together formed the Office of the CEO that was put in place when former chief Mary Szela resigned last November. Hackman will now be interim CEO, though there’s no word on when a permanent leader might be installed.


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