Se­nior R&D ex­ec Sue Dil­lon jumps ship at J&J, launch­es mys­tery biotech start­up Aro with Cen­tyrins tech

Two for­mer ex­ec­u­tive heavy­weights at John­son & John­son have left the phar­ma gi­ant to launch a rather stealthy start­up called Aro Bio­ther­a­peu­tics – and they are start­ing out with some drug tech they’re al­ready close­ly fa­mil­iar with.

Karyn O’Neil

The com­pa­ny’s pres­i­dent and CEO is Sue Dil­lon, an R&D cham­pi­on and the ex-glob­al ther­a­peu­tic area head for im­munol­o­gy in the Janssen Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals unit of J&J. Her co-founder and CSO is Karyn O’Neil, the for­mer ven­ture leader for Cen­tyrex, an­oth­er J&J unit.

The com­pa­ny is fly­ing deeply un­der the radar, with vir­tu­al­ly no web pres­ence aside from Bio­Cen­tu­ry’s news of Aro’s launch. Dil­lon did not im­me­di­ate­ly re­spond to our re­quest for more in­fo on the com­pa­ny, but here’s what we do know:

Aro is work­ing with a nov­el class of al­ter­na­tive scaf­fold mol­e­cules called Cen­tyrins, which can be en­gi­neered to bind to tar­get pro­teins with an in­ter­face of sim­i­lar size to those used by an­ti­bod­ies. This tech was be­ing de­vel­oped at Cen­tyrex (the J&J unit where O’Neil, the in­ven­tor of the Cen­tyrin plat­form, pre­vi­ous­ly worked), and that plat­form has been li­censed out to two can­cer com­pa­nies: On­tario-based Fu­sion Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and San Diego-based Po­sei­da Ther­a­peu­tics, the lat­ter of which was housed in J&J’s San Diego JLABs back in 2015. Fu­sion is de­vel­op­ing Cen­tyrin-based al­pha-par­ti­cle ra­dio­ther­a­peu­tics, and Po­sei­da is de­vel­op­ing au­tol­o­gous T cell and NK cell ther­a­pies that ex­press Cen­tyrins or Cen­tyrin CAR mol­e­cules.

Ac­cord­ing to J&J: “Aro Bio­ther­a­peu­tics has ex­clu­sive world­wide rights to the Cen­tyrin IP es­tate with Janssen re­served fields in­clud­ing and pur­suant to Fu­sion Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals Inc. and Po­sei­da Ther­a­peu­tics Inc.”

Dil­lon and O’Neil join the great mi­gra­tion out of Big Phar­ma and in­to small biotech, as es­teemed R&D lead­ers in­creas­ing­ly seek op­por­tu­ni­ties else­where. O’Neil re­tired from her role at Cen­tyrex back in De­cem­ber, ac­cord­ing to her LinkedIn, to co-found Aro with Dil­lon. As for Dil­lon, she left her role at J&J around the same time.

New­man Yeild­ing

“Hav­ing sup­port­ed Sue for many years dur­ing her tenure here at Janssen/J&J, I have a great deal of re­spect for her lead­er­ship, vi­sion and de­ter­mi­na­tion to con­tin­ue to make a dif­fer­ence in pa­tients’ lives and in the life sci­ences in­dus­try,” wrote J&J’s glob­al ther­a­peu­tic area com­mu­ni­ca­tion leader Bri­an Ken­ney in an email.

Ken­ney not­ed that Dil­lon re­tired from J&J af­ter a “16 year suc­cess­ful ca­reer” with the com­pa­ny.

Ken­ney says New­man Yeild­ing, head of im­munol­o­gy de­vel­op­ment at Janssen, is lead­ing the ther­a­peu­tic area for im­munol­o­gy un­til the com­pa­ny finds a re­place­ment for Dil­lon.


Im­age: Sue Dil­lon. Janssen

M&A: a crit­i­cal dri­ver for sus­tain­able top-line growth in health­care

2021 saw a record $600B in healthcare M&A activity. In 2022, there is an anticipated slowdown in activity, however, M&A prospects remain strong in the medium to long-term. What are future growth drivers for the healthcare sector? Where might we see innovations that drive M&A? RBC’s Andrew Callaway, Global Head, Healthcare Investment Banking discusses with Vito Sperduto, Global Co-Head, M&A.

15 LGBTQ lead­ers in bio­phar­ma; Paul Stof­fels’ Gala­pa­gos re­vamp; As­traZeneca catch­es up in AT­TR; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

A return to in-person conferences also marks a return to on-the-ground reporting. My colleagues Beth Synder Bulik and Nicole DeFeudis were on-site at Cannes Lions, bringing live coverage of pharma’s presence at the ad festival — accompanied by photos from Clara Bui, our virtual producer, that bring you right to the scene. You can find a recap (and links to all the stories) below.

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Abortion-rights protesters regroup and protest following Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Fol­low­ing SCO­TUS de­ci­sion to over­turn abor­tion pro­tec­tions, AG Gar­land says states can't ban the abor­tion pill

Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision on Friday to overturn Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years, Attorney General Merrick Garland sought to somewhat reassure women that states will not be able to ban the prescription drug sometimes used for abortions.

Following the decision, the New England Journal of Medicine also published an editorial strongly condemning the reversal, saying it “serves American families poorly, putting their health, safety, finances, and futures at risk.”

AstraZeneca's new Evusheld direct to consumer campaign aims to reach more immunocompromised patients.

As­traZeneca de­buts first con­sumer cam­paign for its Covid-19 pro­phy­lac­tic Evusheld — and a first for EUA drugs

AstraZeneca’s first consumer ad for Evusheld is also a first for drugs that have been granted emergency use authorizations during the pandemic.

The first DTC ad for a medicine under emergency approval, the Evusheld campaign launching this week aims to raise awareness among immunocompromised patients — and spur more use.

Evusheld nabbed emergency authorization in December, however, despite millions of immunocompromised people looking for a solution and now more widespread availability of the drug.

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Yong Dai, Frontera Therapeutics CEO

Scoop: Lit­tle-known Or­biMed-backed biotech clos­es $160M round to start gene ther­a­py tri­al

Frontera Therapeutics, a China and US biotech, has closed a $160 million Series B and received regulatory clearance to test its first gene therapy stateside, Endpoints News has learned.

Led by the largest shareholder, OrbiMed, the biotech has secured $195 million total since its September 2019 founding, according to an email reviewed by Endpoints. The lead AAV gene therapy program is for an undisclosed rare eye disease, according to the source.

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DEM BioPharma CEO David Donabedian (L) and executive chair Jan Skvarka

Long­wood sets an­oth­er 'don't eat me' biotech in­to gear with help of for­mer Tril­li­um CEO Jan Skvar­ka

Jonathan Weissman and team are out with a cancer-fighting biotech riding the appetite for those so-called “don’t eat me” and “eat me” signals.

The scientific co-founder — alongside fellow Whitehead Institute colleague Kipp Weiskopf and Stanford biologist Michael Bassik — has launched DEM BioPharma with incubator Longwood Fund and a crop of other investors.

In all, the nascent, 10-employee biotech has $70 million to bankroll hematology- and solid tumor-based programs, including a lead asset that could enter human trials in two to three years, CEO David Donabedian told Endpoints News.

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GSK says its drug for chron­ic hep B could ‘lead to a func­tion­al cure’ — but will it be alone or in com­bi­na­tion?

GSK, newly branded and soon-to-be demerged, shared interim results from its Phase II trial on its chronic hepatitis B treatment, one that it says has the “potential to lead to a functional cure.”

At a presentation at the EASL International Liver Congress, GSK shared that in around 450 patients who received its hep B drug bepirovirsen for 24 weeks, just under 30% had hepatitis B surface antigen and viral DNA levels that were too low to detect.

De­spite a slow start to the year for deals, PwC pre­dicts a flur­ry of ac­tiv­i­ty com­ing up

Despite whispers of a busy year for M&A, deal activity in the pharma space is actually down 30% on a semi-annualized basis, according to PwC’s latest report on deal activity. But don’t rule out larger deals in the second half of the year, the consultants said.

PwC pharmaceutical and life sciences consulting solutions leader Glenn Hunzinger expects to see Big Pharma companies picking up earlier stage companies to try and fill pipeline gaps ahead of a slew of big patent cliffs. Though a bear market continues to maul the biotech sector, Hunzinger said recent deals indicate that pharma companies are still paying above current trading prices.

Joe Wiley, Amryt Pharma CEO

Am­ryt Phar­ma sub­mits a for­mal dis­pute res­o­lu­tion to the FDA over re­ject­ed skin dis­ease drug

The story of Amryt Pharma’s candidate for the genetic skin condition epidermolysis bullosa, or EB, will soon enter another chapter.

After the Irish drugmaker’s candidate, dubbed Oleogel-S10 and marketed as Filsuvez, was handed a CRL earlier this year, the company announced in a press release that it plans to submit a formal dispute resolution request for the company’s NDA for Oleogel-S10.