Peer Review

Dalcor taps new CEO Fouzia Laghrissi-Thode as pivotal PhIII looms; Kelly Martin settles in at Novan; Edward Stewart takes over Commense

Fouzia Laghrissi-Thode

AstraZeneca vet Fouzia Laghrissi-Thode will be leading DalCor Pharmaceuticals through patient enrollment into its pivotal Phase III trial. The newly minted CEO has her work cut out for her — London-based DalCor is trying to prove that dalcetrapib, a CETP inhibitor Roche abandoned, has a strong cardio benefit for a subgroup of patients with a certain genotype by testing it in 6000 people. Laghrissi-Thode began tackling this field at Roche, where she was a franchise leader for several drugs.

→ After more than 15 years playing supportive exec roles at Merrimack, Edward “Tad” Stewart is taking the helm of a controversial PureTech Health startup focused on the microbiome. Stewart had been working as CBO at Crescendo Biologics since Merrimack became part of Ipsen in 2017, flexing the business muscles he gained in Merrimack’s journey from preclinical to commercial stage. His new company, Boston-based Commense, stirred some criticism when it launched with an explicit goal to improve infants’ health by swabbing newborns with microbes from their mom’s vagina — a practice also known as “vaginal seeding.” It is now Steward’s duty as president and CEO to lead the resulting therapeutics to fruition, convincing investors and partners along the way.

Kelly Martin

Novan did not find a permanent replacement for Kelly Martin after all, so the CEO will take the “interim” tag off his title after 10 months in the job. Martin is also tasked with inspiring faith in existing and potential investors toward Novan’s $NOVN nitric oxide platform, especially as the biotech mounts a comeback for its lead acne drug. The company has also officially installed Andrew Novak, formerly senior director of reporting and analysis, as VP and chief accounting officer in an effort to set the leadership structure in place. Supporting them on the clinical development side will be new SVP of clinical operations Elizabeth Messersmith, whose combined experience at Quark Pharma, Balance Therapeutics and Elan Pharma shaped her up to oversee the diverse programs at Novan.  

→ Less than a year after the activist investors at venBio crashed a $2 billion collaboration deal with Seattle Genetics on the lead drug at Immunomedics $IMMU, the new crew in charge has wooed the top I/O research exec at AstraZeneca to take a leading development role as chief medical officer and R&D chief. Robert Iannone played a top role in the development of Imfinzi (durvalumab), the PD-L1 checkpoint star at AstraZeneca/MedImmune. Now he’s jumping into biotech, taking the leading research role at a company with a market cap of $2.4 billion. He’ll now be focused on sacituzumab govitecan (IMMU-132), a late-stage drug for metastatic triple negative breast cancer looking for an accelerated approval.

Kenneth Newman is ending his three-year CMO tenure at respiratory disease company Verona Pharma $VRNA to pursue other opportunities. His final month at the biotech was marked by positive data from two Phase II trials, for cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, respectively. The London-based company has yet to find a replacement.  

Neomed Therapeutics 1 has tapped experienced trial investigator Frank Giles as its first chief medical officer, responsible for both in-house development and collaborations and partnerships of its epigenetics-modulating cancer therapeutics. Giles joins Montreal-based Neomed from a brief stint at Actuate Therapeutics, which he juggled with his director roles at Northwestern University.

→ With a Phase III trial of efgartigimod set to launch this year, argenx $ARGX has appointed Keith Woods as COO to run early commercial planning for that asset, which spans marketing, marketing access, program management and supply chain operations. Efgartigimod will first be tested for myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune disorder resulting in muscle weakness. Woods’ previous roles at Alexion have sent him running business on both sides of the Atlantic. Before that, he’s spent a combined 20 years at Roche, Amgen and Eisai.

→ Gene therapy company Genprex $GNPX has liked COO Julien Pham’s work since he joined in 2016, and they now want him to bring Oncoprex, its immunogene therapy for non-small cell lung cancer, to market as the company’s new president. A clinician in training, Pham takes over from chairman and CEO Rodney Varner. He is now tasked with growing strategic partnerships in additional to leading the clinical program at the intersection of oncology and non-viral gene therapy. The Austin-based company believes that Oncoprex can bolster both targeted therapies and immunotherapies when used in combos.

Atlas-backed Generation Bio has brought on two new execs to champion its non-viral approach to gene therapy. Will McCarthy is joining as chief business officer from the same role at Ignyta, where he became familiar with genetically defined cancers. Before that, he’s held positions at genomic diagnostics company Foundation Medicine and cancer biotech Halozyme. Jennifer Elliott, meanwhile, takes on the role of head of legal affairs and intellectual property. Formerly director of IP at the Broad Institute and associate general counsel at Genentech, Elliot brings a background in patent application to the Cambridge, MA biotech as it explores a wide range of therapeutic applications with a $100 million Series B.  

→ Canada’s InMed has wooed a seasoned executive to establish the company’s presence in the emerging field of cannabinoid-based drugs. Having served as CFO at fellow cannabinoid drugmaker Therapix and liver disease company Galmed, Joshua Blacher joins InMed as CBO, with a mandate to raise its profile in the capital markets in addition to executing financial and BD initiatives.

Roberto Cuca — the CFO and SVP — announced that he is resigning from Trevena $TRVN, just a week after founding CEO Maxine Gowen tapped Carrie Bourdow to be her successor. The former lawyer and one-time analyst had been with the company for almost five years.  

Rhonda Chicko

→ With an IND in sight for its spinal muscular dystrophy treatment, Scholar Rock has named Ironwood vet Rhonda Chicko its new CFO alongside a slate of appointments and promotions. Chicko brings fresh memory and skills needed in an early-stage operation from Editas Medicine, where she built the finance team. Other new employees at the Cambridge, MA company are Ryan Iarrobino, VP of clinical operations and Catherine Hu, executive director of investor relations and corporate communications. Meanwhile in recognition of their work to advance the protein growth factors platform, Gregory Carven has been promoted to SVP of antibody discovery and protein sciences; Atsuko Polzin to VP of intellectual property; and Dodzie Sogah to VP of corporate development and strategy.

Dirk Ehlers is the new COO at diagnostics company Centogene, which specializes in detecting rare disease genetics. Ehlers had gone in and out of the diagnostics business throughout his career in life sciences, featuring an exec role at Roche years ago.

→ Waltham, MA-based Avedro, an ophthalmic pharma and medical device company, has appointed James Schuermann as CBO. The medtech veteran will be busy overseeing all aspects of commercialization, including government affairs, reimbursement, sales, communications and field service.

→ The team of neurologic experts at BioAxone has recruited Ronald Goldstein to strengthen the company’s financial underpinnings. Cambridge, MA-based BioAxone is partnered with Vertex on its lead therapy for spinal cord injury, currently in PhIIb/PhIII development. With his background in public accounting and bank liaison, Goldstein is expected to keep the company on track as it grows.

→ DNA testing specialist Natera $NTRA has tapped decorated scholar Paul Billings as its CMO. A genomic expert who consulted for Thermo Fisher Scientific, Billings has served on the scientific advisory boards of several government agencies including the FDA.

→ The change master of biotech is knocking at Ironwood Pharmaceuticals’ front door. And he wants in with plans to stay for awhile. Alex Denner, known for forcing out old CEOs and forcing through new buyouts, has now set his sights on the longtime Boston/Cambridge player guided by founding CEO Peter Hecht, who launched the company 20 years ago with a plan for the long haul. In an unusual move, Ironwood put out word of Denner’s move to join the board in a press release Monday. And the company took the opportunity to pointedly praise the board Hecht has already assembled, which includes 8 independent directors on the 9-member group. It’s clear that Denner is out to shake things up at Ironwood, a company best known for its franchise drug Linzess and a pipeline of therapies in the same space. Several analysts think the company could do better on the stock price, and Denner is all about value creation — with a big appetite for profiting from turbulence.

→ As Tampa, FL-based Intezyne ramps up in-house development efforts, Bradford Sullivan and Adam Curie were handed increased responsibilities for the anti-cancer therapies it’s developing. Sullivan will assume directorship of chemistry, manufacturing and controls of existing polymers and APIs, while Curie will focus on product development for potential new candidates.

Merck vet John Renger is climbing up the leadership ladder at Purdue Pharma, where he’s just been named VP, head of R&D and regulatory affairs. Whereas he was focused on neurosciences, his new role will put him in charge of the overall scientific direction and strategy.

→ Antibiotic maker Spero Therapeutics $SPRO has hired Ian Critchley to head clinical microbiology, trusting him to not only steer the late-stage trials planned for the year but also build up a clinical portfolio to address multidrug-resistant bacteria. That wouldn’t be new to Critchley, who had managed preclinical and clinical studies on several anti-infectives compounds during a three-year run at Allergan.

→ As Rezolute readies its orphan drug for congenital hyperinsulinemia, RZ358, to enter Phase IIb, it is bringing in Christine Ferrara as director of clinical development with a primary focus on the program.

→ Anticipating an NDA for Roclatan later this year, Aerie Pharmaceuticals has appointed former UCB staffer Scott Laranjo to plan for its marketing.

Michael Moore has added Macrophage Pharma to the list of boards he’s chairing. Moore, who served as the founder chairman of Trillium Therapeutics and PsiOxis Therapeutics, said he’s impressed by the potential of Macrophage’s immune modulation platform tech in cancer and beyond.


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Biotech Investment Analyst
SV Health Investors Boston, MA
Research Scientist - Disease Biology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Senior Scientist - Predictive Pharmacology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director, Translational Sciences
Cadent Therapeutics Cambridge, MA
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twoXAR Mountain View, CA

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