Peer Review

C4 Therapeutics bumps Andrew Phillips to CEO; Milind Desh­pande exits Achillion; Leena Gandhi to head up I/O at Eli Lilly

Andrew Phillips has been diving deep into the biotech side of things ever since he left the academia to join C4 Therapeutics — he started off leading the scientific efforts but soon after assumed corporate and management duties as president. Now, he’s taking another step up to become CEO of the protein degradation biotech. That leaves his previous CSO position available for Stewart Fisher, formerly C4T’s head of discovery, to fill. Like Phillips, he had a brief stint at the Broad Institute before joining the Watertown, MA-based biotech; but unlike the new CEO, who was a professor at Yale, Fisher worked at AstraZeneca for more than 10 years. Together, they are expected to build on the targeted protein degradation platform and alliances they’ve established to realize C4T’s potential in areas like cancer, infectious disease and autoimmune disorders.

Amber Salzman

→ Now that it’s in clinical stage, Adverum Biotechnologies $ADVM has decided the arrangement where CEO Amber Salzman commutes weekly from the East Coast to its Menlo Park, CA offices will no longer work. Salzman, who’s also the president, is stepping down from her roles so the board can recruit a full-time chief executive based out of its headquarters. CFO Leone Patterson is taking over her responsibilities ad interim. Also headed out the door, but without an explanation: CMO Athena Countouriotis, who will be replaced by VP of clinical development Linda Neuman for now.

→ As Berlin-based Omeicos Therapeutics moves into the US market, it has brought on Alexander Gebauer to lead clinical development for its cardiovascular assets and discovery efforts in ophthalmology. Gebauer will take on two roles: managing director for Omeicos Therapeutics, and CEO of US-based Omeicos Ophthalmics, which recently formed. In the former, he will oversee Omeicos’ lead compound for rhythm control in patients with atrial fibrillation, steering the planning and trial design for an upcoming Phase II. For the new venture, he will head up collaborations with external experts in establishing preclinical proof of concept for potential drug candidates. While the German exec had not worked in the US since leading a clinical trial in New Jersey early in his career, he had accrued some international experience while working for India’s Ranbaxy Laboratories and Sun Pharma.

Milind Deshpande

→ Milind Desh­pande is step­ping down from Achillion $ACHN, the biotech he’s led for the bet­ter part of the last two decades, first as CSO and then as CEO. His de­par­ture leaves the faded hep C star in the hands of for­mer COO Joseph Tru­itt, who al­ready has the pres­i­dent title. Dur­ing his tenure, Desh­pande steered a pipeline re­struc­tur­ing that re­branded Achillion from an in­fec­tious dis­ease player to a spe­cial­ist in com­ple­ment bi­ol­ogy, axing staff just a few months ago. Tru­itt, who joined the com­pany in 2009, emerged as a key fig­ure in that come­back nar­ra­tive. Hav­ing led com­mer­cial strat­egy and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment, he will now prep Achillion for a se­ries of read­outs from its com­ple­ment fac­tor D in­hibitor pro­gram in rare dis­eases.

→ Gregory Madison has resigned from Keryx Biopharma $KERX on the same day he became its CEO and president three years ago. Jodie Morrison, a current board member and former chief executive at Tokai Pharma, will lead the Auryxia maker in the interim. The Boston company thanked Madison but did not give a reason for Madison’s departure in its statement, choosing instead to focus on its outlooks for Auryxia, its only drug, currently approved for iron deficiency anemia and hyperphosphatemia in patients with chronic kidney disease. The therapy accounted for $20 to 21 million out of $21 to $22.5 million in first quarter revenue.

→ Two weeks ago, Leena Gandhi was in the spot­light at AACR with the lat­est land­mark data on Merck’s Keytruda/chemo combo for front­line lung can­cer. That pack­age ended up out­shin­ing a rival play from Bris­tol-Myers Squibb as Merck con­tin­ued to con­sol­i­date its lead po­si­tion in the field. This week, we find out that Gandhi, an in­ves­ti­ga­tor at the Perl­mut­ter Can­cer Cen­ter at NYU Lan­gone Health and a Dana-Far­ber vet, has been re­cruited by none other than Eli Lilly to head up its im­muno-on­col­ogy re­search work. Or per­haps, more to the point, the I/O work that Lilly plans to get started on. And she’s the lat­est in a se­ries of new hires that points to Lilly’s brew­ing in­ter­est in forg­ing new on­col­ogy deals. As of now, Lilly has been largely by­passed on the global I/O super high­way as it pairs up its tar­geted can­cer agents with the lead play­ers. But in its Q1 call a few days ago, new R&D chief Dan Skovron­sky and the ex­ec­u­tive team made it clear that the com­pany is prepar­ing to hatch some I/O deals to beef up its can­cer drug pipeline. And Gandhi is clearly cen­tral to that process. She arrives at Lilly June 25.

→ Following a brief stint at diagnostics company Eurofins, Amit Kohli is back in the drug development business — and in his longtime home of Paris. His newest title is COO of Pharnext, a biotech focused on neurodegenerative diseases. The Sanofi vet is expected to lead corporate strategy and operations, with a special focus on cross-functional leadership as Pharnext prepares to release Phase III data on PXT3003, an orphan drug for the treatment of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 1A.

→ After getting to know CytRx $CYTR as a strategic consultant for the past few months, Eric Curtis has been tapped to run the company’s oncology programs as its president and COO. A seasoned commercialization exec — with roles spanning GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer and Aegerion — Curtis said his focus will be on partnership opportunities for CytRx’s Linker Activated Drug Release technology. Having out-licensed its most advanced drug conjugate to NantCell, CytRx is currently planning INDs for several unnamed preclinical assets, to be submitted later this year, and working on discovering more.

→ As LogicBio inches toward clinical development, it has recruited COO Sandra Poole and senior director of manufacturing Paul Herzich to make sure everything is ready. Both bring plenty of experience to the highly technical genome editing work that LogicBio is doing on treatments for pediatric indications. Poole led biologics manufacturing at Genzyme for 15 years before taking up a technical operations role at ImmunoGen. In her new position, she will take charge of both internal operations and liaising with partners. Herzich joins the Cambridge, MA-based biotech from Pfizer’s Bamboo Therapeutics, where he served as director of clinical gene therapy manufacturing.

David Thompson has left the helm of a biotech he co-founded to join Inozyme, where he sees “compelling science” and early-stage research showing that its ENPP1 enzyme replacement therapy has potential in rare metabolic diseases. As the first CSO and SVP, Thompson will oversee scientific and translational efforts as Inozyme transitions from discovery to clinical stage. Inozyme is currently exploring lead product candidate in treating generalized arterial calcification of infancy (GACI) and autosomal recessive hypophosphatemic rickets type 2 (ARHR2) — both squarely within Thompson’s expertise in mineralization and bone disorders. Prior to founding Azure Biotech, he’s led preclinical and clinical development at Alexion, Pfizer and Merck Research Labs.

→ South San Francisco-based Vaxart $VXRT has tapped David Taylor to lead its quest to develop oral recombinant vaccine tablets as CMO. In Taylor, Vaxart gets a specialist who has dedicated much of his career to vaccines, leading programs at Takeda, VaxInnate and the nonprofit PATH. The company is particularly impressed by his experience in norovirus and influenza vaccines, as it continues on early-stage studies for its own products in those indications.

Tarek Sahmoud’s decades-long involvement in oncology drug development has taken him to Humanigen, the biotech that dropped its program in Chagas disease to pursue CAR-T optimization. Before joining H3 Biomedicine, Sahmoud’s resume was essentially a who’s who in big pharma: AstraZeneca, Novartis, Celgene and ultimately Boehringer Ingelheim. But his short run in H3 familiarized him with the CMO role, which he is taking at Humanigen. He will now become in central figure in pushing clinical work for lenzilumab, the monoclonal antibody that Humanigen believes will make CAR-T safer and better.

→ Upping his commitment with ophthalmology biotech ViewPoint Therapeutics, Robert Kim has taken a full-time role as CMO. Kim had served as a consultant and advisor to the company while teaching at UCSF, and he’s been convinced to spearhead preclinical and clinical plans for VP1-001, the lead drug for age-related cataracts. Throughout his academic career, Kim had assumed a slate of roles at first medical device, then biopharma, companies, with stints at Genentech, Alcon and most recently Apellis Pharmaceuticals.

→ With its promises of applying machine learning to drug discovery, Recursion Pharmaceutical has wooed Kevin Lynch from AbbVie, where he’s worked for the past 22 years. There’s plenty for the new chief business officer to do, says the Salt Lake City-based biotech, as its therapeutic reach has now been extended into areas like immunology and inflammation, immuno-oncology, and infectious disease, beyond its initial focus on genetic disease. The next step will be to expand its preclinical pipeline and pursue strategic partnerships — something that Lynch has done plenty of while doing business development at AbbVie.

→ In a sign of growth, Caribou Biosciences — the gene editing company co-founded by CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna — has created a new chief business officer role and invited a big pharma vet to fill it. Timothy Herpin joins the Berkeley, CA-based biotech from AstraZeneca, where as head of transactions he oversaw deals with fellow giants like Merck as well as biotechs like Acerta Pharma. A particular focus in his broad mandate will be to seek opportunities for Caribou’s off-the-shelf CAR-T candidates and microbiome-based therapies.

Curt Herberts has resigned from gene editing company Sangamo $SGMO to pursue “a leadership opportunity” with a private biotech, leaving with the blessings of execs grateful for the pharma collaborations he’s executed during his eight-year tenure. The company has yet to name his successor, but it did promote Michael Holmes to chief technology officer from VP of research. A longtime employee — he joined in 2001 — Holmes played a crucial role in using zinc finger nucleases for gene editing, a feat that the company is now known for.

AMAG Pharmaceuticals $AMAG may be launching several products this year, but it also wants to make sure its portfolio will keep growing. And it’s hired Alan Butcher to do that as the chief business officer. Formerly of Shire, Butcher jumps from a similar role in licensing and business development at Purdue Pharma. In addition to scouting new products, he will also lead an alliance management team and lead corporate strategy for the company, which is currently focused on women’s health and cancer care.

Jennifer Doudna, one of the most prominent scientific pioneers behind CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tech, has quietly joined the J&J $JNJ board.

Xiaobin Wu has jumped from Pfizer to BeiGene, lending his China operations expertise to the immuno-oncology biotech as its general manager and president. Wu, who’s worked for Wyeth and Bayer in the country, said he’s drawn to BeiGene’s “entrepreneurial spirit, the quality of its science and its employees, and its drive to become a global leader.”

→ Days ago, Acadia saw its shares slide on news that the FDA has begun a review of its anti-psychosis drug Nuplazid following CNN’s report questioning the safety of the drug. This week, the San Diego biotech has appointed Alexion vet Elena Ridloff as its first SVP of investor relations. Acadia execs like the financial community relationships Ridloff has built since her hedge fund and consulting days.

Jennifer Dudinak is the new SVP of global regulatory affairs at Celgene, joining days before the troubled big biotech reassured investors that it will re-file the blockbuster hopeful ozanimod in 2019. 

→ It took a few months, but OrbiMed’s Sam Isaly has finally stepped down from his top post at the venture firm. Late last year STAT writer Damian Garde outlined charges that Isaly had harassed women at the firm for years, leading to a quick statement that he would be retiring from the company and his high-profile position. The firm’s five other partners — Sven Borho, Carl Gordon, Jonathan Silverstein, Carter Neild and Geoffrey Hsu — will continue their ownership.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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