Peer Review

Ex-Gilead R&D chief Bischofberger starts over as CEO of Kronos Bio; Sue Mahony steps down from Lilly Oncology

→ After spending the past 30 years before the R&D mast at Gilead, ex-research chief Norbert Bischofberger is starting over from scratch. This morning, just a few weeks after his formal departure from the head job at one of the world’s top 15 drug research organizations, Bischofberger is jumping on board at an upstart biotech with just four full-time staffers. He’s chipped in to an $18 million seed round — roughly 1/200th the size of this year’s R&D budget at Gilead — to launch Kronos Bio. The biotech in-licensed a platform technology out of the lab of MIT professor Angela Koehler focused on modulating transcription factors in cancer, with two preclinical programs focused on MYC and the red-hot androgen receptor target. 

Sue Mahony

→ Just as Eli Lilly $LLY is beginning to catch up in cancer R&D, Sue Mahony, president of Lilly Oncology, announced that she is retiring from her company of 18 years. Having led the unit through the integration of ImClone after the $6.5 billion acquisition in 2008, as well as the launch of several key drugs, Mahony recently led the “refocusing of the company’s oncology R&D strategy.” It’s been a quick-fire process marked by the recruitment of top investigator Leena Gandhi, $1.6 billion buyout of Armo Bio and a $576 million deal to acquire AurKa Pharma. The Indianapolis-based pharma is considering internal and external candidates to succeed Mahony, whom they praise for a “passion for patients and strong sense of purpose.”

J Craig Venter is retiring from Human Longevity, the anti-aging startup he founded, several months after he grabbed the reins back from Cynthia Collins. He will be returning to the J Craig Venter Institute to continue his work, he tweeted.

→ After experimenting with a number of platform technologies, Dean Falb is lending his early-stage development skills to LogicBio Therapeutics as its CSO. The Cambridge, MA-based biotech is developing gene therapies with a focus on rare pediatric diseases, and the execs like Falb’s background as both a scientist and an entrepreneur: Falb co-founded Synlogic and, until recently, led its efforts to synthetically engineer microbes for treatment of rare disease and cancer. Before that, he spent a couple of years at Atlas Venture guiding the launch of early-stage life science companies — and that’s after leading discovery of bone morphogenic protein drugs at Stryker Regenerative Medicine. He will now be front and center as LogicBio plans a research strategy for its GeneRide tech.

Richard Marshall

→ Copenhagen-based Galecto Biotech has tapped GSK vet Richard Marshall to lead its pivot into late-stage studies. As CMO, Marshall’s is tasked with first executing a PhIIb study for the inhaled galectin-3 inhibitor TD139 in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, then bringing other candidates in fibrosis, inflammation and cancer into the clinic. While his previous experience leans on the discovery side, Galecto CEO believes his expertise in the respiratory and fibrosis field shapes him up for the job.

→ In a bizarre saga that’s still playing out, Rockwell Medical’s board has voted to fire its CEO Robert Chioini. But the CEO swiftly unfired himself, alleging that board members may have violated federal securities laws by voting him out. That’s because the purpose of this particular meeting was to discuss allegations of breaches of fiduciary duties, not to vote on firing the CEO. “As that action was not the purpose of the special meeting, the termination of the CEO, in the opinion of the non-conflicted independent directors, was not effective,” writes Chioini in a letter to shareholders. If that wasn’t enough, Rockwell Medical also fired its CFO Thomas Klema, who they said was colluding with the CEO. But that’s OK, because Chioini also rejected that decision, unfiring Klema shortly after via a letter to shareholders.

→ In conjunction with a $18.9 million round co-led by Versant, Lava Therapeutics has announced the appointment of Paul Parren as executive vice president and head of R&D. He’s probably best known for his time at Genmab, where he’s spent 16 years as head of preclinical development and research. When asked what was behind his move to a small startup, Parren said he was up for the challenge of early-stage research. At Netherlands-based Lava, he will lead the development of a type of bi-specific antibodies built on a gamma delta T cell platform.

Swift Biosciences — a provider of library prep solutions for genome sequencing — is following a flurry of expansion activities up with the appointment of a new CEO. Nathan Wood arrives just as the company settles into its first West Coast office in San Francisco and prepares to move into brand new headquarters in Ann Arbor. A former president of synthetic genomics company SGI-DNA, Wood is expected to extend Swift’s reach to what they see as a growing group of customers in need of next-gen sequencing for discovery, research and analysis.

→ Drawn to Translate Bio’s mRNA platform, longtime healthcare investor and former Allianz analyst John Schroer is making the jump to biotech and taking up a CFO role. The young biotech believes its platform, which targets protein production, can be applied to a broad range of diseases; it’s starting out with a clinic-ready program in cystic fibrosis and another preclinical drug for ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency.

→ Still reeling from a crucial Phase IIb failure that dragged its stock down two months ago, Protagonist Therapeutics $PTGX has brought in Jazz Pharma founding CEO Samuel Saks to offer strategic oversight of its pipeline. In the newly created role of chief development officer — a position he’s previously taken up at Auspex Pharma — Saks is tasked with helping “realize the full potential” of Protagonist’s peptide-based drugs by advising on research and clinical programs.

→ After a clinical strategy stint at Roivant Sciences (preceded by another at Axovant), Mark Demitrack is joining Trevena $TRVN as CMO. It’s a role that he’s well familiar with, given his 13-year tenure at medical device company Neuronetics. While the Chesterbrook, PA-based biotech is focused on pain treatment at the moment — with an NDA for oliceridine injection under review — Demitrack will be responsible for more than just approval and post-approval activities. Channeling his experience at Lilly Research Labs, he will be expected to shepherd Trevena’s other assets, including a treatment for severe migraine, from early development through commercialization.

→ In preparation for the departure of CMO David Tuck, cancer biotech Curis $CRIS has appointed Robert Martell as its first head of R&D. Martell, who’s familiarized himself with the company and its lead drug for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma as a board member for the past few years, is now charged with putting the drug — dubbed fimepinostat — on a path to registration. Martell previously worked as CMO of Tesaro and is an ex-staffer of Bristol Myers Squibb’s oncology unit. Tuck is returning to academic research after bringing several of Curis’ candidates into the clinic.

→ Looking to establish itself in the market for translational research services, AnaBios has hired seasoned exec Chris Mathes as chief commercial officer. Mathes jumps the same role at Icagen, which, like AnaBios, operates an early drug discovery platform. Managing the external-facing side of the company, Mathes will explore business opportunities and head up strategy for its “de-risking technology.”

→ On the cusp of commercialization of its first regenerative medicine product, PolarityTE $COOL has recruited Howard Hechler from medical equipment manufacturing Smith & Nephew to be its chief business officer. Hechler’s broad mandate spans M&A, partnering efforts, and alignment of pipeline development with commercial priorities.

→ Repeat entrepreneur and cardiologist Martin Rothman is the newest venture partner at Sofinnova Partners, the European VC firm that invested in a company he founded called LimFlow. For his first foray into investing, Rothman will identify and evaluate the type of companies that he knows best: medical device. Before joining Sofinnova, which closed a $340 crossover fund just weeks ago, Rothman served as the VP of medical affairs for coronary, structural heart and renal denervation at medical device giant Medtronic.

ArQule $ARQL has enlisted two more execs on its quest to develop oncology and rare disease meds for biomarker-defined patient populations. Marc Schegerin comes in as SVP, corporate strategy, communication and finance, while Shirish Hirani will be SVP, program management and product planning. Schegerin has split his time in biopharma between investment banking and strategy roles in biotech, starting off at Goldman Sachs, taking stints at Biogen and Sage Therapeutics before landing at Citigroup most recently. Hirani, on the other hand, has a resume lined with biotechs like Dyax and Genzyme, topped with a drug development role at Takeda-acquired Ariad Pharma.

→ Former Deutsche Bank and UBS analyst Andrew Peters is the new (and first) VP of strategy at Exelixis $EXEL. Peters’ arrival comes on the heels of a damaging trial readout that suggested Exelixis’ MEK inhibitor Cotellic wasn’t any good at boosting Roche’s Tecentriq in improving overall survival for colon cancer patients, as many analysts expected it would. As the South San Francisco biotech maps a path forward, Peters will assist the leadership team in refining the mid- to long-term strategy.

→ Looking to beef up its pipeline of both in-house and licensable assets, San Carlos, CA-based Apexigen has tapped Frances Rena Bahjat to steer further discovery and preclinical development of immuno-oncology assets based on its platform tech. Bahjat jumps to this VP of discovery research role from Bristol Myers Squibb, which happens to be partnered with Apexigen on a combo featuring Opdivo and APX005M. She will also support the development of the PhII drug.

→ With a string of CRO exec roles under his belt, Pete Nieto has been named VP of business development at ProSciento, scouting opportunities for the San Diego-based company as it expands its presence overseas but remains focused on NASH, diabetes, obesity and related metabolic diseases. He joins from PPD.

→ Antibody discovery company ImmunoPrecise has hired Microsoft vet Charles Wheelock as chief technology officer and Kari Graber as director of global client services and project management. Coordinating their work will be CEO Jennifer Bath, who was concurrently inducted to the board of directors.

Francois Nader has taken a board seat at New York City-based Prevail Therapeutics as the biotech ushers its gene therapy programs for Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases into the clinic. Nader is probably best known for his tenure at NPS Pharma, which culminated in a $5.2 billion acquisition by Shire.


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