Alex Arfaei trades his analyst's post for a new role as biotech VC; Sanofi vet heads to Vifor
Too often, Alex Arfaei arrived too late.
An analyst at BMO Capital Markets, he’d meet with biotech or pharmaceutical heads for their IPO or secondary funding and his brain, trained on a biology degree and six years at Merck and Endo, would spring with questions: Why this biomarker? Why this design? Why not this endpoint? Not that he could do anything about it. These execs were coming for clinical money; their decisions had been made and finalized long ago.
“There were so many times where I would be puzzled at the course of development,” Arfaei told Endpoints News. “More recently what a lot of companies would do is seek out my guidance and prioritize their projects accordingly.
“And that’s when I realized, maybe I should get involved at these companies at an earlier stage.”
Arfaei will now join life sciences venture firm Pappas Capital as a partner, where he will work on identifying companies and ensuring those questions have good answers from an early stage. He said his role will be to convert the science to numbers and understand the risk-reward.
Pappas’s recent successes include the migraine drug Colucid and the neuro startup Afferent Pharmaceuticals. Arfaei said he already sees one prospect for a treatment of a systemic disease without good options that has stymied the larger companies.
“I don’t want to call it a holy grail, but certainly we do see investment opportunities,” he said.
Discussing the increased revenue stress in the industry and pricing pressure from lawmakers and presidential candidates — briefly on display again at last night’s Democratic debate — Arfaei indicated his role in the company will dovetail with industry trends. He argued those two factors will push the industry to find drugs that have good “value” for the industry and patients. Which is the kind of discerning stance he will be taking as an investor.
Those factors, he said, would compound with the industry’s growing understanding of the molecular causes of disease to make treatment more efficient.
“With the greater emphasis on the cost — hopefully with the greater emphasis on cost — there should be greater focus on drugs that meet unmet needs and specifically lower the overall cost burden for society,” Arfaei said.
Of course, that leaves open questions about drugs that meet unmet needs but don’t necessarily lower the overall cost burden and it may not quite square with rhetoric from the White House and the campaign stage focused primarily on the sticker price.
By Jason Mast
→ Swiss-based Vifor Pharma — the company that paid $1.5 billion back in 2016 for Relypsa — has wooed Sanofi exec Klaus Henning Jensen as CMO. Jensen was the global therapeutic area head at Sanofi before his switch. Prior to that, he held several roles at Novo Nordisk. In addition, the company announced the departure of chief commercial officer Dario Eklund, who will leave by the end of September for other opportunities. The company has initiated a search for a successor.
→ A week after Genfit CEO Jean-François Mouney handed the reins to his successor Pascal Prignet, the company has announced that Carol Addy is set to join as CMO. Addy most recently served in the same role at Merck subsidiary Health Management Resources and as the associate director, director and senior principal scientist at Merck Research Laboratories.
→ BrainStorm — a developer of autologous adult stem cell therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases — has welcomed Preetam Shah as CFO. Shah was the director of healthcare investment banking at Barclays Capital, where he was involved in closing more than $3.5 billion in M&A and equity transactions. Prior to that, Shah served as vice president of healthcare investment and banking at Canaccord Genuity and held a stint at Reliance Capital USA Ventures. Shah founded and served as the managing director of healthcare financial consulting firm Saisarva.
→ Ayala Pharmaceuticals brings on Gary Gordon as the company’s CMO, just as their lead product candidate, AL101 — a gamma secretase inhibitor — goes through Phase II for adenoid cystic carcinoma patients with tumor-bearing Notch activating mutations. Gordon joins from a stint at AbbVie as vice president of oncology development. His other roles include serving at Abbott Laboratories and as CSO and vice president of clinical affairs at Ovation Pharmaceuticals.
→ Biogen vet Jane Rhodes has joined Verge Genomics — a company focused on the development of new drugs for CNS diseases — as CBO after a stint as vice president of business development and corporate strategy at FORMA Therapeutics. While at Biogen, Rhodes founded the Value Based Medicine (VBM) Innovation Hub. Rhodes also co-founded software development company Qr8 Health.
→ Xencor — best known for its bispecific antibodies — has appointed Celia Eckert as vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of the company. Eckert joins the company from Synthetic Genomics, where she served as vice president, corporate legal. Prior to that, she held stints at Sequenom, Prometheus Laboratories and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and Jones Day.
→ WindMIL Therapeutics has reeled in Urvashi Patel as vice president of regulatory and quality systems, bolstering their effort to advance marrow-infiltrating lymphocytes for cancer immunotherapy. Most recently, Patel served as senior director, regulatory affairs at Precision for Medicine and held roles at Janssen and Elan Pharmaceuticals.
→ David Epstein-led cancer startup Black Diamond Therapeutics has made the addition of Thomas (Tommy) Leggett as CFO. Leggett joins the company after holding the same position at Axcella Health, where he helped in raising $156 million across three financings. Prior to his time at Axcella, Leggett was treasurer and head of business development finance at Purdue Pharma. Leggett’s other stints include serving as an investment banker for JP Morgan Securities, Lazard Frères & Company and UBS Securities.
→ Oncternal Therapeutics has welcomed Gunnar Kaufmann as CSO and Igor Bilinsky as CBO. Kauffman comes on board after a stint as SVP, immunotherapy, head of research and global partnerships at Sorrento Therapeutics. He was previously a faculty member at Scripps Research and still serves as adjunct assistant professor in the departments of chemistry and immunology and microbial science. Bilinsky was COO of AmpliPhi Biosciences Corporation before taking on this new role. His career has also spanned Ignyta, Vical, Halozyme Therapeutics and Androclus.
→ Swedish company Beactica Therapeutics made several new additions to its team. Vendela Parrow, the new head of preclinical development, brings experience from previous positions at Akinion Pharmaceuticals, Axelar and Pharmacia Biovitrum. Joining the board of directors are Maarten de Chateau, current CEO of Sixera Pharma and Buzzard Pharmaceuticals, and Håkan Wickholm, presently a board member of Genovis. Finally, Johan Harmenberg, CMO of Oncopeptides, has been brought on as a clinical advisor.
→ MaaT Pharma — focused on microbiome-based drug products — announced two new appointments: Jean-Marc Renard as CBO and Emmanuel Prestat as computational biology manager. Renard was previously the vice president of corporate development at Sanofi Pasteur, where he was responsible for the $750 million acquisition of Protein Sciences. Prestat was the associate director of research and development at HalioDx and held a stint within the in vitro diagnostics department at QIAGEN.
→ Joel Smith has joined as the general counsel and EVP of corporate development of Epic Sciences — a company partnered with Genomic Health to commercialize the Oncotype DX AR-V7 nucleus detect test. Smith comes from Qualcomm Life, where he served as managing counsel of the company. He has also held stints as general counsel at BioQ, Triad Therapeutics and Sientra.
→ Peter-Paul Tak-led gut-focused company Kintai Therapeutics has ushered in Mark Nuttall as CBO. Nuttall hails from Kymera Therapeutics, where he served in the same role. His previous stints include roles at Sanofi Genzyme, Johnson & Johnson, GSK and AstraZeneca.
→ Copenhagen, Denmark-based Xellia Pharmaceuticals has appointed Peter Baker as CMO, Xellia North America. Baker brings experience from his time at Abbott Laboratories, Hospira and Pfizer. His appointment comes at a time when the company is preparing to expand its proprietary liquid franchise, which includes the first and only room temperature Vancomycin injection premix.
→ At the end of August, Soligenix announced that it had updated the late-stage program for its experimental drug, SGX942, by increasing enrollment by 70 patients to 260 subjects. Now, Jonathan Guarino has hopped on board to Soligenix as their senior vice president and CFO — succeeding Karen Krumeich, who will be pursuing new opportunities. Guarino most recently served as corporate controller for Hepion Pharmaceuticals and held stints at Covance, BlackRock and Barnes & Noble.
→ CuraSen Therapeutics — a company kickstarted by Kathleen Sereda Glaub and Anthony Ford out of the lab of Stanford’s Mehrdad Shamloo, focused on the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s — has recruited Peter Butera to the team as SVP, operations. Before CuraSen, Butera ran the bradanicline program in chronic cough through Phase II at Attenua as their vice president of clinical operations. Butera also held the same role at Afferent (before its $1.25 billion acquisition by Merck) and Pain Therapeutics.
→ Having plotted commercial plans at Intercept Pharma for the past five years, Keith White is bringing his market access acumen to Corbus. As it enters the final regulatory stretch with its lead drug, lenabasum, Corbus is preparing for an intital launch in systemic sclerosis, closely followed by a program in dermatomyositis.
→ CRO PHASTAR has named Jennifer Bradford as the lead to the company’s data science group — which is focused on applying AI and machine learning to maximize the value of clinical trial data. Bradford’s previous stints include roles at AstraZeneca and Cancer Research UK.
→ Martin Mackay, Stephen Uden and Jeffrey Fryer have scooped up a former colleague at Alexion to beef up the R&D team at Rallybio, their rare disease startup. Douglas Sheridan was a co-inventor of five clinical drug candidates, including Alexion’s latest blockbuster hopeful Ultomiris (approved by the FDA in 2018). His latest title at Alexion was executive director, global program team leader.
→ For nine months, Tony Coles has been watching closely as Adam Koppel and Bain’s life sciences team built Cerevel from the ground up, offering insights into its neuroscience pursuit as executive chairman while staying at the helm of his own biotech. But now that he has passed the reins at Yumanity to Richard Peters, Coles is completing the flip — and the top team puzzle — by taking the chief executive role at Cerevel.
“I’m excited because I get double the opportunity to play a role in two important companies,” Coles noted in an interview with Endpoints News.
Coles — a four-time CEO who had a notable tenure at Onyx Pharma, a biotech that was ultimately sold to Amgen — has gotten to know Bain well.
Most recently Orly Mishan, a Biogen vet, moved from Bain to become chief business officer, joining CSO John Renger (who cut his teeth at Merck), CMO Ray Sanchez (Otsuka vet), CFO Kathy Yi (from Sangamo) and Ken Dipetro, chief human resources officer.
Coles is still involved in Yumanity as executive chairman and an investor — another part of his grand effort to make a dent in what he calls the next frontier in medicine.
“Stuart was a distinguished physician who was the forefront of antibiotic development and a dedicated champion for the prudent use of antibiotics,” said Evan Loh, Paratek CEO. “More importantly, he was a dear friend and mentor to so many and his passion lives on in each of us as we work to continue his mission of combating the daily threat of life-threatening infections. We will greatly miss him.”
Levy co-founded Paratek more than 20 years ago along with Walter Gilbert. He was instrumental in the development of the company’s lead antibiotics, Nuzyra and Seysara. Levy discovered the efflux mechanism for drug (tetracycline) resistance and was among the first scientists to document the transfer of resistant bacteria from animals to farmworkers. His 1992 book, The Antibiotic Paradox: How Miracle Drugs Are Destroying the Miracle, has been cited widely and translated into four languages.
The news comes a few weeks after the company published positive Phase III data for Nuzyra for patients with ABSSSI.
→ Imvax has wooed John Furey, former COO of Spark Therapeutics, to the helm as CEO and to its board of directors. Furey succeeds interim CEO David Andrews, the company’s co-founder and CMO. During his time at Spark, Furey led the US launch of pioneering gene therapy Luxturna. Prior to Spark, Furey served as SCP and head of global operations at Baxalta. He also held a stint at Pfizer, where he initiated the restructuring and divestiture of Baxter International’s vaccines franchise to Pfizer.
In his new role, Furey will steer Philadelphia-based Imvax through a Phase II for its autologous tumor cell vaccine for glioblastoma multiforme, a notoriously hard-to-treat cancer.
→ It’s official. Memorial Sloan Kettering has picked a brain cancer expert as its new physician-in-chief and CMO, replacing José Baselga, who left under a cloud after being singled out by The New York Times and ProPublica for failing to properly air his lucrative industry ties. His replacement, who now will be in charge of MSK’s cutting-edge research work as well as the cancer care delivered by hundreds of practitioners, is Lisa M. DeAngelis. DeAngelis had been chair of the neurology department and co-founder of MSK’s brain tumor center and was moved into the acting CMO role in the wake of Baselga’s departure.
→ After welcoming J&J dealmaker Marianne De Backer to their team as BD chief a little more than a week ago, Bayer announced that it will be reducing the size of the company’s board of management. Hartmut Klusik and Kemal Malik will be hitting the exit and the company doesn’t plan on retaining those positions — taking the board from seven to five members.
According to the company, as of January 1, 2020, the board of management will consist of chairman Werner Baumann, CFO Wolfgang Nickl and division presidents Liam Condon (Crop Science), Stefan Oelrich (Pharmaceuticals) and Heiko Schipper (Consumer Health).
→ Months after UK-based Mogrify relocated to the Bio-Innovation Centre at the Cambridge Science Park and added 15 new staff members to its scientific and management teams, the company has wooed a high-profile leader to chair their board. Jane Osbourn, a biopharma vet, was vice president for research and development and site leader at MedImmune (formerly Cambridge Antibody Technology). She is a recognized expert in antibody engineering credited for the discovery and development of eight marketed drugs, such as Humira and Benlysta.