Bridget Martell on taking Yale spinout 'to adulthood'; Cullinan Oncology CEO announces resignation as Bristol Myers hematology exec is welcomed aboard
Bridget Martell’s first clinical trial was an unorthodox one.
Then a resident in internal medicine at Yale, she was given an award to explore a career in clinical research — which was how she wound up leading a Phase I study for a therapeutic cocaine vaccine designed to help overcome addiction. She ended up overseeing the trial from Patient 1 to Patient 110 and, in the end, the early trial was positive.
“And so that’s when I realized that I needed to go to industry,” she said, “and understand how do you do this from start to finish? How do you string those pearls?”
Thus began a winding, 20-year journey that took her through every step on the proverbial bench to bedside journey — culminating in the CEO office at New Haven-based Artizan Biosciences.
Utilizing a platform technology developed by its Yale founders, the biotech has been scanning bacterial strains to pick out bad bacteria and cooking up small molecules to target them for both gastrointestinal and CNS disorders, an approach it dubs “precision microbiome medicine.” Artizan is now “on track” to name its lead candidates.
“I liken it to, you know, Jimmy took it out of infancy,” Martell said, referring to former CEO Jimmy Rosen. Now that Artizan has grown into a toddler, “I have to take it to adulthood.”
As a first-time CEO, she expects to leverage every aspect of her wide-ranging background for the new challenge: the scientist who studied microbiology and immunology; the internist exposed to a whole array of diseases thrown at her; the clinical trial strategist with experience at Pfizer, Kura Oncology and boutique CRO RRD International; the biotech mentor and advisor she played while consulting for companies and serving as entrepreneur-in-residence at Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research.
She will have help from a small team of 13 — an “amazing team” whom she cites as a big factor for the decision to get into the trenches — as Artizan looks to establish itself in a burgeoning field that’s grappled with its share of failures.
“So we’re not manipulating the microbiome, in terms of removing or adding bugs or feeding bugs. What we’re doing is we’re actually affecting the factors that are perturbing the ultimate balance in the GI tract and the inflammation,” she said. “Unfortunately, some of the failures are what I just spoke about, and that is, it’s complex, right? But, you know, if you start to chip away at what some of those mechanisms are, hopefully we will start to have a broader understanding.”
— Amber Tong
→ Co-founded by Patrick Baeuerle — who was on our list of 20 influential R&D execs in late August — Cullinan Oncology ended up raising $287.4 million in an IPO that helped get the proverbial Nasdaq ball rolling in 2021. Now comes word that Owen Hughes has resigned as CEO and Cullinan has already lined up Bristol Myers Squibb’s Nadim Ahmed as his successor. Hughes, who slips into an advisory role during the transition, will no longer be on Cullinan’s board of directors.
Ahmed, who was with GlaxoSmithKline from 1992-2010, becomes a chief executive here after two years as EVP and president of hematology at Bristol Myers. After GSK, he moved to Celgene, starting out as senior director, global marketing in the multiple myeloma franchise and climbing up to president, global hematology & oncology before the buyout.
→ There’s some reshuffling taking place at Sio Gene Therapies, which was once Axovant until the company shed its vant-ness last November. On Nov. 12, chief R&D officer Gavin Corcoran is hitting the road for “an opportunity with a private healthcare technology company,” leaving president and CEO Pavan Cheruvu to handle Corcoran’s responsibilities henceforth. Along with this news, Sio — whose gangliosidosis program has shown promise in Phase I/II — is opening up searches for a CMO and SVP of early development and scientific affairs, both new positions.
→ The ubiquitous Mace Rothenberg has stacked up the appointments after his retirement from Pfizer, and the drug giant’s ex-CMO emerges once again as senior advisor to CEO Paul Peter Tak at Candel Therapeutics. In the last nine months, Rothenberg has collected board seats at Surrozen, Tango Therapeutics, and Aulos Bioscience, and he’s joined the mission advisory board at EQRx. “Candel is at the forefront of one of the most exciting approaches in cancer immunotherapy,” Rothenberg said in a statement. “I am excited by the opportunity to help Paul Peter advance the company’s promising oncology pipeline.”
→ CBO Michelle Chen is the latest exec to join Alex Zhavoronkov’s squad at Al drug discovery startup Insilico following the appointment of CFO Nirav Jhaveri last month. Chen carries a business development background from such big names as Roche, Merck and BioMarin; fast forward to the present, and Chen makes her exit from WuXi Biologics, where she was SVP of corporate development and discovery business development.
→ A year ago, Peer Review told you about Brittany Bradrick’s arrival at ViaCyte as CFO (later becoming COO as well), but Bradrick has left ViaCyte to accept the CFO job at OrbiMed-backed Neurelis, whose lead drug Valtoco (diazepam nasal spray) was approved by the FDA last year to treat seizures. Neurelis’ CFO since 2011, George Stuart, will now jump to the COO post at Neurelis subsidiary Aegis Therapeutics. Additionally, ex-Five Prime EVP and CFO David Smith has claimed a seat on Neurelis’ board of directors.
→ There’s a slate of promotions at Urovant after the FDA approval of Gemtesa in December 2020 and subsequent data in September that showed the overactive bladder drug didn’t have a statistically significant effect on blood pressure or heart rate. And CEO Jim Robinson is welcoming a new exec: Laura Genatossio (SVP and general manager, Europe) is the lone newbie who pivots to Urovant after being Sarepta’s VP and general manager in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. As for the promotions, Alana Darden Powell gets elevated to VP, corporate communications after her year as executive director of business unit operations, communications, and alliance management; Mark Niemaszek joined Urovant last year as VP of commercial operations and jumps to SVP, corporate planning; and after three years as VP, associate general counsel and head of intellectual property, Allergan vet Ted Chan scores the SVP title.
→ Raleigh, NC-based gene therapy player Opus Genetics, the brainchild of Spark co-founder Jean Bennett that launched a month ago with a $19 million round, has picked up Ash Jayagopal as CSO and Joe Schachle as COO. Jayagopal concludes his two years as executive director of discovery medicine at Kodiak Sciences, and before that he was head of molecular pharmacology and biomarkers in ophthalmology at Roche, which bought Spark in 2019. Schachle makes the transition to Opus from his second stint at Grifols, where he was VP of global commercial services & controlling and later the VP of customer experience enablement.
→ Formerly the Massachusetts Center for Advanced Biological Innovation and Manufacturing (CABIM), Landmark Bio has installed Gregg Nyberg as chief technology officer and Michael Covington as chief quality and regulatory officer. Nyberg spent almost 15 years at Amgen, then moved on to Merck in 2017 and was the associate VP and head of biologics process development at Merck Research Laboratories. Covington, who was with Amgen from 1993-2003, has held consecutive posts at Novartis Gene Therapies and Orchard Therapeutics as VP of regulatory CMC.
→ To the mountains we go, where University of Colorado oncology spinout OnKure Therapeutics has named faculty member Jennifer Diamond as CMO. Diamond is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Medical Oncology at CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus, the same institution where Rain Therapeutics’ Robert Doebele has also taught. Led by Array BioPharma co-founder Tony Piscopio, OnKure raised a Series B that totaled $55 million in March.
→ Staying in Boulder, Enveda Biosciences has poached August Allen from Recursion, recruiting him as chief platform officer. Allen, who began as a research associate at Recursion in 2016, rose to director of product management before Enveda came calling. Enveda, a biotech where machine learning and natural biology commingle and which teed up a $55 million Series A in June, is led by CEO Viswa Colluru, a Recursion alum in his own right.
→ Valerie Jansen has been promoted to CMO at Elevation Oncology, the Shawn Leland-helmed startup that introduced itself in July 2020 and then pulled in a $65 million Series B the following November. Jansen, who took over as VP of clinical development at Elevation back in April, previously served as executive medical director at Mersana Therapeutics and senior medical advisor at Eli Lilly.
→ General Atlantic had top billing on a meaty $143 million Series B round for CinCor Pharma last week. The Cincinnati biotech has now pegged Mason Freeman as EVP, clinical development, and leading the pipeline is the aldosterone synthase inhibitor CIN-107 from Roche. A longtime Massachusetts General Hospital vet who founded the facility’s Translational Research Center, Freeman is a venture partner at 5AM Ventures who has Big Pharma experience at Novartis as head of the translational medicine program for cardiovascular & metabolic diseases.
→ Things are percolating on the leadership front at Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation with the appointments of CMO Susan Schneider and VP of clinical operations Sarah DiSalvatore. Schneider, the former SVP of clinical development, ophthalmology at Eloxx Pharmaceuticals and then Ji Xing Pharmaceuticals, is a Genentech and GSK vet who’s been VP and therapeutic area head of glaucoma and retina with Allergan. After working in clinical operations at Helsinn and Stemline Therapeutics, DiSalvatore was recently associate VP of clinical operations for Rocket Pharmaceuticals. Her first day is Nov. 1, while Schneider starts on Nov. 8.
→ Placing an emphasis on treating disorders known as RASopathies which are fueled by the activation of the Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK pathway, Pennsylvania-based NFlection Therapeutics has tapped William Hodder as CEO and is bulking up its leadership team with COO Gerd Kochendoerfer, VP of clinical operations Patrice Horwath and SVP of global regulatory affairs & quality assurance Libbie Mansell. Hodder captures the top spot here after two years as CBO of Escient Pharmaceuticals and he’s also been a corporate development exec at FibroGen and Protagonist Therapeutics. Kochendoerfer, a FibroGen vet as well in drug development, was SVP and head of operations at BridgeBio’s PellePharm. A Medtronic alum, Horwath has been a clinical operations director at Ralexar Therapeutics, while Mansell just wrapped up a brief tenure as AskBio’s SVP, regulatory affairs.
→ Bethesda, MD-based Gain Therapeutics, which released positive results from its induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) study on Gaucher and Parkinson’s disease last month, has appointed Matthias Alder as COO. Before joining Gain, Alder was CBO at Autolus Therapeutics. He has also served as an EVP at Sucampo Pharmaceuticals and Kuros Biosciences (formerly Cytos Biotechnology).
→ Backed by the Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund and taking aim at ALS and frontotemporal dementia with its lead asset, San Diego neurodegenerative disease biotech Libra Therapeutics has brought in Philip Lambert as CSO. Before joining Libra, which made its debut last September with a $29 million Series A haul, Lambert was the chief scientist at Centogene and has also been head of discovery at Charles River Laboratories.
→ German-based Curexsys has plucked up Christian Eckert as COO. Eckert makes his way to the exosome-focused company from Bristol Myers, where he was responsible for GMP manufacturing, amongst other duties. Before that, Eckert was with Medigene and Evotec.
→ Lori Gavrin has been appointed to the newly created position of chief business and strategy officer at NeuExcell Therapeutics. Gavrin served most recently as VP of corporate development at Tmunity, and she’s also worked in leadership positions at Wyeth/Pfizer and GSK. Last month, Pennsylvania-based NeuExcell struck a manufacturing deal with Fujifilm centering on its gene therapy NXL-001 for ischemic cortical stroke.
→ Barcelona oncology startup ONA Therapeutics has reached into the GSK talent jar to pluck Haijun Sun as CSO. After three years at F-star — where he was VP of biological products — Sun spent a year with Tizona Therapeutics as VP of antibody development. He joined GSK in 2017 and was the pharma giant’s head of antibody pharmacology before landing his first C-suite job here at ONA, which launched last summer with Bpifrance and Spanish VC Ysios Capital contributing to the €30 million round. Ona has also given its scientific advisory board a boost by naming the following: Pamela Klein, Cédric Blanpain, Sean Morrison, Josep Tabernero, Mark Throsby and ONA scientific co-founder Salvador Aznar Benitah.
→ Katharina Staufer has signed on to be CMO at Swiss rare liver disease biotech Versantis. Staufer comes to Versantis from Inselspital — also known as the University Hospital of Bern — where she was head of transplant medicine. CEO Vince Forster discussed the “undelivery mechanism” in Versantis’ platform with Endpoints News when the company nabbed Series B funding in September 2019.
→ Troy Wilson’s Kura Oncology has paved the way for Teresa Bair to be chief legal officer. Bair spent six years at Athenex and since June 2020 she had taken on the roles of EVP, general counsel and SVP, administration. Kura’s menin inhibitor KO-539 is now in Phase Ib for patients with relapsed or refractory acute myeloid leukemia.
→ South San Francisco-based Novome Biotechnologies has recruited Bill McLeod as CFO. McLeod most recently served as a corporate finance consultant to Surrozen. Prior to that, McLeod spent a decade at Stifel, where he served as co-head of equity capital markets. McLeod’s other roles include stints at JP Morgan and Bank of America, among others.
→ Alopexx has reeled in Thomas Thomas as CFO. Thomas joins the Cambridge, MA-based company with experience from his roles at the Stupski Foundation (CEO from 2009-2010) and Genentech (corporate treasurer from 2001-2006). Additionally, Thomas serves as an independent director on the board of Opiant Pharmaceuticals.
→ Paris-based Pharnext has welcomed some fresh faces to its management team with the appointments of Raj Thota (chief manufacturing officer and head of CMC) and Abhijit Pangu (head of regulatory affairs). Additionally, the company has promoted Xavier Paoli to COO. Thota comes to Pharnext from Frontida BioPharm, where he served as VP, general manager. Meanwhile, Pangu joins with experience from his times at Orphazyme and Ferring among others. Last, but not least, Paoli joined Pharnext in 2014 as commercialization strategy director. Prior to this stint, Paoli was with GSK, UCB and Alexion.
→ IASO Biotherapeutics has brought on Alan Fu as CFO. Fu most recently served as managing director of Haitong International and director of Citigroup Global Markets. Earlier in his career, Fu served at Rigel Pharmaceuticals.
→ Boston-based X4 Pharmaceuticals has methodically assembled its leadership in the last year, whether it’s with newcomers (CSO Art Taveras and CMO Diego Cadavid) or promotions (COO Mary DiBiase). This time around, X4 has selected Karolyn Park from Takeda as VP, US commercial. Park was senior director, US hematology portfolio strategy In her latest role at Takeda, and she has experience with Aduhelm before its controversial approval as Biogen’s associate director, global aducanumab commercial. In other X4 developments, Shire rare disease vet Françoise de Craecker has joined the board of directors.
→ Seagen CEO Clay Siegall has been named chairman of the board at fellow Seattle biotech Umoja Biopharma. The oncology-focused Umoja is flush with cash after successive financing rounds of $53 million and $210 million in November 2020 and June, respectively.
→ Chaired by new Mirati CEO David Meek, the board of directors at uniQure now includes Rachelle Jacques. The company Jacques leads, Enzyvant, just received FDA approval last Monday with the one-time regenerative therapy Rethymic for babies with congenital athymia.
→ Plunging down the Covid-19 leaderboard after the FDA rejected its lenzilumab EUA pitch, Humanigen is loading up on more board members. Former Novartis exec John Hohneker juggles other board seats at BioTheryX, Cygnal, Aravive, Evelo Biosciences and Trishula Therapeutics, and Fosun vet Kevin Xie has been Gracell’s CFO since July 2020.
→ Sarepta’s CMO and EVP of research and development Gilmore O’Neill is making his way onto the board of directors at Aptinyx. Prior to his current stint at Sarepta, O’Neill spent 15 years at Biogen, where he held roles in the development programs for Alzheimer’s disease, movement disorders, neurology, multiple sclerosis, pain, neuromuscular disease, gene and cell therapy, and rare diseases.
→ Duking it out in the liquid biopsy space with companies like Caris and Thrive Earlier Detection, Redwood City, CA-based Guardant Health has elected Myrtle Potter to the board of directors. An ex-COO at Genentech, Potter joined Roivant in 2018 and is currently CEO of Sumitovant Biopharma.
→ Zai Lab has made Scott Morrison a member of the board of directors just a couple weeks after looking to file a BLA submission for the MacroGenics antibody margetuximab in China. Morrison, who retired from Ernst & Young, is on the boards of Audentes, Corvus Pharmaceuticals, Global Blood Therapeutics, Ideaya Biosciences and Vera Therapeutics.
→ Paul Wotten-led Obsidian Therapeutics is leaning on someone familiar with the TIL arena by appointing Maria Fardis to the board of directors. Back in May, Fardis resigned as CEO of Iovance almost immediately after the company said they’d have to delay the BLA filing of their gene therapy by at least another year.
→ Looking to fight off cytotoxic T and NK cells, autoimmune disease and cancer biotech Abcuro has added Darlene Deptula-Hicks to the board of directors. Since 2019, Deptula-Hicks has been CFO at F-star and is the former CFO at Pieris.
→ CDMO Biovectra has added two new faces to its board of directors with the appointments of Gordon McCauley (president and CEO of adMare BioInnovations) and Steven Klosk (former CEO of Cambrex Corporation).
Derek Graf also contributed to this edition.