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

Adap­tive De­sign Meth­ods Of­fer Rapid, Seam­less Tran­si­tion Be­tween Study Phas­es in Rare Can­cer Tri­als

Rare cancers account for 22 percent of cancer diagnoses worldwide, yet there is no universally accepted definition for a “rare” cancer. Moreover, with the evolution of genomics and associated changes in categorizing tumors, some common cancers are now characterized into groups of rare cancers, each with a unique implication for patient management and therapy.

Adaptive designs, which allow for prospectively planned modifications to study design based on accumulating data from subjects in the trial, can be used to optimize rare oncology trials (see Figure 1). Adaptive design studies may include multiple cohorts and multiple tumor types. In addition, numerous adaptation methods may be used in a single trial and may facilitate a more rapid, seamless transition between study phases.

Marianne De Backer (L) and Jeff Hatfield

Bay­er nabs star biotech Vi­vid­ion with a $2B buy­out and an ‘arms-length’ pact, pulling a part­ner out of the IPO con­ga line

Vividion is canceling that IPO it filed. Instead of following the industry-wide migration to Nasdaq, the biotech that has captured considerable attention for its still-preclinical work finding cryptic pockets to bind to on proteins is going to work for Bayer now.

The pharma giant is putting out word today that it has bought out Vividion for $1.5 billion in cash and another half-billion dollars in milestones.

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Tadataka Yamada (Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sci­ence pi­o­neer, phar­ma re­search chief, glob­al health ad­vo­cate and biotech en­tre­pre­neur Tadata­ka ‘Tachi’ Ya­ma­da has died

Tadataka Yamada, a towering physician-scientist who made his name in academia before transforming drug development at GlaxoSmithKline and developing vaccines for malaria and meningitis at the Gates Foundation, died unexpectedly of natural causes at his home in Seattle Wednesday morning.

He was 76. Frazier Healthcare Partners’ David Socks confirmed his death.

Known widely by the mononym “Tachi,” Yamada had a globetrotting career and arrived in industry relatively late in life. A 2004 Independent article noted GSK had asked Yamada to stay on beyond his approaching 60th birthday, the company’s usual retirement age. Yamada would continue working for the next 17 years, steering the Gates Foundation’s global health division for 6 years, funding Jim Wilson’s gene therapy work when few would touch it, launching Takeda Vaccines and co-founding a series of high-profile biotechs.

Covid-19 roundup: Pfiz­er im­pos­es vac­cine man­date for US work­ers; WHO calls for mora­to­ri­um on boost­ers, while some coun­tries make plans any­way — re­port

As the US struggles to keep pace with the fast-spreading Delta variant, big companies like Walmart and Disney are imposing vaccine mandates for some workers. It may come as no surprise that Pfizer — the Big Pharma behind the US’ first authorized Covid-19 vaccine — is joining them.

Pfizer will start requiring all US employees and contractors to get vaccinated, or participate in weekly Covid-19 testing, spokesperson Pamela Eisele told Reuters. Workers outside the US are strongly urged to get a vaccine if they can, according to the report. And those with medical conditions or religious objections can seek accommodations.

Tien Lee, Aardvark Therapeutics CEO

Emerg­ing from stealth mode, Aard­vark rounds up enough cash to put its lead drug through Prad­er-Willi PhII

When Aardvark Therapeutics CEO Tien Lee started his work on the biotech’s lead candidate, appetite suppression was the goal for the small molecule.  Soon after, his team started to see added benefits with lower blood glucose levels and anti-inflammatory activity. On the tail end of that, the company has emerged from stealth mode and announced today that they’ve raised enough cash in the B round to cover mid-stage development work.

Josh Hoffman, outgoing Zymergen CEO (Zymergen)

UP­DAT­ED: Syn­bio uni­corn Zymer­gen jet­ti­sons found­ing CEO, cuts guid­ance as cus­tomers re­port lead prod­uct does­n't work

Zymergen, just months off a $500 million IPO that put the synthetic bio firm in rarified air, has now ejected its founding CEO and downgraded its revenue forecasts after customers reported its lead film product doesn’t work as advertised, the company said Tuesday afternoon.

CEO Josh Hoffman will leave his role and sacrifice his board seat immediately in favor of Jay Flatley, the former CEO of Illumina who will take the lead role on an interim basis as the company conducts a search for its next leader.

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UK re-in­ves­ti­gates Pfiz­er's eye-pop­ping price goug­ing on an epilep­sy drug

When a drugmaker raises the price of a drug in the US by more than 2,000% overnight, and without any particular reason for that increase, nothing typically happens to the company. No fines, no court orders, just business as usual.

Martin Shkreli’s decades-old anti-parasitic drug Daraprim was the perfect example — massive price spike on an old drug, lots of media attention, public outcry, congressional committees dragging his former company through multiple hearings, and at the end of it? Nothing happened to the price or the company (until generic competition came).

Thomas Lingelbach, Valneva CEO

A small vac­cine de­vel­op­er fa­vored by the UK gov­ern­ment in Covid-19 touts a PhI­II first in chikun­gun­ya

Before Valneva garnered the favor of the UK government as a potential supplier of Covid-19 vaccines, the French biotech prided itself on being the first company to bring a chikungunya vaccine into Phase III.

It now has positive pivotal results to back up the breakthrough therapy designation the FDA granted just weeks ago.

There are currently no approved jabs to prevent chikungunya virus infection despite decades of R&D efforts, a fact that underscores just how arduous traditional vaccine development can be, particularly for neglected tropical disease. In a absence of a major commercial market, the US government and NGOs such as CEPI have deployed various grants and incentives to spur on a small crew of academics and industry players, with Merck, via its acquisition of Themis, claiming a spot in that race.

Jeffrey Bluestone, Sonoma CEO (Photo credit: Steve Babuljak)

Jeff Blue­stone just raised $265M to de­vel­op cu­ra­tive cell ther­a­pies. We asked him how

Jeff Bluestone had some big goals in mind when he decided to make a switch from a decades-long career in academia and non-profit research to a biotech startup CEO. And now — 18 months after the $40 million launch party — he has a whole lot more money on hand to pay for the considerable amount of work ahead at Sonoma Biotherapeutics.

This morning Bluestone is taking the wraps off a $265 million B round after boosting the core syndicate of A-list investors he started with. Even by today’s standards, that sum dwarfs the kind of $100 million-plus megarounds that have become standard fare in biotech over the last 2 years.

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