Thorsten Graef

An Ab­b­Vie clin­i­cal vet head­ing ear­ly on­col­o­gy jumps ship to build his own team at NK cell-fo­cused biotech

Mak­ing the leap from a mid-sized biotech in­to the ranks of phar­ma can be a chaf­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for ex­ec­u­tives used to a more flex­i­ble work en­vi­ron­ment — and that jump gets even hard­er dur­ing an ac­qui­si­tion. For Thorsten Graef, a clin­i­cal vet­er­an who tran­si­tioned from Phar­ma­cyclics in­to Ab­b­Vie, the move was a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in terms of what sort of team he want­ed to run.

Now, he’s get­ting his chance.

Graef, for­mer­ly Ab­b­Vie’s head of ear­ly on­col­o­gy de­vel­op­ment, has leapt over to NK cell play­er Ace­po­dia to helm the small team’s clin­i­cal pro­gram as it walks its lead drug through ear­ly hu­man tests, Ace­po­dia said Tues­day.

Graef comes aboard af­ter two years at Ab­b­Vie prop­er pre­ced­ed by near­ly sev­en years at Phar­ma­cyclics, the mak­er of blood can­cer med Im­bru­vi­ca, which the Illi­nois drug gi­ant ac­quired for $21 bil­lion back in 2015. Graef had just as­sumed the head of clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment role in De­cem­ber 2014 when Ab­b­Vie pounced and watched the Phar­ma­cyclics team grow from about 80 em­ploy­ees in­to a com­mer­cial out­fit that op­er­at­ed in­de­pen­dent­ly from the Ab­b­Vie borg but has since been ful­ly con­sumed.

Mak­ing that tran­si­tion in­to a role at a glob­al drug­mak­er was a tough one for Graef, who longed for the op­por­tu­ni­ty to build and lead his own clin­i­cal team. In Ace­po­dia, Graef, who sports more than 20 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the clin­ic, saw an op­por­tu­ni­ty to get in ear­ly on ex­cit­ing sci­ence and shape a con­stant­ly grow­ing clin­i­cal team in his own im­age.

“As a drug de­vel­op­er, hav­ing the chance to be one of the first and hav­ing the chance to take this com­pa­ny through mid- to long-term mile­stones was very ap­peal­ing,” Graef said.

Ace­po­dia comes with an ex­cit­ing — if com­plex — tech plat­form, con­ju­gat­ing an­ti­bod­ies with off-the-shelf nat­ur­al killer cells to of­fer a new path to crack­ing tu­mor cells. The biotech’s lead pro­gram, dubbed ACE1702, is cur­rent­ly in a Phase I study tar­get­ing HER2-ex­press­ing sol­id tu­mors. The first pa­tient was dosed last Au­gust, and topline da­ta are ex­pect­ed at this year’s ES­MO.

Mean­while, the drug­mak­er has three oth­er can­di­dates at the pre­clin­i­cal stage with hopes to take those over the thresh­old in­to hu­mans in the com­ing years. Next week, Ace­po­dia will of­fi­cial­ly un­veil its next two lead can­di­dates, an­oth­er NK-line can­di­date and a donor-de­rived, gam­ma delta T cell prod­uct, at an up­com­ing cell ther­a­py meet­ing, adding even more stakes to the com­pa­ny’s grow­ing port­fo­lio. For Graef, that means rapid­ly scal­ing up a clin­i­cal team to han­dle those projects as well as be­ing pre­pared for what else comes through the pipeline.

“Build­ing a team is more work, but it’s al­so more in­ter­est­ing work,” Graef said. “Par­tic­u­lar­ly in this field, there’s a lot of in­ter­est. There’s al­ready some good clin­i­cal set up and a good foun­da­tion. Ide­al­ly, you want to have some peo­ple with some pas­sion and cre­ate a mix of new­com­ers to the in­dus­try who are re­al­ly ex­cit­ed and fill that out with peo­ple who have some in­dus­try skills.”

Mean­while, Ace­po­dia, which has of­fices in both San Ma­teo, CA, and Tai­wan, has been flesh­ing out the rest of its C-suite in an­tic­i­pa­tion of more tri­als. In con­junc­tion with Graef’s hire, the team added Michael Brock as chief strat­e­gy of­fi­cer. Brock comes with 20 years of strate­gic health­care in­vest­ment bank­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, in­clud­ing a 10-year stint as a man­ag­ing di­rec­tor in Wells Far­go Se­cu­ri­ties’ Health­care In­vest­ment Bank­ing group.

The com­pa­ny re­cent­ly an­nounced the hires of Jim­my Lai as chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer and Ani­ta Kawa­tra as an ad­vi­sor on cor­po­rate af­fairs.

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

How Pur­due's $272M ad­dic­tion pay­out fund­ed a new home for its dis­card­ed non-opi­oid re­search

Don Kyle spent more than 20 years working for Purdue Pharma, right through the US opioid epidemic that led to the company’s rise and eventual infamy. But contrary to Purdue’s focus on OxyContin, Kyle was researching non-opioid painkillers — that is, until the company shelved his research.

As the company’s legal troubles mounted, Kyle found an unlikely way to reboot the project. In 2019, he took his work to an Oklahoma State University center that’s slated to receive more than two-thirds of the state’s $272 million settlement with Purdue over claims that the drugmaker’s behavior ignited the epidemic of opioid use and abuse.

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President Joe Biden at the State of the Union address with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

The drug pric­ing pres­i­dent: Biden warns of ve­to for any IRA re­peal at­tempts

President Joe Biden made clear in his “finish the job” State of the Union address last night that one of those jobs to be finished is insulin prices.

Biden’s push again to tackle insulin prices, after Republicans rebuffed the idea last summer and just after Biden won Medicare drug price negotiations/caps via the Inflation Reduction Act, shows how heavily he’s leaning into this work.

Rupert Vessey, Bristol Myers Squibb head of research and early development

Up­dat­ed: R&D tur­bu­lence at Bris­tol My­ers now in­cludes the end of a $650M al­liance and the de­par­ture of a top re­search cham­pi­on

This morning biotech Dragonfly put out word that Bristol Myers Squibb has handed back all rights to its IL-12 clinical-stage drug after spending $650 million to advance it into the clinic.

The news arrives amid a turbulent R&D stage for the pharma giant, which late last week highlighted Rupert Vessey’s decision to depart this summer as head of early-stage R&D following a crucial three-year stretch after he jumped to Bristol Myers in the big Celgene buyout. During that time he struck a series of deals for Bristol Myers, and also shepherded a number of Celgene programs down the pipeline, playing a major role for a lineup of biotechs which depended on him to champion their drugs.

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Utpal Koppikar, new Verily CFO

Ex­clu­sive: Ver­i­ly wel­comes Atara Bio­ther­a­peu­tics vet­er­an as new CFO

Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences outfit, has plucked a new CFO from the ranks of Atara Biotherapeutics, the company announced on Wednesday.

Utpal Koppikar joins Verily after a nearly five-year stint as CFO and senior VP at Atara, though his résumé also boasts roles at Gilead and Amgen.

The news follows a major reshuffling at Verily, including several senior departures earlier this year and a round of layoffs.

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Bill Anderson, incoming Bayer CEO (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Bay­er taps Roche's Bill An­der­son to lead phar­ma gi­ant as CEO

We now know where Roche’s ex-pharma chief Bill Anderson is going.

German pharma giant Bayer announced Wednesday that Anderson will be taking on the role as CEO, less than six weeks after Anderson stepped down from his perch at Roche as head of the group’s pharmaceutical division.

Roche announced back in December that Anderson would depart on Dec. 31 to “pursue opportunities outside of Roche.” His replacement, Genentech vet and Roche’s current head of global product strategy, Teresa Graham, will start her role in March.

Iya Khalil, Merck VP and head of data, AI and genome sciences (Novartis)

Mer­ck-No­var­tis re­volv­ing door spins again as AI leader Iya Khalil switch­es phar­mas

As talk of AI this-and-that gobbles up headline after headline, one Big Pharma is losing its AI leader as she transitions to another drug giant: Iya Khalil will trade in her hat as Novartis’ go-to expert and leader in the space for Merck as VP and head of data, AI and genome sciences next week.

After nearly three years leading the artificial intelligence team at Novartis — as Big Pharma and biotechs alike latch onto the ripening AI-for-drug-discovery mode of operation — Khalil will switch employers to head up a similar post at Merck, where she’ll work out of Cambridge, MA beginning Feb. 13, the company tells Endpoints News.

Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

Drag­on­fly chief: Bris­tol My­ers shouldn’t blame IL-12’s clin­i­cal per­for­mance for de­ci­sion to scrap the deal — eco­nom­ics played a key role

Bristol Myers Squibb says the IL-12 drug they were developing out of Dragonfly Therapeutics was scrubbed from the pipeline for a simple reason: It didn’t measure up on clinical performance.

But Bill Haney, the CEO of Dragonfly, is taking issue with that.

The early-stage drug, still in Phase I development, has passed muster with Bristol Myers’ general clinical expectations, advancing successfully while still in Phase I, he says.

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Singer Nick Jonas is back at work for Dexcom, this time for its new G7 glucose monitor.

Dex­com's spokescelebri­ty Nick Jonas re­turns to Su­per Bowl in new glu­cose mon­i­tor com­mer­cial

Dexcom is going back to the Super Bowl with its pop singer and patient spokesperson Nick Jonas. Jonas takes center stage as the lone figure in the 30-second commercial showcasing Dexcom’s next-generation G7 continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device.

Jonas’ sleight-of-hand tricks populate the commercial — he pinches his empty fingers together and pops them open to reveal the small CGM — even as he ends the ad, saying, “It’s not magic. It just feels that way.” Jonas then disappears in a puff of smoke.

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Richard Francis, newly-appointed Teva CEO (Novartis via Facebook)

New Te­va CEO Richard Fran­cis repri­or­i­tizes to 'get back to growth'

Six weeks into his new role at the helm of Teva Pharmaceutical, Richard Francis said it’s time to “get back to growth,” starting with a good look at the company’s priorities.

The chief executive has kicked off a strategic review, he announced during Teva’s quarterly call, which will continue over the next several months and produce results sometime in the middle of 2023. That means some pipeline cuts may be in store, he told Endpoints News, while declining to offer much more detail.