CureVac gains COO and hands Florian von der Mülbe new assignment in the midst of Covid-19 vaccine troubles; As Ken Frazier retires, Merck hires chief strategy officer
→ Aiming to bounce back and trying to accentuate the positive after its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine took a major pratfall, CureVac is shaking things up by bringing in Malte Greune as COO and giving new responsibilities to co-founder and chief production officer Florian von der Mülbe. Greune jumps on board from Sanofi after a nearly 10-year run where he was stationed in Germany and spent the last several months as general manager and VP, cartridges, devices & insulin technology group in Frankfurt.
As for von der Mülbe, who was COO at CureVac for 18 years before his tenure as chief production officer, he will now devote his energy to developing its manufacturing tech known as The RNA Printer.
Despite what amounts to train wreck-level data in which CureVac’s vaccine posted an interim efficacy of 47% — a paltry figure compared to mRNA counterparts Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech — and results that still failed to hit 50% efficacy overall in the final analysis, CEO Franz-Werner Haas vowed to push forward, emphasizing the numbers in those aged 18 to 60. “In the current context of an increasingly diverse environment of COVID-19 variants, and with very little residual prevalence of the original strain,” Haas said in a statement, “we are confident that the HERALD study offers clinically relevant data regarding the effect of emerging variants on vaccine efficacy.”
→ The Rob Davis era is officially upon us at Merck after Ken Frazier’s retirement, and the pharma giant additionally has tapped Michael Klobuchar as chief strategy officer effective Tuesday, a newly-created position. Klobuchar’s Merck career got underway in 1998 as a synthetic process development engineer, and in the ensuing 23 years he’s made a steady ascent up the ladder in countless roles, eventually becoming SVP, Merck Research Laboratories finance and global project and alliance management.
→ Dave Johnson’s getting the band back together: Lengo Therapeutics, the San Diego oncology biotech where Johnson is chairman, has selected Enoch Kariuki as CEO. Just last summer, while Johnson was still CEO of VelosBio, he named Kariuki CFO — and then Merck bought the company for $2.75 billion in a November 2020 announcement. Before his short tenure at VelosBio, Kariuki was SVP, corporate development for Laura Shawver at Synthorx, and then it too was bought out by a Big Pharma, this time for $2.5 billion by Sanofi. Kariuki’s appointment at Lengo comes after Diana Hausman earned the CMO spot a few weeks ago.
→ Esperion has been fighting such an uphill sales battle with its cholesterol drug Nexletol that CEO Tim Mayleben stepped down last month and was replaced by Sheldon Koenig, with Covid-19 shouldering most of the blame. JoAnne Micale Foody now steps in as CMO after six years with J&J. Since August, Foody had served as Janssen’s VP and head of data sciences in the following therapeutic areas: cardiovascular, metabolism, retinal and pulmonary hypertension. Prior to those responsibilities, her energy was directed toward Xarelto as VP and compound development team leader.
→ Throwing the industry a bit of a curveball with this next step, ex-Merck R&D luminary Roger Perlmutter leads the charge as CEO of drug discovery biotech Eikon Therapeutics and has appointed his first CFO. Alfred Bowie heads to Hayward, CA-based Eikon after two years as VP, corporate and business development at Veracyte, which has just undergone a CEO transition as Marc Stapley succeeds Bonnie Anderson. Bowie has also been Roche subsidiary Foundation Medicine’s senior director, corporate development & strategy.
→ Susan Galbraith is moving up the ranks with her appointment as EVP of oncology research at AstraZeneca’s new research and development home in Cambridge, UK. Her new position comes months after the tragic death of José Baselga from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, after the celebrated oncologist had been brought in to head cancer R&D in an unusual division of the lead R&D roles at the company. Galbraith joined the cancer R&D team at AstraZeneca in 2010 and most recently served as the EVP and head of research and early development, oncology R&D — which included ushering 7 cancer drugs into Phase III studies encompassing Lynparza and Tagrisso.
→ Kate Cronin’s first day as chief brand officer for Covid-19 vaccine heavyweight Moderna will be July 12. Before this opportunity came along to build the brand of one of the hottest names in the industry, Cronin was a part of Ogilvy Health for 17 years and had been global CEO there since October 2020. “What Moderna has achieved is truly inspirational and I’m incredibly excited to be joining a company that has such a tremendous impact on the world,” Cronin said in a statement. Our Nicole DeFeudis has more here on Cronin’s arrival.
→ We’re not done with the Big Pharma fun. Awny Farajallah has left Ipsen to be Takeda’s head of global medical affairs, oncology business unit. Farajallah spent the last year at Ipsen as SVP, North America medical affairs, preceded by 15 years at Bristol Myers Squibb where he eventually led the US medical affairs team and was also influential in the launches of Opdivo and Yervoy. In the last several weeks the Japanese pharma giant shared positive pivotal data with the NSCLC candidate mobocertinib and notched a priority review for its cytomegalovirus drug maribavir.
→ Biogen hit jackpots on the regulatory slot machine throughout the month of June: first with the shock wave-inducing Aduhelm approval that has been largely met with disbelief and derision, and then with a breakthrough therapy designation for Alzheimer’s drug lecanemab last week. Meanwhile Biogen’s partner for lecanemab, Eisai, has locked in Andree Amelsberg as VP US medical affairs, oncology business group. Amelsberg has been an oncology exec at Boehringer Ingelheim (14 years), Astellas (three years) and Janssen (nearly six years) and just had a snap-your-finger-and-that’s-it tenure as SVP of medical affairs at Hutchmed, which is hoping for good news of its own from the FDA with its oncology asset surufatinib.
→ Stefano Portolano is succeeding Olivier Morand as CEO of Dutch biotech Azafaros, launched in 2018 and targeting lysosomal storage diseases with its lead candidate AZ-3102. Portolano takes the helm here after five years as head of Europe for Ultragenyx and another 10 years wearing various hats at Celgene, including VP, strategy & commercial operations. As AZ-3012 enters Phase I, Forbion in April contributed an additional €2.75 million to the original Series A, with total funding for Azafaros sitting at €28.75 million.
→ After taking over as CEO nearly 4 months ago, Peter Braun is now leaving his post at Nordic Nanovector for personal reasons. In the meantime, CFO Malene Brondberg is taking over the reins as interim CEO as the board looks for a replacement. Brondberg came to Nordic as VP, investor relations in February 2018.
→ EQRx, helmed by Blueprint co-founder Alexis Borisy, has plucked up Carlos Garcia-Echeverria as chief of Rx creation. Garcia-Echeverria is a Sanofi vet and served as COO of research and global head of research platforms. Before his gig at Sanofi, Garcia-Echeverria held a variety of positions at Novartis, responsible for managing multiple late-stage drug discovery cancer programs.
→ Besides moving its headquarters from Berkeley to South San Francisco, Plexxikon — a member of the Daiichi Sankyo Group — is making some changes to its C-suite with the promotions of CSO Chao Zhang to CEO and Marguerite Hutchinson to COO and general counsel. Zhang is succeeding Gideon Bollag, who will transition to a part-time position as chief biologist.
Zhang has served as the company’s CSO since August 2018 and previously held the role of SVP of research in his early days with the company in 2001. Meanwhile, Hutchinson joined Plexxikon in 2013.
→ Orbit Discovery has reeled in Neil Butt as CEO. Butt makes his way to Orbit from IONTAS, where he served as CBO. Before that, he was part of the management team at Abzena and Antitope.
→ Effective June 25, a CEO change unfolded at Tavo maker OncoSec as Brian Leuthner was installed on an interim basis to replace Dan O’Connor. A SPAC led by O’Connor, named Larkspur Health Acquisition, filed for an IPO in mid-May. Leuthner kicked off his career in the industry at GlaxoSmithKline as an HIV and oncology product manager, and he has since been chief executive at several companies — including Edge Therapeutics, which he co-founded and helped merge with PDS Biotechnology.
→ Elsewhere in Interimville, the interim label has been removed for Susan Blum and she’s now CFO for Melinta Therapeutics, which captured an FDA approval in March for its antibiotic Kimyrsa to treat acute bacterial skin and skin structure infections. Blum, who had been interim CFO for Christine Ann Miller’s team after Peter Milligan’s exit since March 31, was previously VP of finance & chief accounting officer.
→ Intellia is having itself a week, starting with the momentous data that showed CRISPR can be used to edit DNA directly in humans and letting the good times roll by pumping a whopping $600 million into its coffers. Running alongside this news, Intellia has named a Biogen vet as EVP, general counsel and corporate secretary. James Basta held various legal positions at Biogen from 2006-19, leaving as chief corporation counsel and then signing on with Troy Wilson’s team at Kura Oncology, where he was chief legal officer, secretary and chief compliance officer.
→ Close followers of Peer Review know that Romuald Corbau was promoted to CSO last fall at Freeline Therapeutics. But Corbau is now leaving his post, and it’s Amit Nathwani to the rescue on an interim basis. Nathwani, who co-founded the AAV gene therapy player out of the UK in 2015 and is a board member, returns to the job he’s held before at Freeline, which is saddled with a trial delay for its hemophilia B program as CDC issues are addressed. Corbau will stay on as chief scientist until Aug. 20.
In other Freeline developments, James Bircher has been added to the roster as chief technical operations officer after holding the CTO job at Abeona.
→ The mad dash from Galapagos has continued apace after the collapse of the Gilead partnership and CSO Piet Wigerinck’s departure. Galapagos vets Ellen Lefever and Tim Van Kaem have turned up at AgomAb, which hauled in a $74 million Series B in March for its lead candidate, an HGF-mimetic agonist of the MET receptor dubbed AGMB-101. Lefever (general counsel) had held a handful of legal roles at Galapagos since 2014, including deputy general counsel, while Van Kaem (head of clinical operations) devoted nine years to the company in drug development and project management. AgomAb CBO Paul van der Horst is also a Galapagos alum.
→ Medical device company Presidio Medical, which raised $30 million last summer to advance its neuromodulation platform tech, has plucked Michael Onuscheck from Alcon to be CEO and chairman effective Sept. 1. Onuscheck was previously Alcon’s president, global businesses and innovation, and for three of his 10 years at Boston Scientific, Onuscheck was president of the neuromodulation division. Credit outgoing CEO Michael Ackermann for eschewing the usual monotony of press releases, saying, “Michael Onuscheck is the LeBron James of neuromodulation and one of the world’s premier leaders in medical technology … It feels great to pass the ball to an MVP.”
→ Leone Patterson resigned as Adverum’s president and CFO last week, leaving CBO Chris DeRespino to slide in as acting CFO. We’ve learned about her landing spot as she becomes chief financial and business officer at Tenaya Therapeutics, a biotech that scored $106 million worth of Series C funding for its heart disease programs in March. Patterson, whose five years at Adverum included a turn as CEO, was previously a finance exec with such names as Novartis, Exelixis and Diadexus. That’s not the only appointment at Tenaya: Matthew Pollman has joined the fray as SVP, clinical development after his time as EVP of NaviGate Cardiac Structures. Pollman is formerly the CMO of Juventas Therapeutics and director, cardiovascular biology for Millennium Pharmaceuticals.
→ Scripps spinout Ambrx, shooting for an IPO a second time after the first attempt was withdrawn in 2014, has welcomed Sonja Nelson as CFO. A new board appointee at Motus GI, Nelson was ImmunityBio’s SVP of finance after the reverse merger closed with NantKwest in March. Before the merger, she initially signed on to Patrick Soon-Shiong’s team in 2015 as chief accounting officer and later became CFO. Nelson has also been VP, corporate controller at AltheaDx.
→ Stan the Man: Stan Musial has been named CFO at Vivek Ramaswamy’s Aruvant, which recently started putting their heads together with Jasper Therapeutics to collaborate on sickle cell disease treatments. Musial hails from Dutch biotech Xenikos, where he was CFO and CBO. He’s also held the CFO title at Zyla Life Sciences (then known as Egalet) and Italian biotech EryDel.
→ New York-based cancer biotech Turnstone Biologics continues to fill out its team of execs with CSO Stewart Abbot. The former chief scientific and operating officer at Adicet Bio, Abbot has also been chief development officer at Fate as well as executive director of integrative research and senior director of research for Celgene. In May, Turnstone promoted José Manuel Otero to chief technology officer and Saryah Azmat to CBO, while Mike Burgess simultaneously became Turnstone’s executive chairman of R&D and replaced acting head of R&D Stephen Squinto at SpringWorks.
→ OcuTerra, which made headlines in May when ex-Allergan CEO Brent Saunders was named chairman, is shoring up its leadership further with David Tanzer as CMO. Tanzer, who was in charge of the Navy Refractive Surgery Program, makes the move to OcuTerra after his time with the Novartis ophthalmology franchise as global executive medical director. OcuTerra’s lead program, OTT166 for patients with diabetic retinopathy, is looking to start Phase II studies this year.
→ German heart disease biotech Cardior Pharmaceuticals, taking the non-coding RNA (ncRNA) route with its therapies, has called upon Rahul Agrawal to be CMO. At the tail end of his seven years at AstraZeneca, Agrawal was VP and global medicines leader, cardiovascular. Among other positions at Bayer from 2006-14, Agrawal served as global director of medical affairs and clinical, global launch team, and pulmonary hypertension with Bayer HealthCare.
→ With the PARP7 inhibitor RBN-2397 topping its pipeline, Cambridge, MA-based Ribon Therapeutics has tapped Paul Brannelly as CFO. Brannelly spent the last six years as CFO of Collegium Pharmaceutical, preceded by a brief stay at Karyopharm as SVP, finance and administration. He’s also been Verastem’s VP, finance, treasurer and secretary.
→ Flush with $67.5 million from a Series B raise, metastatic cancer outfit HiberCell has promoted Mark Mulvihill to CSO. Mulvihill, who initially punched his ticket to HiberCell in 2018, had served as SVP, chemistry and drug discovery. From 2001-13 he was with Astellas subsidiary OSI Pharmaceuticals, rising to director of chemistry & global project leader.
→ BioSkryb has brought on Gary Harton as CSO. Prior to his new role, Harton was portfolio director, preimplantation genetic testing at Perkin Elmer’s new preimplantation genetic testing product line. In addition to Perkin Elmer, Harton has had stints at Igenomix US, Progyny, Illumina, BlueGnome Limited and Reprogenetics.
→ As it’s taking the leap into manufacturing with the purchase of an Irish plant, Horizon Therapeutics has brought on Petra Molan as group VP, general manager of Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Petra makes her way to Horizon after serving as SVP, head of commercial operations at Arvelle Therapeutics. Prior to that, Molan was with Takeda, Shire, Bayer and Eli Lilly. In June, Horizon forked over $40 million upfront for the global rights to Arrowhead‘s RNAi drug ARO-XDH.
→ Induced pluripotent stem cell player Shoreline Biosciences, which just inked a $45 million iPSC deal with BeiGene a few short weeks ago, has named Mohammad El-Kalay SVP and head of CMC. Before his transition to the San Diego-based biotech, El-Kalay was VP, technical operations for Eric Ostertag’s crew at Poseida Therapeutics. Earlier, El-Kalay held executive roles in technical operations at SanBio and Sangamo.
→ Partnering with Genentech at the start of this year in a discovery deal aimed at drugging RNA, Research Triangle biotech Ribometrix has appointed Manjunath Ramarao SVP of research, leaving Bristol Myers Squibb after a dozen years. Based in Bangalore, India, Ramarao was executive director, head of discovery and translational medicine at the Biocon-Bristol-Myers Squibb R&D Center.
→ Next-generation sequencing company DNAe has named Alison Howie VP of commercial. Howie has spent the last decade at Thermo Fisher Scientific, where she was VP of marketing & product development and VP of R&D and business development for the company’s microbiology business. Prior to that, she was CCO and chief product officer at Ixico.
→ Mary Beth Dorr takes on a new role as VP, clinical science at Pennsylvania-based Venatorx Pharmaceuticals, which dosed its first patient this week in a Phase I trial of its antiviral compound VNRX-9945 for HBV. Dorr hails from Merck, where she was product development team leader and clinical lead, infectious diseases, concentrating on bezlotoxumab — a C. difficile antibody approved by the FDA in 2016.
→ Ultragenyx has reeled a big fish onto its board of directors with the appointment of former Celgene CMO Corsee Sanders. This will be yet another addition to Sanders’ long list of board seats — which includes BeiGene, Molecular Templates, Legend, AltruBio and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
→ Joshua Cohen and Justin Klee have swung the door open for Daphne Quimi as the next member of ALS-centered Amylyx’s board of directors. A J&J and Bristol Myers vet, Quimi is the CFO at Amicus and is in her 14th year with John Crowley’s bunch.
→ Kinnate’s ensuing leadership move after Neha Krishnamohan took on the CFO job in early June is electing Helen Sabzevari to the board of directors. Sabzevari — the former SVP of immuno-oncology at Merck KGaA subsidiary EMD Serono — is now the president and CEO of Precigen.
→ After abruptly walking away from his CFO post at Novavax — where he is still an executive advisor — Greg Covino is resurfacing as part of the board of directors at Renovacor once the $116 million SPAC deal closes with Chardan Healthcare Acquisition 2 Corp. Covino will be joined on the board by Spirovant co-founder and CEO Joan Lau.
→ Tallying a shade more than $40 million in a Series B round in May, bacteriophage biotech Adaptive Phage Therapeutics has elected three new board members. The triumvirate consists of Paratek CEO Evan Loh, Deerfield Management partner and Deerfield Institute chairman Jonathan Leff, and Deerfield Discovery and Development COO Jana Jensen.
→ Boston-based Imara has waved in Abbott/AbbVie vet Laura Williams to its board of directors. Williams served as SVP of global therapeutic strategies and patient advocacy at Ardelyx. Prior to that, Williams was with AMAG Pharmaceuticals and Myovant Sciences.
→ The radiopharmaceuticals jewel behind Peter Kolchinsky’s first SPAC, Point Biopharma has brought on Big Pharma alum Myra Rosario Herrle as EVP of regulatory affairs. Herrle, who has held regulatory posts at AbbVie and Novartis, spent the last year as VP of regulatory affairs at GlycoMimetics.
→ Molly Harper appeared in Peer Review last May when she joined Relmada Therapeutics as EVP of operations, and this week we find out she’s on the board of directors at Catalyst Pharmaceuticals. Before Relmada, Harper was Akcea’s SVP and global franchise general manager.
→ CD47-focused Trillium Therapeutics has made room for Catherine Mackey on its board of directors. Mackey, the SVP, global R&D and director of Pfizer’s La Jolla Laboratories from 2001-10, has been a director before at Poseida, GW Pharmaceuticals and YM Biosciences (bought by Gilead in 2012).
→ Cabaletta Bio, focusing on B cell-mediated autoimmune diseases and collaborating with fellow cell therapy company Artisan Bio, has made Scott Brun a member of the board of directors. The AbbVie and Abbott vet replaces Brian Daniels, who resigned from his seat June 24.