'Don't eat me' upstart taps Takeda vet on path to the clinic; Greg Mayes leaves Antios for Canadian psychedelics player
Nenad Grmusa was “really happy” at Takeda, where he’d been for more than a decade in various R&D strategy and finance positions. However, the more he learned about DEM BioPharma, the more intrigued he became by cancer’s unexplored “don’t eat me” signals.
Jonathan Weissman and team launched the aptly-named biotech back in June to deploy macrophages and other myeloid effector cells against tumors by using so-called “don’t eat me” and “eat me” signals, which allow cancer cells to evade the immune system.
The Longwood-backed startup officially tapped Grmusa as CEO on Tuesday, alongside Oncorus vet Christophe Quéva, who’s joining as CSO. Quéva’s resume boasts stints at iTeos, as well as AstraZeneca, Amgen and Gilead. The team also took the opportunity to introduce Loise Francisco-Anderson, who recently joined as VP and head of biology.
“I was amazed how much data the group has generated in such a short period of time and I’m really really impressed by the quality of the scientific team,” Grmusa said.
He’s taking over from founding CEO David Donabedian, who will continue to advise the company. Former Trillium Therapeutics CEO Jan Skvarka is also on board as executive chairman. Upon launching with a $70 million Series A, Donabedian predicted that the company might be in the clinic in the next two to three years.
Grmusa confirmed that timeline on Thursday, adding that the company is hoping to get IND-enabling studies under its belt by 2024. The startup’s platform, dubbed Co-culture with Human Myeloid Phagocytes or CHoMP, seeks targets using CRISPR screening.
The team is currently 15-large, though Grmusa added that the company’s looking to grow.
“It’s been a very short period of time, but we’ve recruited the top scientific talent, and I’m amazed,” he said.
Grmusa’s background is in finance and economics, where he graduated from the Brandeis International Business School with his master’s. He later held analyst positions at Boston Biomedical Consultants and Millennium Pharmaceuticals, before jumping to Takeda in 2012. Most recently, he was SVP of R&D strategy and external innovation, and CFO of R&D. — Nicole DeFeudis
→ Greg Mayes has bolted from Antios Therapeutics, taking over from Joseph del Moral as president and CEO of Toronto psychedelics biotech Reunion Neuroscience. On Mayes’ watch, Antios pulled together a $96 million raise in April 2021 and another $75 million in November to form its Series B, but the biotech ran into trouble a few months ago when the FDA threw down the stop sticks with a clinical hold on its HBV drug. Assembly Biosciences would pull the plug on its collaboration with Antios as a result.
As del Moral becomes chairman, Mayes now leads a company once known as Field Trip Health with its lead program RE-104 in early-stage trials for treatment resistant depression and a Phase II planned in August 2023 for postpartum depression. “My goal as president and CEO of Reunion is to lead a company that will boldly disrupt the mental health sector with differentiated serotonergic psychedelic therapies,” Mayes said in a statement.
→ The changes are pronounced at GSK as the pharma giant consciously brands itself as the “New GSK,” spinning off its consumer healthcare business while placing a premium on specialty medicine and vaccine R&D. You can also sense it with the leadership team: R&D chief Hal Barron is gone, landing a CEO gig at the ambitious anti-aging play Altos Labs, and now CFO Iain Mackay has decided to retire in May 2023. Mackay will be replaced by Julie Brown, the chief operating and financial officer at Burberry who spent a quarter-century with AstraZeneca in a number of executive roles, including interim CFO and VP of group finance. Effective immediately, Brown has left the board of directors at Roche, and Patrick Frost will replace her temporarily as chair of the Swiss pharma’s audit committee. Amber Tong has more on Brown’s appointment.
→ Using its Covid-19 jab as a springboard for more potential vaccine launches — cytomegalovirus and the flu among them — Stéphane Bancel will give Juan Andres a new role on Jan. 1 at Moderna, naming him president, strategic partnerships and enterprise expansion. Jerh Collins, a 30-year Novartis vet who has been the Big Pharma’s chief culture officer since September 2020, will replace Andres as chief technical operations and quality officer, and will join the mRNA biotech three months early on Oct. 3. Andres has ties to Novartis himself, serving as global head of technical operations there until he took off for Moderna as SVP of late-stage technical development and manufacturing in August 2017.
→ Fred Kamal has been promoted to president and COO of 4D Molecular Therapeutics, the Emeryville, CA gene therapy biotech with programs that go after wet AMD, Fabry disease and cystic fibrosis. Kamal, the operations chief since February 2020, came to 4DMT in the fall of 2018 as chief technical officer after stints at InterMune, Juno Therapeutics and Avexis. UCSF professor Noriyuki Kasahara, principal investigator at the school’s Brain Tumor Center, has claimed a spot on 4DMT’s board of directors.
→ Takeda partner KSQ Therapeutics has promoted head of immunology Micah Benson to CSO and has recruited Tom Leitch as chief technology officer. Benson was head of tolerance therapeutics for Pfizer’s immunology and inflammation research unit, then signed on as KSQ’s head of immuno-oncology in 2016. An 11-year Merck vet who held leadership roles at Alexion, Leitch is the latest to peel away from bluebird bio in the wake of its two gene therapy approvals, moving on to KSQ after two years as bluebird’s head of manufacturing and five years overall. Additionally, Dunad Therapeutics chief Pearl Huang is leaving the board of directors, while Benson’s predecessor Frank Stegmeier steps in to keep it a six-member board.
→ Dave Anderson has been named CSO of Philadelphia’s Code Biotherapeutics, the gene therapy outfit led by former GSK exec Brian McVeigh that made Takeda stand up and take notice with a $2 billion AAV deal in February. Anderson once led preclinical research for neurological diseases at Spark and had just been promoted to SVP of research at SwanBio in June. Code has competition with the non-viral approach, as biotechs like Xalud Therapeutics and Versant-backed Vector BioPharma jockey for position.
→ New Zentalis CEO Kim Blackwell is continuing to tinker with the leadership around her, promoting co-founder Kevin Bunker to CSO after swinging the door open for medical chief Carrie Brownstein last week and elevating another co-founder, Cam Gallagher, to president in her first couple weeks on the job. A former senior scientist in Pfizer’s drug discovery research group, Bunker — heretofore the COO at Zentalis — co-founded and was CSO of Kalyra Pharmaceuticals.
→ What about Brownstein’s successor at her former employer? Cellectis is looking inward for that, as Mark Frattini moves into the CMO slot. Frattini pivoted to Cellectis in August 2020 as SVP of clinical sciences after his turn as executive medical director, program lead, global clinical R&D in the hematology therapeutic area for Celgene and Bristol Myers Squibb. “Mark already had an impressive track record before joining Cellectis,” CEO André Choulika said in a statement. “He has continued to lead our clinical teams successfully over the last two years and I am thrilled to continue working with him in this expanded role.”
→ Vancouver-based Gandeeva Therapeutics, a cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) biotech that notched a $40 million Series A in January from the likes of Leaps by Bayer and Amgen, has selected Matthew Lucas as CSO and David Poon as CBO. Lucas, the ex-senior director of chemistry at Yumanity, closed out his three years at Black Diamond as SVP of drug discovery, while Poon is a 15-year Zymeworks vet who was recently the heavily restructured company’s VP, business development and alliance management.
→ After eFFECTOR Therapeutics plucked new CMO Douglas Warner from Amgen in August, Mayank Gandhi has replaced Alana McNulty as CBO of the California cancer biotech. In 2020, Gandhi jumped on the now-rickety SPAC bandwagon as VP of corporate development & strategy at Jiya Acquisition Corp, the blank check company set up by Srini Akkaraju. Earlier, he concluded a seven-year run at Genentech as business development & licensing director.
→ Rick Klausner’s T cell therapy shop Lyell Immunopharma has appointed Rahsaan Thompson as chief legal officer. Thompson is an Actelion legal vet who moves on to Lyell following his two years as Gritstone bio’s general counsel, and it’s the second big C-suite pickup for Lyell this year: Gary Lee jumped on board as CSO in late January. Klausner sold 11,100 shares of Lyell’s stock last Friday, with an uptick in the stock price $LYEL most of this week.
→ Led by former Seagen exec Nancy Whiting and Blueprint Medicines alums, San Diego’s Recludix Pharma has entrusted Matthew Caldemeyer with CBO duties. Caldemeyer just spent four years in business development at Everest Medicines — now under new management — and the Eli Lilly vet has also built his BD résumé with Amgen, Array BioPharma and Ambrx. Recludix pulled off the tarp in November 2021 with a $60 million Series A as the crew takes aim at STAT3 and STAT6.
→ RNA editing upstart ADARx Pharmaceuticals has tapped Christopher Prentiss as CFO. The former finance chief at Adamas Pharmaceuticals comes to a biotech that made a splash a year ago with a $75 million Series B in a space that also includes Shape Therapeutics and ProQR. Prentiss has prior finance experience in the industry with InterMune, Dynavax and MannKind.
→ Fresh off its £48.3 million ($56.57 million) acquisition of Diurnal Group a month ago, Neurocrine has promoted Ingrid Delaet to chief regulatory officer. Delaet had been VP of regulatory affairs since January 2021, and she was SVP, regulatory affairs at Intercept before her move to Neurocrine. In 19 years with Bristol Myers, she worked in clinical R&D and was therapeutic area lead for immunology within global regulatory affairs.
→ Cambridge, UK-based Mursla has welcomed Karin Schmitt to its leadership team as COO. Schmitt brings with her a wealth of experience from previous stints at Exelixis, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Horizon Discovery Group, PredictImmune and Mogrify.
→ Larry Green is seizing the reins once again at AlivaMab Discovery Services, taking over from Justin Mika. Green was the founding CEO of the San Diego-based company and has served as AlivaMab’s executive chair since May 2020. Earlier in his career, Green served in roles at Amgen and Abgenix among others. Green also wears the CEO hat at Ablexis and will continue to serve in his role there.
→ California VC Section 32 has plugged in Nick Smith as chief investor relations officer. Smith had led investor relations at Foresite Capital since 2018, and in another recent stop, he was director and regional head of client advisory for Winton Group.
→ Just as we were publishing last week’s Peer Review, T cell engager player Janux Therapeutics welcomed Brenda Van Vreeswyk as head of human resources. Van Vreeswyk was director of HR during a six-year stay at Neurocrine before moving on to the Merck partner, which also added Winston Kung to its board of directors last week.
→ Insmed CEO and Aegerion co-founder Will Lewis has been named chairman of Adrestia Therapeutics, a GSK-backed “synthetic rescue” biotech out of Cambridge, UK. Adrestia also has a pair of new execs: Jennifer Millian (VP of US operations) had a nearly 16-year association with Sanofi Genzyme before joining uniQure as director, program management, and she was recently VP of program and alliance management for Affinia Therapeutics. And Phil Coxon (VP of business development) ascended to senior director of transactions in global oncology business development and licensing at AstraZeneca last year, after joining the Big Pharma from Teva in 2018.
→ Inflammation-focused RAPT Therapeutics has brought in Jennifer Nicholson as SVP of regulatory affairs and quality assurance, and Adnan Rahman as VP of commercial. Nicholson makes her way to RAPT from Kronos Bio, where she was VP of regulatory affairs, and she’s held regulatory positions at Roche/Genentech, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Bavarian Nordic and Acerta Pharma. Rahman, meanwhile, steps away from his gig as global commercial lead of dermatology at Pfizer sub Arena Pharmaceuticals. Earlier, he wrapped up a 16-year career at Amgen as US commercial director of the bone drug Xgeva.
→ In Phase II trials with its MK2 inhibitor zunsemetinib for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and hidradenitis suppurativa, Aclarus Therapeutics has enlisted Robert Doody as VP, investor relations. He just held the same title at Provention Bio and is the former SVP of investor relations & corporate communications at Idera Pharmaceuticals.
→ Swiss-based Pureos Partners has tapped Veronica Gambillara Fonck as a new partner. Fonck has served in roles at GlycoVaxyn, was CEO and co-founder of LimmaTech and CEO and founder of GlycoEra.
→ Affinivax’s former CBO Stuart Chaffee is making his way to the board of directors at Olaris to become executive chairman. Chaffee’s prior experience includes gigs at Praxis Precision Medicines (CBO and CFO), Atlas Venture (entrepreneur in residence), Kymera Therapeutics (head of business operations), Amgen and Biogen.
→ Ex-Santen chief Adrienne Graves is headed to the board of directors at retinal disease biotech Opus Genetics, joining its scientific founder Jean Bennett, Opus CEO Ben Yerxa and Russell Kelley from the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Graves chairs the FFB’s Retinal Degeneration Fund and is a board member at Iveric Bio.
→ Princeton, NJ-based cancer player Sonnet BioTherapeutics has elected Lori McNeill to the board of directors. During her career at Pfizer from 2001-14, McNeill was chief of staff of global operations in the integrated health business unit.
→ Grappling with its Phase III fail with lenabasum and turning its attention to preclinical solid tumor candidate CRB-601, Corbus Pharmaceuticals has reserved a seat for Anne Altmeyer on the board of directors. The ex-CBO of Sigilon Therapeutics and Adicet Bio is the president and CEO of TigaTx.
→ US-Danish biotech Allarity Therapeutics has pulled out a seat on its board for Jerry McLaughlin. McLaughlin currently serves as CEO and board member of Life Biosciences. McLaughlin’s previous stints include roles at Neos Therapeutics (CEO and president), NuPathe, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Merck. McLaughlin’s appointment comes on the heels of the company dropping its cancer drug dovitinib from development after the FDA requested a new trial.
→ Frazier Life Sciences managing director James Topper is back on the board of directors at Phathom Pharmaceuticals, the Takeda spinout and vonoprazan developer co-created by Frazier. Topper, the chairman and CEO of Frazier Lifesciences Acquisition Corporation, was a board member at Phathom from 2018-21.
Special thanks to artist Kim Ryu for giving Peer Review a new look starting this week!