Eli Lilly-partnered biotech taps star investigator Alan List as CMO — a year after he resigned from Moffitt over China scandal
After laying low for more than a year following a scandal that led to his ouster, former Moffitt Cancer Center CEO Alan List has emerged in the frontlines of biotech.
An expert in hematology and oncology drug development known as a lead investigator for Celgene’s blockbuster Revlimid, List is swapping “clinical trials consultant” for the chief medical officer title at Precision BioSciences — a Eli Lilly-partnered biotech boasting a new gene editing approach to cell and gene correction therapies.
He replaces Chris Heery, who’s leaving “to pursue other opportunities.”
“Over the past 12 months, Alan has been intimately involved in our clinical strategy to develop our lead allogeneic CAR T therapy, PBCAR0191, as well as the design of our clinical program for PBCAR19B, our next generation, stealth cell program,” Precision CEO Matt Kane said in a statement.
Kane himself has annoucned that he will be leaving his role as soon as a successor is identified.
That’s not all the changes List will be stepping into. While Servier has been partnered on those programs, Precision simultaneously revealed that they’re getting full rights to the two therapies back after the French company decided to drop it — a “strategic decision” to shift focus. In exchange, Precision is paying $1.25 million in cash and waiving $18.75 million in earned but as-yet unpaid milestones. Servier is still entitled to milestones and royalties.
With a trio of clinical drug candidates targeting CD19, CD20 and BCMA, the biotech is focusing initially on indications like non-Hodgkin lymphoma, B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and multiple myeloma.
For 11 years, List was a top exec at Florida’s Moffitt Cancer Center, the third-largest cancer center by patient volume in the US. But in late 2019, he resigned for violating conflict of interest rules regarding his work in China, making an exit alongside several researchers who got swept up in an NIH-directed crackdown on perceived threats of academic espionage and related compliance issues.
List, the highest-ranking exec affected by that purge, openly oversaw a longstanding partnership with Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute and Hospital and was appointed the scientist in chief Tianjin Taishan Cancer Hospital’s Translational Research Institute in 2016. But he was faulted for failing to disclose his personal dealings in China, including an application to the Thousand Talents program, awards and contracts from one of the Tianjin institutions, and a personal bank account.
An internal investigation concluded that he was paid at least $85,000 throughout that period.
The whole ordeal sparked debates around the fairness or wisdom of casting all US-China collaborations in a suspicious light, especially as most academic research is of little financial value and institutions don’t always lay down clear rules on disclosure. In fact, scientific exchanges with China were often encouraged; Moffitt’s collaboration with the Tianjin university goes back years.
In any case, List will now be turning a new page at Precision, overseeing the fruits of a genome editing platform, dubbed ARCUS, that came from a group of North Carolina scientists looking to hack DNA using a synthetic enzyme.