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Ex-Axovant COO Marion McCourt lands at Regeneron; GT Biopharma elevates Shawn Cross to CEO in exec reshuffle

Marion McCourt

→ While our eyes were fixed on CEO David Hung’s departure from struggling Axovant, COO Marion McCourt also quietly jumped ship — to Regeneron $REGN. The company announced Monday (the same day McCourt’s resignation from Axovant was made public) that it has appointed her as SVP and head of commercial. The appointment filled a vacancy left by Robert Terifay, who resigned last month in the middle of a medical leave and plans to retire in July. A seasoned exec with footprints at AstraZeneca, Amgen and Medivation, McCourt will lead the commercialization for both approved medicines and develop-stage pipeline.

Michael Nolte is the new CEO at clinical technology and service provider Bracket, succeeding Jeff Kinnell. Nolte was formerly the CEO of Influence Health, which makes software for health care organizations.

→ An ambitious GT Biopharma has reshuffled its executive leadership in a strategic transition: current president and COO Shawn Cross will take the helm as chairman and CEO, while co-founder and ex-CEO Kathleen Clarence-Smith concentrates on the neurology division. Anthony Cataldo, another co-founder who championed the company’s oncology profile, will remain on the board and become a consultant. An investment banker by training, Cross has tall orders ahead of him, including leading the Washington, DC-based biotech through a listing on Nasdaq, attracting institutional investment and analyst coverage, and guiding the first clinical tests of a trispecific ADCC NK cell engager.

→ As Aradigm $ARDM contends with the aftermath of a disastrous regulatory journey, it has let go of three of its top executives in an apparent measure to cut costs. CEO Igor Gonda, CMO Juergen Froehlich and CFO Nancy Pecota have resigned from all of their positions at the troubled biotech. John Siebert, current chairman of the board, will step in as executive chairman and interim principal executive officer. If Aradigm wants another chance at the FDA for its inhaled antibiotic Linhaliq, which it indicated it would like to do, it would need fresh cash to fuel a whole new PhIII program.

→ Little Arcturus $ARCT is going through a dramatic shakeup this month. Shortly after news that its founder and CEO Joseph Payne was booted from the company (with board members allegedly conspiring on his ouster), Arcturus is now losing another top executive. The company’s chief scientific officer and chief operating officer Pad Chivukula is stepping down, the company said in a statement. That’s interesting, considering Payne recently noted that both he and Chivukula had been left out of participation in board discussions and votes. Chivukula will stay on as scientific advisor to Arcturus, the company said. The news comes in conjunction with a new statement filed with the SEC noting that Payne, the ex-CEO, is demanding an “extraordinary meeting” of the board to vote on an ouster of his own design. In the letter, he calls for the boot to four company directors — Stuart CollinsonCraig WillettDaniel Geffken, and David Shapiro — who he says engaged in an intrigue that violated the rules established by the Israeli laws that govern its operations. Payne is suggesting four new directors take their place, including some of the biggest names in San Diego biotech: Magda MarquetPeter FarrellAndrew Sassine, and James Barlow. Marquet, founder and co-chair of Althea Technologies, is a well-known industry executive who’s a bit of a legend in San Diego. And Farrell, is the founder and former long-term CEO and current chairman of ResMed, one of the largest medical device companies in San Diego.

Jeffrey Goater

→ Surface Oncology has promoted its BD chief to run the company. Jeffrey Goater is taking the helm of the Cambridge, MA-based biotech, focused on new drugs targeting CD47 and CD73 in the tumor microenvironment. He’s replacing AstraZeneca vet Detlev Biniszkiewicz, who was recruited a little less than three years ago. There’s no immediate word on Biniszkiewicz’s next step.

→ Jeremy Caldwell is trading the CSO seat at Ardelyx $ARDX for a CEO job at an undisclosed “early stage biotech start-up company based in San Diego,” the Fremont, CA-based company announced today. His departure from the biotech, best known for IBS drug tenapanor, follows a bumpy three-year ride that set tenapanor on course for an NDA submission despite some doubts along the way. No successor has been named just yet. “I believe that tenapanor will play a critical role in treating both hyperphosphatemia and IBS-C in the future. I’m proud of what we’ve discovered with the RDX013 program, as it represents an entirely new approach to treating hyperkalemia,” Caldwell said in a statement.

UroGen Pharma $URGN is trying out a different management style with the appointment of Stephen Mullennix — a veteran exec in the energy industry — as chief operating officer. Mullennix is tasked with building a commercial enterprise for the uro-oncology focused biotech, which has a PhIII and a couple of PhII programs planned for the year.

→ As Sweden’s Sobi looks to grow its presence in North America, it has brought on Linea Aspesi as VP of human resources in the region. Aspesi will be exercising the muscles she’s built up over the past 20 years — most recently at Sanofi — to devise strategies for acquiring, managing and retaining talent at the rare disease company.

→ Having served as chief business officer at Aptinyx — and led financing rounds totaling upwards of $135 million — since the company was spun out in 2015, Ashish Khanna is adding the title of CFO to his business card. Before that, he was a VP of corporate development at Naurex, where he played a part in the $560 million Allergan acquisition that resulted in the creation of NMDA-targeting Aptinyx. His new role overs oversight of all finance and accounting in addition to business development for the Evanston, IL biotech.

→ A month after experiencing one of the most humiliating setbacks in biotech, David Hung is bowing out as CEO of Axovant $AXON. Hung, you’ll recall, had only recently completed a $14 billion deal to sell Medivation to Pfizer when he agreed to take the helm at Vivek Ramaswamy’s Alzheimer’s company just 10 months ago. Their 5HT6 drug, once touted with great hope, failed to make a mark on symptoms of the disease, before an amateurish statistical error dealt another blow to the company’s image. Along with Hung went his whole camp: “(d)irectors Kate Falberg, Tony Vernon, and Patrick Machado have resigned as members of the company’s board of directors.” Ex-McKinsey consultant and Harvard Med graduate Pavan Cheruvu is taking Hung’s place. George Bickerstaff, the former CFO of Novartis Pharma, joined Axovant’s board of directors along with ex-United Therapeutics CEO Roger Jeffs.

Sangamo Therapeutics, the longtime gene editing player that scored the field’s first human experiment, has hired Heather Turner to oversee all legal matters as the company advances its zinc finger nuclease tech. Previously at Atara Biotherapeutics and Orexigen Therapeutics, the SVP and general counsel will advise Sangamo $SGMO through late-stage development and commercialization.

→ As Houston-based ImmunoMet continues to fill its C-suite, it has recruited Big Pharma vet Vincent O’Neill as CMO ex-Syndax exec Allan Shaw as CFO. After working on several big oncology projects at Genentech and GlaxoSmithKline, O’Neill made a jump to cancer biotech Mirna Therapeutics, designing and managing a Phase I clinical trial of its lead product. That’s the exact same phase that ImmunoMet’s lead product, IM156, is in. Shaw’s expertise lies more in finance than life sciences, and the company — a spinout of Korean biopharma HanAll — hopes that will help them in fundraising.

Keith Nazareth is retiring from pharma/nutraceutical manufacturing company ACG, following a 27-year career that culminated in the VP of Europe position. His successor is Steven Facer, a veteran of the CRO industry.

→ Just a day before Arbutus put the word out about its exclusive talks with backer Roivant Sciences, it announced that CFO and EVP Bruce Cousins is leaving the company. Koert VandenEnden, currently VP of finance, will take over his responsibilities in the interim.

→ Eyeing regulatory filings for three programs over the next two years, bluebird bio $BLUE has promoted Alison Finger as chief commercial officer. Finger joined the CAR-T star as SVP of marketing and product launch in 2015, after two decades launching products at Bristol-Myers Squibb. Her new mandate covers commercial strategy and access management — which includes the hot issues of pricing and reimbursement.

→ Former FDA Commissioner Robert Califf is joining yet another San Francisco company’s board. Less than a year after accepting a board seat at Alphabet’s Verily, Califf is offering his guidance to Cytokinetics $CYTK — a company whose ALS failure made our list of biggest pipeline flops last year. Califf is a tenured professor of cardiology at Duke and has led several clinical cardiology research studies over the course of his career. That experience will come in handy as Cytokinetics focuses its attention on its heart failure drug candidate omecamtiv mercarbil — a drug that activates cardiac myosin, amping up the heart’s ability to contract.

Ignyta’s CFO Jacob Chacko has joined the board at neurotaxin player Bonti, where longtime director David Ramsay’s transition to CFO likely left an opening for someone with financial expertise.

Novartis vet Rick Panicucci has joined the board of Q Biomed, supporting the product development business with the experience he’s gained as VP of pharmaceutical development of a WuXi AppTec subsidiary.

→ Following Genocea’s $55 million public offering led by New Enterprise Associates, NEA partner Ali Behbahani will join the board of the cancer vaccine developer $GNCA.

Aimmune Therapeutics $AIMT, the biotech being watched for its peanut allergy drug, has recruited two more allergy experts to his scientific advisory board: George du Toit of King’s College London and Wayne Shreffler, who splits his time between Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.


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