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.
→ 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.
→ 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.
→ 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.
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
→ 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.
→ 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