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Cel­gene R&D vet jumps to biotech: 'It’s about short­en­ing the cy­cle'; No­var­tis ex­o­dus con­tin­ues as William Chou takes the helm at Aru­vant

Jorge DiMartino has been turning over the same question in his head since he was a kid: How does every human cell start out the same, with the same wiring, yet end up so different?

It’s a question that brought him to Berkeley and Stanford, Genentech, the upper echelons of Celgene and now, as Celgene is swallowed by Bristol-Myers Squibb, Kronos Bio. The small molecule biotech has hired DiMartino to be their CMO.

“I’m chomping at the bit,” he told Endpoints News. 

To ask about why liver or stomach cells are the way they are is really to ask about transcription: How does the cell read the code and why? Which in turn is to ask about RNA and epigenetics. When DiMartino first considered these questions, he was thinking as a kid fascinated by nature.

“It’s hard to wrap your head around,” he said.  “How do you go from a single fertilized zygote to developing multiple tissues?”

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Ab­bott Lab­o­ra­to­ries CEO Miles White pass­es ba­ton down to suc­ces­sor; Lon­za CEO Marc Funk hits the ex­it

→ Abbott Laboratories has named a successor to CEO Miles White after he announced that he was stepping down in March after 21 years of service. Robert Ford, the company’s COO and president, will take the helm. Ford is known for his work in the $25 billion merger between St. Jude Medical into Abbott in January 2017. White will remain with the company as executive chairman of the board. 

→ After snapping up Novartis’ Swiss facility, Novartis Center of Excellence, in July, Lonza has announced that their CEO, Marc Funk, is hitting the exit for “personal reasons.” Funk has been the CEO of the company for less than a year — brought onto the company back in March. In the meantime, chairman Albert Baehny will serve as interim CEO. 

An­ces­tryD­NA chief takes on liq­uid biop­sy chal­lenge; Thomas Lynch chairs for­mer col­league's can­cer start­up

Kenneth Chahine is the man behind AncestryDNA, the direct-to-consumer genetic genealogy product with more than 15 million users. The company recently launched Ancestry Health, which in part uses next-generation sequencing (NGS), but is priced under $100. These were some of Chahine’s goals at Ancestry — having met them, he began the search for his next gig. Having tasted the widespread impact of direct-to-consumer testing, the field of liquid biopsy and early cancer detection was appealing.

“Look, honestly…when I first looked at LAM (Laboratory for Advanced Medicine) I wasn’t that enthusiastic just because the company is really building a foundation and it wasn’t really clear to me, they weren’t in the media,” he said in an interview with Endpoints News. 

But after talking to the founder, Shu Li (who will vacate the CEO spot to make room for Chahine but stick around as chairman), and digging into the data, he was suitably impressed. “I came to the conclusion that this is a diamond in the rough. This is the one that everyone’s ignoring. Because it hasn’t been high profile, it doesn’t have high profile VCs, because it’s been funded by philanthropy slash family offices…”

The field of liquid biopsy is crowded including high-profile names such as Grail, Guardant Health, Freenome, and the recently launched Thrive, with great expectations that a less-invasive method for early cancer detection will save lives and money.

LAM has long championed the use of methylation technology for cancer detection. “So frankly, LAM beat everyone to the punch, and whether that was through brilliance or just luck the reality is that they’ve been doing methylation now for about 10 years and have patents and articles going back to 2014,” Chahine said.

Using its technology, LAM has collected data on over 100,000 patients. In contrast, Grail, recently reported data from a 2,500 patient study that used its methylation tech, he added. “So their (LAM’s) insights into what markers actually predict cancer is just way better than anyone else in my opinion.”

Natalie Grover 

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Gilead­'s ex-in­vestor re­la­tions chief takes CFO job at Sang­amo; For­mer GE Health­care ex­ec takes the helm at Vec­tura Group

→ And so the exodus continues. Sung Lee, who had been Gilead’s head of investor relations, was named CFO of Sangamo Therapeutics, a cell and gene therapy company. Lee had also helmed Gilead’s financial planning and analysis division. Lee is just the latest in a slew of exits that have followed John Milligan’s sudden resignation from the CEO role in July 2018. He had worked there for 14 years.

Christo­pher Haqq joins Eli­cio to hunt fa­ther's RAS can­cer; Kro­nos ex­pands top team with Gilead, Bay­lor vets

Christopher Haqq’s father taught him how to build volcanoes in their backyard. He was a beloved chemistry teacher for 30 years who inspired many students, Haqq says, and sent him down a path through volcanoes and up into oncology.

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Ronald Herb­st fol­lows Med­Im­mune ex­o­dus to Pyx­is CSO post; Jeff God­dard to suc­ceed CEO of AIT Bio­science

→ The outflow of top execs from MedImmune continues to fill the leadership ranks of smaller biotechs. The latest to take off is Ronald Herbst, the head of oncology research, who’s assuming the CSO post at Pyxis Oncology.  

Herbst was part of the old MedImmune organization AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot restructured earlier this year, reorganizing the company and eliminating the storied subsidiary as a separate organization.

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Zosano Phar­ma CEO pass­es ba­ton down to suc­ces­sor; James Sapirstein takes the helm at Azur­Rx

→ Two years after Zosano Pharma reported positive Phase III data for its microneedle patch system for delivering an old migraine drug — setting up a campaign to file an NDA — the company has brought on Steven Lo to the helm as president and CEO. Lo will be succeeding John Walker, who is retiring after 48 years in the healthcare industry. Walker will remain as the chairman of the board of directors. Lo most recently served as the CCO at Puma Biotechnology, where he helped with the launch of the company’s first product, Nerlynx — whose Q1 sales fell uncomfortably short of Wall Street estimates. In addition, Lo was the CCO of Corcept Therapeutics, where he led the establishment of their first product, Korlym, a treatment for Cushing’s syndrome. Earlier in his career, Lo held stints at Genentech and AstraZeneca. Lo’s appointment comes a few weeks after the company welcomed Dushyant Pathak as SVP of business development. 

At­las-backed Dyne taps Joshua Brumm as CEO; Sekar Kathire­san woos car­di­ol­o­gist to gene edit­ing start­up

→ Romesh Subramanian’s new biotech startup, Dyne Therapeutics, which is using oligonucleotides to degrade RNA responsible for disease has brought on Joshua Brumm as president and CEO. Subramanian will now take on the CSO role after launching the biotech as entrepreneur-in-residence at Atlas Venture. Brumm makes the leap after a stint as COO and CFO of Kaleido Biosciences, where he led the company’s IPO and helped bring its lead program into Phase II development. Prior to Kaleido, Brumm was the COO and CFO at Versartis. His other previous roles span Pharmacyclics, ZELTIQ Aesthetics, Proteolix, Citigroup Global Markets and Morgan Stanley. 

NASH hope­ful Gen­fit pro­motes Dean Hum to pres­i­dent; Im­mune Ther­a­peu­tics CEO pass­es ba­ton to suc­ces­sor

In 1999, while Dean Hum was an associate professor at Laval University in Quebec, Genfit reached out to him. An expert in the modulation of transcription factors and nuclear receptors associated with endocrine and cardiometabolic diseases, Hum jumped aboard the company as CSO and has been with them ever since, currently serving as the company’s COO.

He has now been appointed as president of GENFIT Corp, GENFIT’s subsidiary in the US — but will still retain his duties as COO — and will be moving from the company’s headquarters in Lille, France to Genfit’s US-based office near Boston.

Chris Roberts jumps back in­to biotech with CSO gig at Black Di­a­mond; Trou­bled Five Prime ap­points in­ter­im CEO

→ After spending two years as entrepreneur-in-residence at SR One — the venture arm of his former employer, GlaxoSmithKline — Chris Roberts is back at the frontlines of biotech.

As CSO of Black Diamond Therapeutics, Roberts joins CEO David Epstein in driving their targeted kinase inhibitors toward the clinic. He will lead research and early development on the biotech’s MAP platform, which zeroes in on allosteric mutations of oncogenes. Its lead candidate, BDTX-189, targets EGFR and HER2 regardless of tumor type.