CytoImmune CEO breaks down her 3 'pillars' of success; Former Novartis, Gilead exec Alessandro Riva to lead an ultra low-profile cell therapy outfit
Christina Coughlin loves cell therapy — pretty much defining her career since her postdoc days with Carl June in Pennsylvania.
Now as the new head honcho at CytoImmune as of Wednesday, the first-time CEO gets to work with a new type of cell therapy — CAR-NK cells, licensed from long-time NK cell researcher Michael Caligiuri and Jianhua Yu at the City of Hope National Medical Center.
And Yu is the sole member of CytoImmune’s scientific advisory board.
Coughlin got into the biopharma space after getting her double bachelor’s at Temple University in mathematics and biology, and then she went to the University of Pennsylvania for med school, where she got her PhD and MD.
After Penn, she worked her way up in various notable biopharmas such as Pfizer and Novartis, and then pivoting to working with cells as CMO at Immunocore, Tmunity, and red blood cell-focused Rubius before joining CytoImmune.
So, why exactly did she leave Rubius? For Coughlin, it was three reasons: disruptive science with Caligiuri and Yu’s work, control over in-house manufacturing, and in her view, the company has potential for both short-term and long-term success.
All that said, Coughlin has goals to achieve — three “pillars,” as she called it — in her first 100 days as CEO. And at a biotech with less than 35 employees, it is going to be all hands on deck, come 2022.
“The first is fundraising. I’m one of those C-suites that actually like it. I enjoy fundraising — you know, you can get a lot of great ideas from investors,” Coughlin said.
And to that end, CytoImmune execs filed a plan with the SEC to raise approximately $100 million in equity back in August. At the time they filed, CytoImmune had raised more than $36 million as part of that financing, leaving just under $64 million to be raised from investors as of three months ago. Coughlin did confirm that the round is still open, but she emphasized that there “are some important conversations coming up” and they’re looking forward to closing the round — with no date given yet.
“The second pillar is people and really building. There’s a couple of really key roles that we’re going to need to build. We have to build a clinical organization,” Coughlin said.
It is her fourth time doing so, she told Endpoints News — the last three times were as CMO at previous biotechs, and this is her first as CEO.
And the last pillar? Execution. And this is where CytoImmune will start to get busy — Coughlin said that INDs will be filed in 2022 and 2023, and next year, the biotech plans to treat their first patients in clinical trials.
But there’s always the question: What about future partnerships? And while there are some contacts that Coughlin has, she told Endpoints that there are ongoing conversations with potential partners, but nothing has been set in stone.
— Paul Schloesser
→ Alessandro Riva’s latest turn as a CEO is with Intima Bioscience, a little-known biotech based in New York and the UK that offers even less on its bare-bones website. But we do know it’s a cell therapy company that focuses on the immune checkpoint CISH, and Riva sure knows his way around the cell therapy space. As global head of oncology therapeutics and cell & gene therapy at Gilead, Riva was in the thick of the Kite buyout, which featured Yescarta as the main prize. Before that, he devoted 12 years to Novartis and was the Swiss pharma’s global head of oncology development and medical affairs. Riva recently ended his two-year run as the CEO of Ichnos Sciences, where ex-Allogene VP of clinical development Cyril Konto has now taken command. (More about them later.)
→ Josep Bassaganya-Riera, who steered Landos Biopharma to an IPO as 2021 dawned and then to an IBD partnership with Perceptive’s LianBio, has resigned as chairman, president and CEO. The change takes effect immediately as Chris Garabedian takes over as chairman and ex-Esperion CEO Tim Mayleben — a board member at Landos for six months — gets another shot as a chief executive, albeit on an interim basis. Mayleben decided to walk away from Esperion in May, opening the door for Sheldon Koenig to lead a staff that’s been sliced dramatically for budgetary reasons. The first biotech to emerge from Garabedian’s Xontogeny portfolio, Landos targets autoimmune diseases with its AI-based LANCE platform.
→ Hugh O’Dowd will embark on his next chapter as a chief executive at the Boca Raton women’s health drugmaker TherapeuticsMD, replacing co-founder Robert Finizio “effective on or before” Dec. 31. Finizio will maintain a presence at TherapeuticsMD as vice chairman of the board. O’Dowd, a longtime Novartis exec who chairs the board of ONK Therapeutics, was president and CEO of Third Rock’s Neon Therapeutics from 2016 until a little company called BioNTech snapped it up for a discount price in 2020, before Covid-19 made BioNTech a household name. Neon’s cancer vaccine data never impressed and the biotech was running low on cash, triggering layoffs and causing the stock to plummet as much as 85 percent since it debuted on Nasdaq.
→ The fifth sub from Joe Jimenez and Mark Fishman’s Aditum Bio portfolio, Ancora Bio — which launched in June — has tapped Stephen Kanes as CEO, looking to push its selective vasopressin 1b receptor (V1b) antagonist ANC-501 for treatment-resistant depression into the clinic by 2022. Kanes walks away from Sage after an eight-year association in which he led clinical development on a pipeline that includes depression drugs Zulresso and zuranolone, and he’s an AstraZeneca vet in the areas of inflammation, neuroscience and respiratory. Aditum Bio raised $133 million in November 2020 after Jimenez and Fishman co-founded the VC in 2019.
→ Bayer has plucked Christoph Koenen from Otsuka, appointing him as the new global head of clinical development and operations within R&D at its pharmaceuticals division. Koenen, who was CMO at Otsuka, has held clinical development gigs at Bristol Myers Squibb (where he was head of cardiovascular development), GlaxoSmithKline and Novo Nordisk. Last week, Leaps by Bayer announced its backing of the George Church spinout GRO Biosciences, specializing in lab-invented amino acids.
→ Richard Pascoe is out as president and CEO of San Diego regenerative medicine developer Histogen for the ever-popular pursuit of “different opportunities,” while current board member Steven Mento has been named interim president and CEO as well as executive chairman. Mento, the president and chief executive at Conatus until its merger with Histogen, also helmed Idun Pharmaceuticals from 1997 until its sale to Pfizer in 2005. Pascoe was chief executive at Somaxon Pharmaceuticals and Apricus Biosciences before joining Histogen in early 2019.
→ Inovio was really good at jumping ahead in the Covid-19 vaccine race early on, but a spat with its contract manufacturer put the biotech behind the 8 ball while its competition roared by with their own vaccines. This week, though, the FDA was more kind to Inovio and allowed Phase III for INO-4800 to proceed, and four members of the team are ready “to position Inovio for growth and upcoming commercial operations,” as the press release states.
Mark Twyman has been promoted to chief commercial officer after four years in various commercial responsibilities. Twyman, who was with Merck from 1988-2006, has also been an exec with MedImmune, Sanofi Genzyme and Novavax. Elsewhere, Rob Crotty (general counsel) comes to Inovio after serving in the same capacity at Nabriva Therapeutics; Asli Gevgilili (chief human resources officer) is a Merck alum who just finished up nine years at Allergan, where she served as VP, human resources since 2014; and Gene Kim (chief corporate affairs officer) takes on this newly created role after a year as president of Inovio Asia.
→ SalioGen is swinging for the fences by forming an executive advisory board with some serious gravitas. Outgoing Alnylam CEO John Maraganore, BridgeBio co-founder Andrew Lo from MIT and former FDA commissioner Mark McClellan make up the formidable trio, and our John Carroll has CEO Ray Tabibiazar’s thoughts on the big-time moves.
→ While touting Phase I/II results with its Fabry disease drug FLT190 this week, Freeline Therapeutics — under the new leadership of Michael Parini — has appointed Pamela Foulds as CMO. The one-time medical chief at Aegerion Pharmaceuticals, Foulds is a Genzyme vet whose eight years at Biogen (2006-14) centered on hemophilia and neurology. She succeeds Julie Krop, who announced her departure in July and then took the CMO job at PureTech the following month.
And what about Freeline’s interim CMO? Alison Long has moved on to handle CMO duties at Kaleido Biosciences, Flagship’s microbiome biotech that drew the ire of the FDA in September for “failure to submit INDs for the conduct of clinical investigations with an investigational new drug.” Long led clinical development for Freeline at the time she took over as interim CMO, and she’s also been a clinical development exec with Spark and uniQure.
→ Seattle RNA editing outfit Shape Therapeutics raised a Series B in July that totaled $112 million, then struck a neuro deal with Roche in August that has the potential to be worth in the neighborhood of $3 billion. CEO Francois Vigneault has now found a new chief scientist in-house to work alongside him at the gene therapy biotech. David Huss, Shape’s head of research who’s been with the company since 2018, earns the promotion to CSO while fellow Juno Therapeutics alum Lisa Taylor Ash gets elevated to general counsel. While with Juno, Huss ran a T cell engineering team and Ash was VP, head of healthcare law and compliance before she was named Shape’s head of legal in 2019.
→ Saiid Zarrabian has stepped aside as president and CEO of San Diego cancer player Kintara Therapeutics to become head of strategic partnerships, handing the reins to chairman Robert Hoffman. The ex-CFO of Arena, AnaptysBio and Heron Therapeutics, Hoffman also sits on the boards of such companies as Aslan Pharmaceuticals and Saniona, and he won’t relinquish his position as chairman — which he’s held since June 2018. Kintara showed optimism with data from a Phase II trial of its glioblastoma drug VAL-083, but the stock remains mired in penny-stock territory since a precipitous drop several years ago.
→ Progenity, the company focused on women’s health, gastrointestinal health and oral biotherapeutics, has reeled in Adi Mohanty as CEO. Prior to hopping aboard San Diego-based Progenity, Mohanty was CEO of BioTime and VP at Transkaryotic Therapies (acquired by Shire). Mohanty spent a decade at Shire, which culminated in his role as president, regenerative medicine. Earlier in his career, Mohanty was with Baxter Healthcare and served as a board member for OncoCyte.
→ Fellowship of the Ring: Flagship’s gene therapy play Ring Therapeutics, which focuses on anelloviruses and raised $117 million in a Series B round this summer, has lined up a trio of new execs, with CSO Yong Chang leading off. Chang oversaw development at Korro Bio and was also VP of R&D at Intellia after stints at Aileron Therapeutics and MedImmune. John Huynh, who joins Ring as SVP of technical operations, is an ex-scientist at WuXi AppTec who was previously VP of gene therapy technical operations for PTC Therapeutics. Finally, chief regulatory officer Kevin Johnson has been involved in regulatory affairs with companies large and small, including GSK, Vtesse/Sucampo, Imara and, just before seizing this latest opportunity, Inozyme.
→ Jennifer Doudna’s CRISPR upstart Caribou Biosciences has enjoyed an eventful 2021 — partnering with AbbVie in February for a pair of off-the-shelf CAR-Ts and following up its $115 million Series C with a smooth $304 million IPO in July. With its chRDNA technology (pronounced “chardonnay”), Caribou has popped the cork for its new CBO, Ruhi Khan, who has previously held business development posts at Acorda Pharmaceuticals and Lexicon Pharmaceuticals. Meanwhile, ex-Pfizer chief patent officer Dara Richardson-Heron has been added to Caribou’s board of directors, and Caribou CEO Rachel Haurwitz grabbed a board seat of her own at proteomics player Seer.
→ Zain Kassam has decided to walk away as CMO at microbiome player Finch Therapeutics “in order to return to Canada to attend to a family health matter,” according to a release. The Finch co-founder will be replaced in the interim by Debra Silberg, the former global lead in gastroenterology at Shire who then became Takeda’s global VP, head of clinical science and development for GI diseases. A search for a permanent CMO is ongoing at Finch, which released positive Phase II data on Tuesday for its drug CP101 in C. difficile.
→ The same day Calithera Biosciences tossed its KEAPSAKE trial for its NSCLC drug telaglenastat into the scrapheap last week, the South San Francisco biotech promoted Emil Kuriakose to CMO. Kuriakose moved to Calithera from the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research in 2017 and had been head of clinical development since February 2020. He succeeds Keith Orford, who will take Jean George’s seat on the board of directors. Calithera now turns its attention to sapanisertib and mivavotinib, two cancer drugs that once belonged to Takeda.
→ Co-founded by Jeanne Loring and led by first-year CEO Damien McDevitt from Akcea, San Diego-based Parkinson’s startup Aspen Neuroscience has brought on Kameel Farag as CFO. Farag closed out his 16 years at Amgen as a regional CFO, leaving the drug giant in 2018 to take the SVP, finance job at Ionis. OrbiMed took top billing for Aspen’s $70 million Series A in April 2020, with ARCH Venture Partners also contributing.
→ Vancouver-based Zymeworks has formally appointed Neil Josephson as CMO. Josephson had been serving as the company’s interim CMO since May, and his transition to permanent CMO will take place on Monday. Josephson joined Zymeworks in 2019 as VP, clinical research and was later promoted to SVP.
→ A refashioning of the commercial team kicks into gear at Relief Therapeutics with the departure of CCO Chris Stijnen, effective Nov. 30. Relief Europe president Paolo Galfetti, along with staffers at Relief sub APR Applied Pharma Research, will take care of EU and UK commercial operations, and Anthony Kim will step in Dec. 1 as SVP and head of US commercial operations. Finishing out his three-year tenure as VP of global commercial development at Novocure, Kim is a Genentech and Alexion vet who also had a quick stop as executive director of marketing at Ignyta, which Roche acquired in a $1.7 billion buyout.
→ Like any head coach in any sport, you go with who you trust to fill out your staff (think Tex Winter with Phil Jackson on those great Bulls and Lakers teams). We obviously see this dynamic play out in biotech all the time, and this week Don Marvin is back with Dale Pfost as Chemomab’s CFO, EVP and COO. In March 2020, Marvin took the CFO job at Lodo Therapeutics while Pfost was CEO there, but Lodo was then purchased by Zymergen before that bigger company suffered its ignominious faceplant in August. Pfost took control at Chemomab in September, and it didn’t take long for Marvin to join him.
→ Charles Triano has been appointed CFO at Diem Nguyen–led Xalud Therapeutics. The gene therapy biotech lured Triano over from Pfizer, where he served as SVP of investor relations since 2008. Before joining Pfizer, Triano was VP of investor relations at Forest Laboratories.
→ Nordic Nanovector has appointed Pierre Dodion as CMO. Dodion has made the rounds at such Big Pharmas as Pfizer, Novartis and Roche, and he has also served as medical chief at Ariad Pharmaceuticals and Innate Pharmaceuticals. Back in September, Erik Skullerud joined the Oslo-based biotech as CEO.
→ Penn spinout Cabaletta Bio, a biotech zooming in on chimeric autoantibody receptors (CAAR-Ts, or double-A CAR-Ts), has promoted Samik Basu to CSO and Heather Harte-Hall to chief compliance officer. Basu, a former Adaptimmune staffer, will celebrate two years with Cabaletta in December and had spent the past year as VP of preclinical research and translational medicine. Harte-Hall, who worked with Basu at Adaptimmune, had been VP of quality and compliance since her arrival at Cabaletta in March 2019.
→ Eric Feldman has taken over as CMO at Ichnos Sciences, where he will also co-chair the R&D leadership team. Feldman previously served as SVP, CMO at GlycoMimetics; he boasts an impressive academic career, including a stint as professor of medicine and director of the hematological malignancies service at Weill-Cornell/New York Presbyterian Hospital. One other development: Ichnos has also appointed former Kymab CMO Sonia Quaratino to its board of directors.
→ Backed by GSK and partnering with Eli Lilly on autoimmune diseases, Sitryx has enlisted Tanya Borsuk as CBO. Borsuk worked in business development with Celgene and later Bristol Myers, and she makes the transition to Sitryx from a brief stay at Flagship Pioneering, where she was VP, portfolio strategy and BD alliances. Prior to Celgene, Borsuk was a senior manager within the global oncology business unit at Eisai.
→ Provention Bio announced its CFO transition on Nov. 4, and a day later the autoimmune disease player selected Miguel Sanjuan as SVP of research and early development. Sanjuan brings abundant Big Pharma experience from J&J and AstraZeneca, and he also led immuno-oncology small molecule discovery biology at Bristol Myers before jumping to Gossamer Bio in 2020 as VP, head of translational biology. As Peer Review mentioned last week, Thierry Chauche will succeed the retiring Andrew Drechsler as Provention Bio’s finance chief on Dec. 1.
→ Actym Therapeutics, the microbial-based immuno-oncology biotech using its STACT (Salmonella Typhimurium-Attenuated Cancer Therapy) platform, has named Chan Whiting as chief development officer. Whiting previously led R&D at Tempest Therapeutics before setting off for Berkeley-based Actym, which pulled together its Series A funding with the help of Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund in April 2020.
→ Cancer diagnostic developer Exact Sciences has found a CCO in former Pfizer exec Everett Cunningham. Cunningham makes the leap over to Exact from GE Healthcare, where he served as CEO and president of the company’s US and Canada region. Prior to his stint at GE, Cunningham was SVP, commercial at Quest Diagnostics. During his time at Pfizer, Cunningham served in a variety of roles including, regional president, established products for Asia Pacific; VP sales for US pharmaceuticals; and VP of global corporate human resources.
→ Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation (AGTC) has welcomed Hope D’Oyley-Gay as general counsel. D’Oyley-Gay comes aboard from Spirovant, where she served as general counsel and VP of administration. Prior to that role, D’Oyley-Gay had stints at Reed Smith and GSK.
→ AlgoTherapeutix — the Paris-based company working on developing a non-opioid topical treatment for peripheral neuropathic pain — has named Jens Ellrich as CMO. This isn’t Ellrich’s first run as CMO of a company — having served in the same role at Cerbomed, EBS Technologies, Precisis, Sapiens and WISE.
→ Three new staffers have poured into Lava Therapeutics, the Dutch-American gamma delta T cell biotech that crossed the $100 million mark for its March IPO. Jessica Truscello (VP of clinical operations) was Bahija Jallal’s head of clinical operations during her six-year tenure at Immunocore, and she also carries clinical operations experience with her from Pfizer. Sumeet Ambarkhane (executive medical director) is a UCB alum who spent nearly seven years at MorphoSys, where he rose through the ranks to become senior global program medical director. Finally, Wouter van Hunnik (VP of human resources) gets a fresh start here after 11 years in HR with Philips.
→ Boston-based Imara has named Toni Bransford to take charge of clinical development for tovinontrine, a drug for sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia that’s also being studied for heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF). A former global clinical lead for the HFpEF program at Novartis, Bransford leaves her senior medical director post at Kaleido Biosciences, and early on in her career she held several roles at Schering-Plough.
→ PepGen just keeps adding more pep to the team, plucking Jaya Goyal from Wave Life Sciences and appointing her EVP of research and preclinical development. Goyal, a 16-year Biogen vet, first joined Wave Life Sciences in 2017 and became the Takeda partner’s SVP, preclinical and clinical development sciences a year ago. Since James McArthur took the helm in February, PepGen’s team has grown at a brisk pace with the recent appointment of CFO Noel Donnelly and several other execs.
→ San Diego precision oncology player Turning Point Therapeutics has recruited Adam Levy as SVP of investor relations. That’s a wrap for Levy at Ziopharm Oncology, where he was EVP of corporate development and investor relations. He’s also made stops at Alexion, Bristol Myers and Novartis and was Gilead’s executive director of investor relations and head of corporate strategy. In other Turning Point news, senior director of corporate and business development Scott Lipman is now the company’s first chief of staff.
→ After naming Jennifer Diamond CMO a few weeks back, Boulder, CO-based OnKure Therapeutics has carved out space for Mark Boys as VP of discovery chemistry. Boys steps away from his second stint with Pfizer after two years in medicinal chemistry with the pharma giant, and he also has 12 years under his belt from Array BioPharma, co-founded by OnKure CEO Tony Piscopio.
→ Jayson Punwani has signed on as a partner with Kurt von Emster’s San Francisco team at Abingworth, whose latest fund — Abingworth Bioventures 8 — clocked in at $465 million in February. Punwani is an ex-partner at Takeda Ventures who co-founded Coho Therapeutics with Fred Hutch’s Bruce Clurman.
→ Outgoing J&J CEO Alex Gorsky has joined the board of directors of Apple, chaired by ex-Genentech CEO and current Calico chief Art Levinson. In August, Gorsky announced he would leave the pharma giant after nine years at the top, paving the way for Joaquin Duato to replace him on Jan. 3. Apple’s board also includes former Vice President Al Gore and BlackRock co-founder Sue Wagner.
→ Rafaèle Tordjman has been named chair of Alentis Therapeutics, a Swiss fibrotic disease biotech financed by her VC, Jeito Capital. Alentis has also made room for VectivBio CEO Luca Santarelli on the board.
→ With new CEO Michael Amoroso in place, Precision BioSciences has elected Sam Wadsworth and Shari Lisa Piré to the board of directors. Wadsworth, a Sanofi Genzyme vet, is CSO at Ultragenyx Gene Therapy, and Piré — the former chief legal officer for CDMO Cognate BioServices — is chief legal & sustainability officer with Plume Design.
→ Ex-Sage CEO Jeff Jonas assumed the role of chairman a month ago at Swiss neuro biotech Noema Pharma, and the board is expanding with the additions of Catherine Moukheibir and Ilise Lombardo. This is another in a long line of board appointments for Moukheibir, which includes seats at DNA Script, Ironwood Pharmaceuticals and Orphazyme. Meanwhile, Lombardo is the new CMO at Shankar Ramaswamy’s Kriya Therapeutics.
→ Myovant’s board of directors has a new addition with Nancy Valente. Beginning her association with Genentech in 2003, Valente recently served as Roche’s SVP in global product development, oncology, hematology development therapeutic area.
→ Norbert Bischofberger’s Kronos Bio has named J&J and Amgen alum Roshawn Blunt to the board of directors. Blunt, the managing director of 1798 Consultants, joins an illustrious group on the board that includes Bischofberger, chairman Arie Belldegrun, Bayer’s Marianne De Backer and Otello Stampacchia.
→ New York cancer biotech BeyondSpring has a new plinabulin partner in Jiangsu Hengrui after positive data for the drug stopped investors and analysts in their tracks. Lan Huang’s crew has now appointed Mark Santos to the board of directors. Santos, the former president of ION Solutions, is SVP of pharma strategy & contracting for OneOncology.
→ Darlene Deptula-Hicks has notched her second board appointment in as many months, this time with Aerami Therapeutics out of Durham, NC. In October, the F-star CFO picked up a seat on the board of directors at Abcuro.
→ Arbutus Biopharma has pulled in Tram Tran to its board of directors. Tran currently serves as the CMO of Glympse Bio and has previously served as VP of medical affairs, global head, liver diseases, fibrosis and Covid-19 at Gilead.
→ Vancouver-based Defence Therapeutics has recruited Riam Shammaa to its board of directors. Shammaa is the founder of Pallianera Pharma and Intellistem Technologies and is a managing director of Regen Capital.
Derek Graf also contributed to this edition.