Cellectis recruits ex-Servier research chief Depil; Arena inks $224M deal on new drugs; JLABS heads to Shanghai; AstraZeneca vet takes Goldfinch helm

→ French CAR-T developer Cellectis has recruited Stéphane Depil, the former R&D chief of Servier, to lead the company’s clinical development. Depil will serve as senior vice president of R&D and chief medical officer. The new appointment brings Depil back to the industry after a break while he directed the cancer immunotherapy program at the Léon Bérard Cancer Center in Lyon, France. But back when he was at Servier, he oversaw 20 cancer programs, several of which were in clinical trials. Cellectis hopes to benefit from Depil’s track record in the field to move its CAR-T assets into the clinic after a rough start involving a patient death. “Stéphane Depil’s deep medical, academic, and clinical regulatory oncology experience – specifically in R&D for all phases within the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and clinical research spaces – will be invaluable as he leads Cellectis’ strategy and promotes awareness of the breakthrough work that we are doing as a leader and innovator in the gene-editing field,” said André Choulika, Cellectis’ CEO, in a statement. “His strategic alliance-building, collaboration skills, understanding of the global environment with oncological clinical research, and firsthand experience running a pharma company all add a great degree of ability and depth to our leadership team.”

→ Arena Pharmaceuticals, the San Diego drug maker best known for its diet pill Belviq, has inked a deal worth up to $224M with Everest Medicines to develop and commercialize its two new pipeline drugs in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and South Korea. The two drugs, ralinepag and estrasimod, are a far cry from Arena’s early work in obesity drugs. Ralinepag is a Phase III-ready oral, selective prostacyclin receptor agonist for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension. The drug’s Phase II data got Arena’s investors pretty jazzed earlier this year. The drug is designed to be more potent and effective than Actelion’s Uptravi. Then there’s etrasimod, a Phase II oral S1P receptor modulator being evaluated for multiple autoimmune diseases, including ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease. Earlier this year, Amit Munshi said the drug was safer and potentially more efficacious than Ozanimod, the drug developed by San Diego’s Receptos (purchased by Celgene for $7.2 billion). In the new deal with Everest, a company backed by $50M from China’s C-Bridge Capital, Arena gets $12M in an upfront payment and is eligible to receive up to $212M in milestones, along with royalties.

Johnson & Johnson is launching a JLABS in Shanghai — the first location outside of North America — after reaching agreements with the Shanghai Municipal Government, Pudong New Area Government and Shanghai Pharma Engine Company. Scheduled to open in Q2 2019, the facility in Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park will span 4,400 sq. meter (47,000+ sq. ft.) and can host up to 50 life science and health care startups. “China, and Shanghai specifically, have become a global hotspot for healthcare innovation,” said Vladimir Makatsaria, Johnson & Johnson China Group chairman, in a statement. J&J is currently accepting applications from biotech, pharmaceutical, medical device, consumer and digital health companies to this site as well as its eight other JLABS locations.

→ Industry vet Anthony Johnson is taking the helm at Goldfinch Bio, a Cambridge, MA-based biotech looking to develop new drugs for genetically defined kidney diseases. Goldfinch launched a year ago with $55 million in Third Rock money. Johnson is the latest in a long line of Big Pharma R&D execs making a move to a startup, leaving his post as head of early clinical development for the Innovative Medicines and Early Development Biotech Unit. His bio includes 25 positive proof-of-concept studies. In addition, Michael Broxson is joining Goldfinch as chief business and operating officer.

Shire $SHPG has struck a collaboration deal with Rani Therapeutics that gives the rare disease giant exclusive rights to research, evaluate and pursue a worldwide license for the oral delivery of factor VIII to patients with hemophilia A. This investment, the terms of which were not disclosed, comes just a few weeks after rival Roche’s Hemlibra nabbed an FDA approval, something that analysts said could help shrink Shire’s share of the hemophilia market from 49% to 29%. The Rani Pill technology brings a novel intestinal delivery approach to the treatment of hemophilia, which is dominated by injectables, though the company is also doing work on rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and Crohn’s disease. As part of the pact, Shire has also made an equity investment into Rani Therapeutics.

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

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