Ex-DARPA di­rec­tor pur­sues all-in-one can­cer pill as NED CEO; Karyopharm los­es com­mer­cial chief ahead of drug roll­out

“Why not try?”

That’s what Ge­of­frey Ling told me over the phone when asked about what led him to his jour­ney to the po­si­tion of CEO at NED Bio­sciences — a com­pa­ny with a lofty goal of cre­at­ing an all-in-one oral drug to treat all types of can­cer and mak­ing this drug avail­able to not on­ly de­vel­oped na­tions, but al­so the de­vel­op­ing world. 

Ling comes from an ex­ten­sive back­ground in med­i­cine and the gov­ern­ment. He is the co-leader of The Brain Health Pro­ject, a pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­o­gy and an at­tend­ing neu­r­o­crit­i­cal care physi­cian at John Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty and Hos­pi­tal, as well as the as­sis­tant di­rec­tor for Med­ical In­no­va­tion of the Sci­ence Di­vi­sion in pres­i­dent Oba­ma’s White House Of­fice of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy Pol­i­cy (OSTP). 

Ling, a re­tired colonel, served for 27 years in the US mil­i­tary where he toured Iraq and Afghanistan. Af­ter his time serv­ing his coun­try, Ling joined as a pro­gram man­ag­er at the De­fense Ad­vanced Re­search Pro­jects Agency (DARPA) of the US De­part­ment of De­fense — re­spon­si­ble for fund­ing the de­vel­op­ment of mil­i­tary tech­nol­o­gy — where he be­came a found­ing di­rec­tor of the DARPA Bi­o­log­i­cal Tech­nolo­gies Of­fice. Af­ter wit­ness­ing young Amer­i­cans bad­ly in­jured, and hav­ing lost their arms, Ling want­ed to find a way to give back to his fel­low sol­diers and cre­ate a pros­thet­ic arm con­trolled by thought. And in the face of skep­ti­cism, six months lat­er, Ling and his team were able to cre­ate FDA-ap­proved, thought-con­trolled pros­thet­ics.

It was dur­ing his time at DARPA that Ling came in­to con­tact with NED when they came to the or­ga­ni­za­tion to ask for fund­ing. 

“I thought their ap­proach was very straight­for­ward, re­al­ly made a lot of sense to me,” he said. “When they came to me with this drug cock­tail of theirs, I looked at it and I re­al­ly ad­mired the phar­ma­col­o­gy be­hind it. I un­der­stood the sci­ence. Can we find a straight­for­ward way of treat­ing mul­ti­ple can­cer types, in­ex­pen­sive­ly and with low tox­i­c­i­ty? And I looked at it and I said ‘this is re­al­ly cool.’ And I said we got­ta find a way to make it work.”

He was pas­sion­ate about NED’s mis­sion and once he left DARPA, he hopped on­to NED’s board of di­rec­tors. When the com­pa­ny de­cid­ed to take their drug in­to hu­man clin­i­cal tri­als and start rais­ing funds, Ling stepped up to the chal­lenge. He said that the chal­lenges he per­ceives that he’ll have in this role will be sim­i­lar to the one he had at DARPA: dis­mis­sive­ness from oth­er peo­ple.

At DARPA we would al­ways take on ideas that were con­sid­ered to be im­pos­si­ble to do, hereti­cal to the cur­rent way that peo­ple are do­ing things and it’s so out of the box that peo­ple who think tra­di­tion­al­ly, they want to be dis­mis­sive even though its a cool thing. Like an in­vis­i­ble air­plane, they want to dis­miss it and you say, why are you dis­miss­ing it? If it worked wouldn’t it be great? But that’s not the way peo­ple think. Peo­ple think ‘oh, it’s too hard. It’s too ex­pen­sive. It’ll nev­er work.’ They’re dis­mis­sive. And that’s the prob­lem the NED folks are hav­ing. Peo­ple are say­ing ‘oh, this is not a new bi­o­log­i­cal. It is not us­ing a sin­gle drug ap­proach. It is not a brand spank­ing new drug. In fact, it’s bor­ing.’ And be­cause of that peo­ple are dis­miss­ing them out of hand with­out giv­ing them a fair shake.

In ad­di­tion to Ling’s ap­point­ment, Pe­ter D’Erri­co — cur­rent­ly the CFO of NED — will add COO to his ti­tle. 

→ The ex­o­dus from As­traZeneca fol­low­ing its big R&D re­or­ga­ni­za­tion con­tin­ues. Boaz Hir­sh­berg, VP and head of car­dio­vas­cu­lar, meta­bol­ic and re­nal dis­ease at Med­Im­mune, has joined BOL Phar­ma as CMO. The Is­raeli com­pa­ny prides it­self for be­ing an ear­ly play­er in the med­ical cannabis in­dus­try and as­pires to be a lead­ing sup­pli­er of cannabi­noid-based APIs to phar­ma, uni­ver­si­ties and oth­er in­sti­tu­tions.

Anand Varadan

→ On the same day Karyopharm bagged a con­tro­ver­sial FDA OK for its mul­ti­ple myelo­ma drug se­linex­or (Xpovio), the com­pa­ny qui­et­ly dis­closed that its chief com­mer­cial of­fi­cer has re­signed. Anand Varadan’s tenure last on­ly one year, dur­ing which he was cred­it­ed for lay­ing the ground­work for a prod­uct launch. Per­ry Mona­co, the cur­rent VP of sales, will take up more re­spon­si­bil­i­ty with some help from CEO Michael Kauff­man. 

→ Cam­bridge, MA-based Tia­ki Ther­a­peu­tics has re­cruit­ed Suzanne Bruhn as its new CEO. She takes over from in­ter­im CEO Bar­bara Tate, the chief strat­e­gy of­fi­cer of the De­men­tia Dis­cov­ery Fund. Her last post was as CEO of Proclara, which op­er­at­ed in a sim­i­lar field: neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion. Tia­ki has tar­get­ed im­mune cells of the brain — mi­croglia — in an at­tempt to ad­dress in­flam­ma­to­ry-dri­ven CNS dis­or­ders and pro­tect cog­ni­tive func­tion.

Kim Bran­son

GSK R&D chief Hal Bar­ron is aim­ing high for the phar­ma gi­ant’s crew for ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ma­chine learn­ing. The phar­ma gi­ant poached their new chief of the AI/ML group from Genen­tech, tap­ping that tal­ent-rich tech zone in South San Fran­cis­co which Bar­ron — long based in the Bay Area — al­ways in­tend­ed to re­cruit from. Kim Bran­son — who was head of AI, ear­ly clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment at Genen­tech — adds to Bar­ron’s list of lo­cal re­cruits, which in­cludes BD chief Kevin Sin. Bran­son’s glob­al team in­cludes Je­re­my Eng­land, a for­mer as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at MIT fo­cused on the cross­roads of bi­ol­o­gy and physics. 

→ For the lat­est in his se­ries of biotech start­up gigs, Jay Mohr has opt­ed for the COO and CBO role at AZTher­a­pies as the com­pa­ny en­ters the fi­nal clin­i­cal stretch with a treat­ment for ear­ly Alzheimer’s dis­ease. Mohr, a found­ing mem­ber and part­ner emer­i­tus at Lo­cust Walk, had re­cent­ly left a pres­i­dent and CEO po­si­tion at Diri­go Ther­a­peu­tics. His ex­pe­ri­ence with part­ner­ships and prod­uct com­mer­cial­iza­tion, CEO David El­maleh said, is es­pe­cial­ly help­ful at a time reg­u­la­to­ry fil­ings loom large. AZTher­a­pies’ idea is to slow the pro­gres­sion of Alzheimer’s — an ail­ment that’s de­feat­ed vir­tu­al­ly every at­tempt to rein it in  — by tamp­ing down the neu­roin­flam­ma­tion that leads to neu­ronal death.

→ Ahead of a piv­otal read­out, NASH play­er Madri­gal Phar­ma is pro­mot­ing Re­bec­ca Taub to pres­i­dent of R&D, a new po­si­tion that gives her more over­sight over the pipeline. Taub, a founder and for­mer CEO of Madri­gal pri­or to its merg­er with Syn­ta, has been steer­ing resme­tirom (MG-3196) in the clin­ic as CMO.

San­jay Keswani

An­nex­on Bio­sciences has made sev­er­al re­cruit­ments to ex­pand its se­nior lead­er­ship team to help ad­vance its two mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body prod­uct can­di­dates, ANX005 and ANX007 — used for the treat­ment of au­toim­mune and neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­or­ders. The com­pa­ny wel­comed San­jay Keswani as CMO, Jen­nifer Lew as CFO and Les­ley Stolz as CBO. 

Keswani brings over 20 years of ex­pe­ri­ence to the po­si­tion, hop­ping over to the com­pa­ny af­ter a brief, 10-month stint as CEO of Rheos Med­i­cines. Ear­li­er he had done a stint at Roche as their SVP and glob­al head of neu­ro­science, oph­thal­mol­o­gy and rare dis­eases re­search & de­vel­op­ment. Pri­or to Roche, he served in se­nior roles at Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb and Eli Lil­ly.

Jen­nifer Lew

Lew, who served as trou­bled Aduro Biotech’s CFO, is cred­it­ed with play­ing a lead role in the prepa­ra­tion and ex­e­cu­tion of their IPO which raised $119 mil­lion in 2015. Stolz hopped over from J&J In­no­va­tion where she helped run their West Coast JLABS busi­ness.

→ Ex-Genen­tech star and 23andMe vet Richard Scheller jumped over to join Neil Ku­mar’s new com­pa­ny, Bridge­Bio, as their chair­man in R&D. Bridge­Bio re­cent­ly fin­ished off a stel­lar IPO, which has left the com­pa­ny with a $3.3 bil­lion mar­ket cap. Scheller com­mit­ted to stay­ing with 23andMe for 4 years and now leaves his po­si­tion in the hands of Ken­neth Hillan, the for­mer CEO of Achao­gen, which went bank­rupt and liq­ui­dat­ed in a fire sale 

Les­ley Stolz

IDEAYA Bio­sciences strength­ens its lead­er­ship team with the ap­point­ments of Paul Stone as CFO, An­dres Ruiz Briseno as vice pres­i­dent, fi­nance and ten year Genen­tech vet Mick O’Quigley as vice pres­i­dent, de­vel­op­ment op­er­a­tions. Stone pre­vi­ous­ly served as the com­pa­ny’s SVP, gen­er­al coun­sel and head of op­er­a­tions. He will con­tin­ue his du­ties as the prin­ci­pal fi­nan­cial ac­count­ing of­fi­cer and over­see the le­gal func­tion as gen­er­al coun­sel. Stone joined the com­pa­ny from 5AMVen­tures. Ruiz Briseno re­cent­ly served as the com­pa­ny’s se­nior di­rec­tor, fi­nance and con­troller. He joined the com­pa­ny from Phar­ma­cyclics as their di­rec­tor of fi­nan­cial plan­ning and analy­sis. He was cred­it­ed with help­ing lead Phar­ma­cyclics’ fi­nance and op­er­a­tions ef­forts in sup­port of the suc­cess­ful launch of Im­bru­vi­ca through to its ac­qui­si­tion by Ab­b­Vie. O’Quigley has sup­port­ed the com­pa­ny in var­i­ous clin­i­cal op­er­a­tions. Pre­vi­ous­ly, he held var­i­ous clin­i­cal op­er­a­tion roles at Am­gen for twelve years.

Oc­u­lar Ther­a­peu­tix — a com­pa­ny fo­cused on the de­vel­op­ment of treat­ments for eye con­di­tions and dis­eases — wel­comed Christo­pher White as the com­pa­ny’s SVP, head of busi­ness and cor­po­rate de­vel­op­ment. Be­fore hop­ping on­board to Oc­u­lar, White was the COO at Sil­ver Creek Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals — a pri­vate Bay Area biotech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny fo­cused on the de­vel­op­ment of nov­el re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cines. He’s al­so held roles as CBO of both En­ta­sis Ther­a­peu­tics and AM­AG Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. Be­fore join­ing the biotech in­dus­try, White worked as a part­ner at man­age­ment con­sult­ing firms Ac­cen­ture and A.T. Kear­ney

NeoPhore — a com­pa­ny de­vel­op­ing small mol­e­cule treat­ments for can­cer — wel­comed Matthew Bak­er to the ranks of its man­age­ment team as VP im­munol­o­gy. Cur­rent­ly, Bak­er serves as the non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at Ox­ford Ge­net­ics. Pri­or to join­ing NeoPhore, Bak­er was the co-founder, CEO and CSO of An­ti­tope. Oth­er po­si­tions that he has served in­clude CSO of Abzena and co-founder and CSO of Den­cep­tor Ther­a­peu­tics. Be­fore co-found­ing, An­ti­tope in 2004, Bak­er held stints at Bio­va­tion, Cel­lu­lar Tech­nolo­gies and What­man Bio­Sciences

Lau­ra Edger­ly-Pflug

Lyra Ther­a­peu­tics — fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing treat­ments for ear, nose and throat (ENT) dis­eases — has added Lau­ra Edger­ly-Pflug as SVP of tech­ni­cal op­er­a­tions of the com­pa­ny. Edger­ly-Pflug joins right as their lead drug can­di­date, LYR-210 is en­ter­ing a Phase II clin­i­cal tri­al for the treat­ment of rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis. Edger­ly-Pflug joins from her pre­vi­ous post as vice pres­i­dent of tech­ni­cal op­er­a­tions at Adgero Bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. She brings over 25 years worth of ex­pe­ri­ence from sev­er­al biotech and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies, such as In­smed, Ova­tion Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals (cur­rent­ly Recor­dati Rare Dis­eases), Bio­mi­ra (cur­rent­ly Seat­tle Ge­net­ics) and The Li­po­some Com­pa­ny

Start Codon, the start­up ac­cel­er­a­tor with a mis­sion to nur­ture ear­ly-stage health­care star­tups in the Gold­en Tri­an­gle, has added two ex­ecs to their sup­port team. Daniel Rooke, part­ner and head of op­er­a­tions, brings le­gal ex­per­tise and some re­cent in­sights gleaned at Cy­cle Phar­ma. Saku­ra Hol­loway leaps from a BD role at Mer­ck KGaA to be­come part­ner and head of dili­gence.

Jim Mel­lon’s ag­ing ven­ture Ju­ve­nes­cence — which in Jan­u­ary raised $46 mil­lion to crack the bi­o­log­i­cal bar­ri­ers of ag­ing to live un­til 150 — has tapped Col­in Watts as CEO of Ju­ve­nes­cence Life, which is fo­cus­ing on the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of health sup­ple­ments, nu­traceu­ti­cals and med­ical foods that can im­prove hu­man longevi­ty and qual­i­ty of life. Watts comes from a back­ground in the health­care, re­tail, con­sumer prod­ucts, food, and well­ness in­dus­tries and most re­cent­ly served as CEO of The Vi­t­a­min Shoppe

With con­tri­bu­tion by Am­ber Tong

As Nas­daq en­rolls the fi­nal batch of 2019 IPOs, how have the num­bers com­pared to past years?

IGM Biosciences’ upsized IPO haul, coming after SpringWorks’ sizable public debut, has revved up some momentum for the last rush of biotech IPOs in 2019.

With 39 new listings on the books and roughly two more months to go before winding down, Nasdaq’s head of healthcare listings Jordan Saxe sees the exchange marking 50 to 60 biopharma IPOs for the year.

“December 15 is usually the last possible day that companies will price,” he said, as companies get ready for business talks at the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in January.

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A fa­vorite in Alex­ion’s C-suite is leav­ing, and some mighty sur­prised an­a­lysts aren’t the least bit hap­py about it

Analysts hate to lose a biotech CFO they’ve come to trust and admire — especially if they’re being blindsided by a surprise exit.

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David Grainger [file photo]

'Dis­con­nect the bas­tard­s' — one biotech's plan to break can­cer cell­s' uni­fied de­fens­es

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the current gladiators of cancer treatment, but they come with well-known limitations and side-effects. The emergence of immunotherapy — a ferocious new titan in oncologist’s toolbox — takes the brakes off the immune system to kill cancer cells with remarkable success in some cases, but the approach is not always effective. What makes certain forms of cancer so resilient? Scientists may have finally pieced together a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and a new biotech is banking on a new approach to fill the gap.

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While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

Jason Kelly. Mike Blake/Reuters via Adobe

Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

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UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

Jeff Kindler's Cen­trex­ion re­news bid to make pub­lic de­but

Jeffrey Kindler’s plan to take his biotech — which is developing a slate of non-opioid painkillers — public, is back on.

The Boston based company, led by former Pfizer $PFE chief Kindler, originally contemplated a $70 million to $80 million IPO last year— but eventually postponed that strategy. On Wednesday, the company revived its bid to make a public debut in a filing with the SEC — although no pricing details were disclosed.

Zachary Hornby. Boundless

'A fourth rev­o­lu­tion in can­cer ther­a­pies': ARCH-backed Bound­less Bio flash­es big check, makes big­ger promis­es in de­but

It was the cellular equivalent of opening your car door and finding an active, roaring engine in the driver seat.

Scientists learned strands of DNA could occasionally appear outside of its traditional home in the nucleus in the 1970s, when they appeared as little, innocuous circles on microscopes; inexplicable but apparently innate. But not until UC San Diego’s Paul Mischel published his first study in Science in 2014 did researchers realize these circles were not only active but potentially overactive and driving some cancer tumors’ superhuman growth.

Scott Gottlieb, AP Images

Scott Got­tlieb is once again join­ing a team that en­joyed good times at the FDA un­der his high-en­er­gy stint at the helm

Right after jumping on Michael Milken’s FasterCures board on Monday, the newly departed FDA commissioner is back today with news about another life sciences board post that gives him a ringside chair to cheer on a lead player in the real-world evidence movement — one with very close ties to the FDA.

Aetion is reporting this morning that Gottlieb is joining their board, a group that includes Mohamad Makhzoumi, a general partner at New Enterprise Associates, where Gottlieb returned after stepping out of his role at the FDA 2 years after he started.

Gottlieb — one of the best connected execs in biopharma — knows this company well. As head of FDA he championed the use of real-world evidence to help guide drug developers and the agency in gaining greater efficiencies, which helped set up Aetion as a high-profile player in the game.

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