Astellas taps seasoned CMO amid shift to oncology; Doug Manion steps into a new Arena following $6.7B buyout
As Bernhardt Zeiher retires from Astellas’ chief medical officer position, the selection of his successor says a lot about the changes he’s seen at the company over his 12-year tenure.
Tadaaki Taniguchi, the new CMO, is a surgeon in oncology by training who’s led development for Merck, Bristol Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca in Japan before moving to the US, where he will be based. His most recent role at AstraZeneca was SVP, head of oncology business unit Asia strategy.
Looking back on his time, Zeiher told Endpoints News that he believes the successes his group — spanning almost 2,700 people — has had with the current pipeline sets the company up for the next wave of cancer therapies, be it bifunctional antibodies, cell therapies or oncolytic viruses. On top of notching label expansions for the Pfizer-partnered prostate Xtandi, in recent years Astellas also saw the approval of Xospata in acute myeloid leukemia and Seagen’s Padcev in urothelial cancer.
“Probably the biggest thing we’ve done as an organization is really grow our oncology portfolio, capabilities and really established a strong presence there,” he said.
When he first joined Astellas from Pfizer — leaving as the inflammatory disease area lead — Zeiher recalled the company being a “very regional company” with headquarters in Japan and offices in Europe and the US. His tenure, he would say, was also characterized by a “great deal of globalization,” which meant forming more global structures, harmonizing procedures and improving efficiencies.
The company is also moving into earlier-stage projects and cutting-edge technologies such as gene therapy. Ever since Astellas acquired Audentes for $3 billion, it’s been uncovering safety concerns with AAV gene therapies, with patient deaths rocking the entire community. Under Zeiher, researchers are still working to find out the exact issues and how to resolve them — something Taniguchi will also have to pick up once he starts in October.
“It’s been very much a roller coaster,” Zeiher said, but added, “we remain incredibly committed to gene therapy.”
— Amber Tong
→ Ex-Kleo Pharmaceuticals chief Doug Manion has turned up as president and COO of Aclaris, just a month after the Wayne, PA immuno-inflammatory disease biotech appointed Intercept and Pfizer alum Gail Cawkwell as CMO. Manion was a Bristol Myers exec for 11 years before taking the Kleo job, and he led R&D at Arena Pharmaceuticals until Pfizer’s big $6.7 billion purchase in December 2021. With Manion’s arrival, Neal Walker has relinquished the title of president but will retain his CEO duties.
→ Striking a €300 million oncology deal on Thursday with Innovent to expand its reach in China, Sanofi has made several hires, starting with the appointment of Olivier Bogillot as head of US general medicines. Bogillot came to the French pharma from Bristol Myers in 2015 and will finish out his time as president of Sanofi France before starting his new gig on Sept. 1.
Next, Deborah Glasser became head of vaccines, North America at the multinational on June 20, breaking away from Biogen after almost three years as US SVP of the Alzheimer’s franchise and 13 years overall. Besides her work with the infamous aducanumab, Glasser was global VP and asset lead for Biogen’s SMA (Spinraza) portfolio. Finally, Kellogg and Keurig Dr. Pepper vet Andrew Loucks — the ex-CEO of Sensory Cloud — will be Sanofi’s head of North America consumer healthcare effective Aug. 8.
→ Lars Staal Wegner is out as CEO of Copenhagen-based Evaxion Biotech, and the immunotherapy player has welcomed Per Norlén as his successor. Norlén left AstraZeneca in 2010 to become CMO of Alligator Bioscience and was elevated to CEO at the Swedish biotech seven years later. He recently juggled the roles of CMO at Xintela and CEO of its subsidiary Targinta. Wegner’s resignation doesn’t mean he’s left the company for good: He’ll still be an advisor at Evaxion, part of the IPO class of 2021 whose shares $EVAX have tanked along with everyone else in the industry this year.
→ Dutch CNS biotech Vico Therapeutics has poached Micah Mackison from Locanabio, naming him CEO after his two-and-a-half-year tenure as CBO and EVP of strategy and corporate development. From 2015-20, he was SVP, corporate development and strategy at Assembly Biosciences and he’s also led corporate strategy at Lundbeck. Early in his career, Mackison held financial posts at Pfizer and Eli Lilly. Vico is targeting spinocerebellar ataxia types 3 and 1 and Huntington’s with its lead asset, an antisense oligonucleotide named VO659.
→ When Nektar’s drug bempeg crumbled in multiple late-stage trials in combination with Bristol Myers’ Opdivo, it opened the floodgates for layoffs, as nearly 70% of the workforce lost their jobs. Chief commercial officer John Northcott exited the company in June and has now resurfaced at Arvinas in the same capacity. Northcott, a Roche/Genentech vet assigned to Avastin, has also been commercial chief with Lexicon Pharmaceuticals and Pharmacyclics before making his way to Nektar in December 2019. In July 20221, John Houston-led Arvinas inked another protein degradation deal with Pfizer worth $1 billion in cash and up to $1.4 billion in milestones.
→ Launching last November with $50 million in financing from Flagship, tRNA biotech Alltrna has selected Joanne Protano as CFO. This marks another appointment within Noubar Afeyan’s family of companies for Protano, who was Flagship’s SVP of finance, new ventures from 2015-17. Since then, she’s been VP of finance and SVP of finance and operations for Rubius Therapeutics. Lovisa Afzelius handed the keys to Michelle Werner at Alltrna in April, part of a wave of CEO-partner appointments at Flagship that included Margo Georgiadis and Michael Severino.
→ Gracell Biotechnologies has made its second Peer Review appearance in three weeks with Wendy Li as CMO. Li worked in oncology development at Genentech, Sanofi and Pfizer, then held CMO posts at Sihuan Pharmaceutical and Exuma Biotech. Samuel Zhang, a Big Pharma vet in his own right, joined as CBO in July at the Chinese CAR-T player, which opened 2021 by raising a hefty $209 million in the good old days of IPOs.
→ With its lead drug taletrectinib in Phase II studies for ROS1 fusion-positive NSCLC, US-China biotech AnHeart Therapeutics has named Shuanglian Li as CMO (US). Prior to leading clinical development at Ansun Biopharma and Skyline Therapeutics, Li was global clinical lead for the EGFR inhibitor mobocertinib at Takeda and had been a medical director at Ariad Pharmaceuticals until the Japanese pharma snapped it up five years ago in a $5.2 billion deal.
→ Led by ex-Novartis Gene Therapies business chief Lisa Deschamps and notching an $80 million Series A last December, gene therapy outfit AviadoBio has tapped David Cooper as CMO. Cooper, a 14-year Novo Nordisk vet in medical affairs, had filled the role of VP, clinical development, CNS since 2019 at uniQure and worked on such drugs as Huntington’s candidate AMT 130, which revealed early data in late June that “pleasantly surprised” CEO Matt Kapusta.
→ Massachusetts-based PharmaEssentia has brought aboard Lih-Ling Lin as CSO. Lin joins the company from Sanofi, where she served as head of checkpoint immunology cluster in the immunology and inflammation research area. Prior to that, Lin was with Pfizer for more than 21 years, rounding out her tenure with the drug giant as senior director, inflammation and immunology.
→ Over at Feng Zhang’s Arbor Biotechnologies, Lee Ann Marchionna has signed on as chief people officer. During her time as a principal at Vitality HR, Marchionna was either an interim chief people officer or a fractional chief human resources officer for an extensive list of companies, including Albireo, Spero Therapeutics, Entrada Therapeutics, Ikena Oncology and Genocea Biosciences. Earlier, she was VP of human resources at Thermo Fisher. Now she focuses her attention on a CRISPR biotech that gathered up a $215 million Series B round in November 2021.
→ San Francisco protein degradation shop Nurix Therapeutics has locked in Eric Schlezinger as chief people officer. After leading human resources at Vir Biotechnology from 2017-19, Schlezinger held the same role at Adamas Pharmaceuticals, a Parkinson’s biotech that Supernus bought for $400 million in October 2021. Nurix cashed in with a $120 million round in March 2020, then bolstered its alliance with Sanofi as the French pharma dished out $22 million nearly 10 months later on top of the $77 million from the original deal in 2019.
→ Swinging and missing again with its stem cell therapy for stroke in June, Athersys has named Kasey Rosado as interim CFO shortly after shareholders at the cash-strapped company signed off on a reverse stock split. Rosado is a PricewaterhouseCoopers vet who was senior managing director at Ankura before joining Athersys, which severed ties with Aspire Capital Fund a month ago, ripping up a $100 million agreement.
→ Sunnyvale, CA-based anti-aging company Rubedo Life Sciences has plugged in Ali Siam as CBO and Ofir Moreno as SVP of drug discovery. A J&J strategic marketing vet who also had a three-year stay at AbbVie, Siam comes to Rubedo after his stint as business chief of Celmatix. Moreno has ended a nearly 12-year association with MEI Pharma, where he was promoted to SVP of pharmaceutical sciences in July 2019.
→ Singular Genomics Systems is bringing in two new faces, both from 10x Genomics, to its exec team with the appointments of Sam Ropp as CCO and Jeff Bullard as head of sales for North America. During his tenure at 10x, Ropp was SVP of global sales. Ropp also has experience from Becton Dickinson and Bio-Rad Laboratories under his belt.
Meanwhile, Bullard was senior director of sales — America. Prior to his decade-long stint with 10x, Bullard was with Thermo Fisher, Life Technologies, Ion Torrent and Applied Biosystems/Ambion.
→ Two Illumina vets have joined Seattle proteomics company Nautilus Biotechnology: Eric Spence (VP of instrument engineering) spent four years with Illumina, then hopped over to Agilent Technologies before taking on a string of roles at Genapsys, leaving the genomic sequencing player as senior director, instrument development. Ken Kuhn (VP of reagent and platform development) was senior director of product development during a 16-year career at Illumina, and he’s recently been VP of systems integration, product development and operations at Encodia.
→ After losing its CEO in February, biotech research group ReNeuron has locked in its CFO Catherine Isted to the chief exec role. Isted joined the UK-based company in October 2021 after a stint at Oxford Biomedica. Isted will officially take the mantle on Sept. 1.
→ Rolando Brawer has taken on the role of EVP, strategy & corporate development for digital cell biology specialist Berkeley Lights. Brawer — a former Genomic Health/Exact Sciences exec — recently served as VP, science & technology, alliances & ventures at Danaher Corporation, and from 2014-16, he was head of licensing at Thermo Fisher.
→ Right before Amgen agreed to buy Chemocentryx for $3.7 billion, the Big Pharma gave Michael Drake a seat on the board of directors. Since August 2020, Drake has been president of the University of California and was president of Ohio State from 2014-20.
→ Gary Nabel and Joseph Papa lead a group of new board members at Paul Peter Tak’s Candel Therapeutics that will replace Alan Smith, Shaan Ghandi and Udi Meirav on Aug. 8. Nabel, the chief innovation officer at OPKO and ex-Sanofi CSO, along with Papa — the outgoing Bausch Health CEO — will be joined by Eko Devices CFO Renee Gaeta on the board.
→ Chaired by Mike Grey, mitochondria-focused Reneo Pharmaceuticals has elected Roshawn Blunt to the board of directors. Blunt, who joined the board at Kronos Bio in November 2021, is an Amgen and J&J vet who is the managing director of 1798 Consultants.
→ After VBL Therapeutics’ ovarian cancer drug ofranergene obadenovec whiffed in Phase III a couple weeks ago, the biotech chopped its staff by 35%, while Ron Cohen, Bennett Shapiro and Alison Finger have all resigned this week from the board of directors. VBL says it has enough cash available to keep going with a smaller crew for the next year.
→ Andrew Hirsch-led protein degradation biotech C4 Therapeutics has added Laura Bessen and Donna Grogan to the board of directors. At the tail end of her 15 years with Bristol Myers (2001-2016), Bessen was VP, head of US medical. Grogan was CMO of Clementia until the company was sold to Ipsen, which has had a devil of a time with the centerpiece of the deal, the rare bone disease drug palovarotene.
→ Radhika Tripuraneni is headed to the board of directors at Eli Lilly’s NASH collaborator Terns Pharmaceuticals. Tripuraneni, the chief development officer with Prothena, is the ex-VP of medical affairs for MyoKardia and Alexion.
→ Foresite Labs incubator Alumis has brought on Sapna Srivastava, the former chief financial and strategy officer of Intellia Therapeutics, to its board of directors. Along with her stint at Intellia, Srivastava is the ex-chief financial and strategy officer for Abide Therapeutics (acquired by Lundbeck).
→ New Jersey-based Amneal Pharmaceuticals has pulled up a chair for former FDA deputy commissioner Deb Autor on the board of directors. Autor spent half of her six years at Mylan as head of global quality and the other half as head of strategic global quality and regulatory policy. She was also AstraZeneca’s global head of regulatory excellence from 2019-21.
→ Puma Biotechnology — which experienced a drop in its stock in 2019 after sales of its drug Nerlynx fell short of Wall Street estimates — has recruited Alessandra Cesano to its board of directors. Cesano serves as CMO of ESSA Pharmaceuticals and is the former CMO of NanoString. Cesano has also previous stints at Cleave Biosciences, Nodality, Amgen, Biogen and SmithKline Beecham.
→ Canadian biopharma Find Therapeutics — backed by investors CTI Life Sciences and adMare BioInnovations, among others — has named Paul Truex as chairman of the board, taking over for Laurence Rulleau, who will remain on the board. Truex currently serves as chairman and CEO of Thryv Therapeutics. Truex also has experience from stints at Milestone, Trius, Anthera, Peninsula and Versicor.
→ Rallybio, run by a crew of Alexion alums who picked up an old Kymab anemia drug from Sanofi in May, has plucked up Wendy Chung for its board of directors. Chung is a professor of pediatrics and medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and also serves on the board of Prime Medicine. Additionally, Chung sits on the scientific advisory boards of Sage Bionetworks, Taysha, Helix and Regeneron Genetics Center.