Cap­tured in a harsh spot­light, biotech uni­corn Mod­er­na names Melis­sa Moore as its new CSO

Melis­sa J. Moore

As Mod­er­na Ther­a­peu­tics drew a harsh re­view from Stat, por­trayed as a com­pa­ny in tur­moil with an of­ten em­bit­tered staff, the biotech uni­corn named Howard Hugh­es in­ves­ti­ga­tor and Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts Med­ical School Pro­fes­sor Melis­sa J. Moore as its new CSO, now in com­mand of its full mR­NA de­vel­op­ment plat­form.

Moore was plucked from the com­pa­ny’s sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry group at a cru­cial stage in Mod­er­na’s de­vel­op­ment. The biotech has raised $1.9 bil­lion so far — a huge amount by biotech stan­dards — es­tab­lish­ing a broad rang­ing pre­clin­i­cal ef­fort to use pa­tient cells as drug fac­to­ries. That ef­fort has now led to 11 de­vel­op­ment pro­grams and a slate of new ther­a­pies wait­ing to en­ter the clin­ic.

“Melis­sa is an ex­cep­tion­al sci­en­tist whose knowl­edge and ex­per­tise in this area will have an enor­mous im­pact on Mod­er­na,” said CEO Stephane Ban­cel. “And, im­por­tant­ly, she shares our vi­sion and com­mit­ment to help pa­tients and im­prove lives. We could not be more thrilled.”

Thrilled is prob­a­bly the last word you would hear Ban­cel use to de­scribe the new­ly post­ed in­ves­ti­ga­tion at Stat, which claims that Mod­er­na’s “caus­tic work en­vi­ron­ment” has dri­ven away top staff at a time where “signs” have ap­peared that the com­pa­ny’s top projects are run­ning in­to trou­ble. Ban­cel him­self, re­ports Stat, is over-con­trol­ling, ob­sessed with se­cre­cy and im­pa­tient with set­backs.

The sto­ry is heavy with crit­i­cism and anony­mous fin­ger point­ing, but light on de­tails. Mod­er­na’s for­mer CSO, Joseph Bolen, left last fall af­ter two years at the com­pa­ny, which Stat used to il­lus­trate its claims of a tox­ic work en­vi­ron­ment at Mod­er­na. Bolen was pushed out, ac­cord­ing to un­named “in­sid­ers,” af­ter be­ing rel­e­gat­ed to a small role. Bolen him­self, though, de­clined com­ment. And Ban­cel says he tried to get him to stay on, un­suc­cess­ful­ly.

Melis­sa Moore now gets a shot at ei­ther prov­ing or dis­prov­ing Stat’s claims at a time the com­pa­ny is near­ing the rapids of mid-stage de­vel­op­ment, when it will have to start out­lin­ing spe­cif­ic proof-of-con­cept da­ta on what its drugs can do. If the com­pa­ny can ac­com­plish that with sev­er­al pro­grams, Ban­cel tells me he plans to file for an IPO.

At this stage, it’s fair to say that every­one is watch­ing to see whether Mod­er­na suc­ceeds or fails. A fail­ure would prove high­ly em­bar­rass­ing for a line­up of top in­dus­try col­lab­o­ra­tors. Suc­cess would be ground­break­ing.

Moore her­self had this to say in a pre­pared state­ment:

“As a mem­ber of Mod­er­na’s Sci­en­tif­ic Ad­vi­so­ry Board, I’ve had a front row seat to ex­pe­ri­ence their ground­break­ing progress first-hand. And through my work at the RTI and with MassTERi, I’ve come to ap­pre­ci­ate the pow­er of aca­d­e­m­ic-in­dus­try col­lab­o­ra­tion and en­tre­pre­neur­ship. My new role at Mod­er­na is a nat­ur­al next step in my own pro­gres­sion as a ba­sic re­searcher pas­sion­ate about trans­lat­ing our ever-in­creas­ing knowl­edge of RNA bi­ol­o­gy in­to prod­ucts that im­prove the hu­man con­di­tion. I look for­ward to work­ing with the in­cred­i­bly tal­ent­ed Mod­er­na team and build­ing stronger con­nec­tions and col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween Mod­er­na and acad­e­mia, as we work to ad­vance the promise of mR­NA ther­a­peu­tics as a com­plete­ly new modal­i­ty for cre­at­ing the med­i­cines of the fu­ture.”

Biotech in­vestors and CEOs see two paths to growth, but are they equal­ly vi­able?

The dynamic in the biotech market has been highly volatile in the last few years, from the high peaks immediately after the COVID vaccine in 2021, to the lowest downturns of the last 20 years in 2022. This uncertainty makes calling the exact timing of the market’s turn something of a fool’s errand, according to Dr. Chen Yu, Founder and Managing Partner of TCG Crossover (TCG X). He speaks with RBC’s Noël Brown, Head of US Biotechnology Investment Banking, about the market’s road ahead and two possible paths for growth.

Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: No­var­tis re­cruits NFL coach for Leqvio cam­paign; Pfiz­er pro­motes ‘Sci­ence’ merch on so­cial me­dia

Novartis is turning to a winning coach to talk about Leqvio and the struggles of high cholesterol — including his own. Bruce Arians, the retired NFL head coach of the Arizona Cardinals and Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is partnering with the pharma for its “Coaching Cholesterol” digital, social and public relations effort.

In the campaign, Arians talks about the potential for “great comebacks” in football and heart health. Once nicknamed a “quarterback whisperer,” he is now retired from fulltime coaching (although still a front-office consultant for Tampa Bay), and did a round of media interviews for Novartis, including one with People and Forbes.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 150,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Amy West, Novo Nordisk head of US digital innovation and transformation (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Q&A: No­vo Nordisk dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion chief Amy West dis­cuss­es phar­ma pain points and a health­care 'easy but­ton’

Amy West joined Novo Nordisk more than a decade ago to oversee marketing strategies and campaigns for its US diabetes portfolio. However, her career path shifted into digital, and she hasn’t looked back. West went from leading Novo’s first digital health strategy in the US to now heading up digital innovation and transformation.

She’s currently leading the charge at Novo Nordisk to not only go beyond the pill with digital marketing and health tech, but also test, pilot and develop groundbreaking new strategies needed in today’s consumerized healthcare world.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Casey McPherson shows his daughters Rose (left) and Weston around Everlum Bio, a lab that he co-founded to spark a treatment for Rose and others with ultra-rare conditions. (Ilana Panich-Linsman)

Fa­ther starts lab af­ter in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty is­sues stymie rare dis­ease drug de­vel­op­ment

Under bright lab lights, Casey McPherson holds his 6-year-old daughter, Rose. His free hand directs Rose’s gaze toward a computer screen with potential clues in treating her one-of-a kind genetic condition.

Gray specks on the screen show her cells that scientists reprogrammed with the goal of zeroing in on a custom medicine. McPherson co-founded the lab, Everlum Bio, to spark a treatment for Rose — and others like her. A regarded singer-songwriter, McPherson never imagined going into drug development.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 150,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Dave Marek, Myovant CEO

My­ovant board balks as ma­jor­i­ty own­er Sum­it­o­mo swoops in with a $2.5B deal to buy them out

Three years after Sumitomo scooped up Roivant’s 46% stake in the publicly traded Myovant $MYOV as part of a 5-company, $3 billion deal, they’re coming back for the whole thing.

But these other investors at Myovant want more than what the Japanese pharma company is currently offering to pay at this stage.

Sumitomo is bidding $22.75 a share for the outstanding stock, which now represents 48% of the company after Sumitomo bumped its ownership since the original deal with Roivant. Myovant, however, created a special committee on the board, and they’re shaking their heads over the offer.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 150,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

User fees in ac­tion: FDA un­veils new short­ened sup­ple­ment re­view, rare dis­ease pi­lots

Thanks to PDUFA VII, signed into law last Friday by President Joe Biden, the FDA this week unveiled two new industry-friendly pilot programs to advance new rare disease endpoints via additional meetings, and to shorten FDA review times for supplemental apps aimed at unmet medical needs.

The agency this week released eagerly-awaited details behind the shortened pilot, known as the Split Real Time Application Review or STAR pilot program, which will speed up certain FDA reviews of efficacy supplements across all therapeutic areas (thanks to earlier submissions of data), but only for those that propose addressing an unmet medical need.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 150,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Astel­las, Pan­th­er­na add or­gan to mR­NA tie-up; Rock­et launch­es sale of six fig­ures worth of stock

Astellas and Pantherna have expanded their November 2021 pact surrounding the latter’s mRNA platform to include a new target organ, the duo announced Tuesday morning, though they did not specify what that target is.

German biotech Pantherna is home to two platform technologies — one that designs mRNAs for non-vaccine therapies and another that designs LNPs. Astellas and Pantherna’s deal appears to mainly revolve around the first platform, which Astellas said it is using to research direct reprogramming, or turning cells from one kind into another without an intermediate stem cell phase.

Benjamine Liu, TrialSpark CEO

Paul Hud­son and Tri­alSpark's mu­tu­al de­sire to speed up de­vel­op­ment con­verges in three-year, six-drug goal

A unicorn startup that originally set out to hasten clinical studies for biopharma partners dug further into its revised path of internal drug development by linking arms with Sanofi in a pact that the biotech’s CEO said originated from the top.

TrialSpark and the Big Pharma on Tuesday committed to in-licensing and/or acquiring six Phase II/Phase III drugs within the next three years.

“I’ve known Paul Hudson for a while and we were discussing the opportunity to really re-imagine a lot of different parts of pharma,” TrialSpark CEO Benjamine Liu told Endpoints News, “and one of the things that we discussed was this opportunity to accelerate the development of new medicines in mutual areas of interest.”

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 150,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Andrew Crockett, KalVista CEO

KalVista ends a PhII study ear­ly af­ter pa­tients suf­fer se­vere and life-threat­en­ing side ef­fects

KalVista took a beating Tuesday after announcing it would scrap a Phase II trial for one of its experimental drugs.

The biotech said in an early morning press release that it is terminating the study for KVD824 after multiple patients in every treatment group saw unsafe, elevated levels of certain liver enzymes. By ending the trial now, KalVista hopes to save some money and funnel it toward another study for its lead program, CEO Andrew Crockett said in a statement.