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.

M&A: a crit­i­cal dri­ver for sus­tain­able top-line growth in health­care

2021 saw a record $600B in healthcare M&A activity. In 2022, there is an anticipated slowdown in activity, however, M&A prospects remain strong in the medium to long-term. What are future growth drivers for the healthcare sector? Where might we see innovations that drive M&A? RBC’s Andrew Callaway, Global Head, Healthcare Investment Banking discusses with Vito Sperduto, Global Co-Head, M&A.

15 LGBTQ lead­ers in bio­phar­ma; Paul Stof­fels’ Gala­pa­gos re­vamp; As­traZeneca catch­es up in AT­TR; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

A return to in-person conferences also marks a return to on-the-ground reporting. My colleagues Beth Synder Bulik and Nicole DeFeudis were on-site at Cannes Lions, bringing live coverage of pharma’s presence at the ad festival — accompanied by photos from Clara Bui, our virtual producer, that bring you right to the scene. You can find a recap (and links to all the stories) below.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 144,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

AstraZeneca's new Evusheld direct to consumer campaign aims to reach more immunocompromised patients.

As­traZeneca de­buts first con­sumer cam­paign for its Covid-19 pro­phy­lac­tic Evusheld — and a first for EUA drugs

AstraZeneca’s first consumer ad for Evusheld is also a first for drugs that have been granted emergency use authorizations during the pandemic.

The first DTC ad for a medicine under emergency approval, the Evusheld campaign launching this week aims to raise awareness among immunocompromised patients — and spur more use.

Evusheld nabbed emergency authorization in December, however, despite millions of immunocompromised people looking for a solution and now more widespread availability of the drug.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 144,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

De­spite a slow start to the year for deals, PwC pre­dicts a flur­ry of ac­tiv­i­ty com­ing up

Despite whispers of a busy year for M&A, deal activity in the pharma space is actually down 30% on a semi-annualized basis, according to PwC’s latest report on deal activity. But don’t rule out larger deals in the second half of the year, the consultants said.

PwC pharmaceutical and life sciences consulting solutions leader Glenn Hunzinger expects to see Big Pharma companies picking up earlier stage companies to try and fill pipeline gaps ahead of a slew of big patent cliffs. Though a bear market continues to maul the biotech sector, Hunzinger said recent deals indicate that pharma companies are still paying above current trading prices.

Abortion-rights protesters regroup and protest following Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Fol­low­ing SCO­TUS de­ci­sion to over­turn abor­tion pro­tec­tions, AG Gar­land says states can't ban the abor­tion pill

Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision on Friday to overturn Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years, Attorney General Merrick Garland sought to somewhat reassure women that states will not be able to ban the prescription drug sometimes used for abortions.

Following the decision, the New England Journal of Medicine also published an editorial strongly condemning the reversal, saying it “serves American families poorly, putting their health, safety, finances, and futures at risk.”

Joe Wiley, Amryt Pharma CEO

Am­ryt Phar­ma sub­mits a for­mal dis­pute res­o­lu­tion to the FDA over re­ject­ed skin dis­ease drug

The story of Amryt Pharma’s candidate for the genetic skin condition epidermolysis bullosa, or EB, will soon enter another chapter.

After the Irish drugmaker’s candidate, dubbed Oleogel-S10 and marketed as Filsuvez, was handed a CRL earlier this year, the company announced in a press release that it plans to submit a formal dispute resolution request for the company’s NDA for Oleogel-S10.

John Leonard, Intellia CEO

In­tel­li­a's CRISPR pro­gram that ed­its genes di­rect­ly in pa­tients shows dura­bil­i­ty in AT­TR amy­loi­do­sis

The first in vivo CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing program has some new durability data showing sustained reduction of a toxic protein in ATTR amyloidosis at all four dose levels in a small 15-patient study.

Intellia Therapeutics presented the much-anticipated data for its Regeneron-collaborated NTLA-2001 Friday morning, adding to the initial Phase I results it first delivered almost a year ago to the day.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Images)

Phar­ma-friend­ly sen­a­tor calls on FDA for a third time to show patent pro­tec­tions should­n't be blamed for high drug prices

North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis made a name for himself in the 2020 election cycle as the darling of the pharma industry, accepting hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions, even from the likes of Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

Those contributions have led Tillis to attempt to re-write patent laws in pharma’s favor, a move which failed to gain steam in 2019, and request for a third time since January that the FDA should help stop “the false narrative that patent protections are to blame for high drug prices.”

Joe Papa (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

Joe Pa­pa re­signs as chair of Bausch Health as bil­lion­aire John Paul­son takes over

Joe Papa, chair of Bausch Health, officially resigned on Thursday and the board appointed billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson as the new chair, effective immediately.

The specialty pharma company sought to make clear that Papa’s abrupt departure “was not due to any dispute or disagreement with the Company, its management or the Board on any matter relating to the Company’s operations, policies or practices.”

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 144,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.