Flagship on center stage: Axcella’s new CMO likens the biotech to ‘professional sports team’; Life after the FDA takes shape for Stephen Hahn as a chief executive
Margaret Koziel has bounced back and forth between academia and biotech throughout her career — and after 25 years, she has landed her first position as part of a biotech’s top brass.
Koziel joined Axcella Therapeutics — founded by Flagship’s Noubar Afeyan, Geoffrey von Maltzahn and David Berry as Axcella Health — in 2019, and as of Monday, she is now in the C-suite as the biotech’s new CMO.
As a self-described applied scientist, Koziel’s career has been star-studded: after graduating from Dartmouth and its medical school, she went to Harvard Medical School, where she taught as an associate professor of medicine for 12 years. And after Harvard, Koziel first crossed over into biotech and took a job with Novartis as their head of translational medicine in infectious disease.
After jumping from Novartis to Vertex, she returned to academia — but this time at UMass, wearing a variety of hats for the five years she was there: everything from professor of medicine to director of clinical research and up to assistant vice provost in clinical research.
And then, she crossed right back into the realm of biotech with a job at Kaleido Biosciences, which then led her to Axcella two and a half years ago, where she climbed the ladder from global program team lead to VP of clinical development and ultimately to CMO.
For Koziel, she joined the company because of its model using “endogenous metabolic modulators” — molecules that could potentially restore health across a network of disregulated pathways.
But aside from the science, after meeting others at Axcella, it become immediately apparent to her that “this was a culture that I was going to click in.”
Why? A high degree of professionalism and courtesy.
“People come to work. They know what their job is, they do their job, and they help each other,” Koziel told Endpoints News. And in her mind, that’s kind of like a professional sports team — specifically soccer.
“If you’ve ever watched a professional soccer team on the field, everyone has their role. And people are doing their role. And if somebody needs a backstop, [it] doesn’t matter whether you’re the forward or you’re the defender on a soccer team, you step in to help that person,” Koziel said. “And I immediately felt like I was walking into a team of other professionals who were there with a common purpose.”
Now only a few days into her role as CMO, Koziel has one immediate objective: advance Axcella’s clinical programs for its two planned drugs. Koziel pointed at data readouts sometime mid-2022 and into 2023, adding, “that will help us determine how quickly we can move.”
— Paul Schloesser
→ Flagship has been throwing bones to Stephen Hahn ever since he clocked out as FDA commish, and this week is no different as Hahn becomes CEO of cancer testing startup Harbinger Health. In mid-June, Flagship sought out Hahn to be CMO of its Preemptive Medicine and Health Security initiative, and then he took another CMO gig at YourBio Health three months later. Before Flagship courted him, Hahn joined the board of directors at Blackfynn, which is chaired by Evelo Biosciences CEO Simba Gill. Hahn did discuss his new role at Harbinger with our Zach Brennan via e-mail on Wednesday, but he wasn’t particularly chatty about his time at the top spot of the FDA.
→ Another high-profile exec is stepping down from J&J: EVP, global corporate affairs and chief communication officer Michael Sneed has announced his retirement effective April 1, 2022. Sneed, who started out as a marketing assistant for J&J subsidiary Personal Products Company in 1983, has been a member of the Executive Committee since 2018. In other J&J news, global head of R&D Mathai Mammen tops a list of new Executive Committee appointments, earning the title of EVP, pharmaceuticals, R&D. The others are EVP and chief information officer Jim Swanson; chief external innovation, medical safety and global public health officer Bill Hait; and Vanessa Broadhurst, who replaces Sneed as EVP, global corporate affairs.
Major leadership changes were set in motion in August, when Alex Gorsky said he would pass the CEO baton to Joaquin Duato on Jan. 3 and assume the role of executive chairman. CSO and Executive Committee vice chairman Paul Stoffels also exits the stage on Dec. 31.
→ James Mutamba has taken on the role of CBO at Arrakis, Michael Gilman’s startup aimed at drugging hard targets which joined forces with Roche in April 2020 — an alliance in which the pharma giant paid $190 million upfront. A one-time principal at Longwood Fund, Mutamba vaults to Arrakis after a short stay at Pyxis Oncology as VP of business and corporate development. Arrakis has plenty of competition in this space, ranging from Bill Haney’s Skyhawk (partnered with Merck and Vertex) to Expansion Therapeutics.
→ As Mutamba leaves, Pyxis Oncology has gained Martina Molsbergen as interim CBO. The longtime CEO of C14 Consulting Group, Molsbergen has roamed the landscape extensively as a business development exec at such companies as Crucell, Sorrento, Selexis and Absci. The Pfizer-backed spinout took its place on Nasdaq in October with an upsized IPO that totaled $168 million.
→ After leading the company to its April debut, Bob Cuddihy will hand over the CEO keys to Peter Anastasiou at gene therapy upstart Capsida Biotherapeutics on Jan. 3. Anastasiou will end a 12-year association with Lundbeck in which he rose to EVP and president of US and Canadian business operations after starting out as VP & general manager, psychiatry. Elsewhere at Capsida, co-founders Nicholas Flytzanis and Nick Goeden have been promoted to CSO and chief technology officer, respectively. Flytzanis and Goeden both worked in Viviana Grădinaru’s lab at Caltech; Flytzanis had been VP of research and Goeden was VP of technology before their promotions.
→ Helmed by Geoffrey von Maltzahn, Tessera Therapeutics is bringing in some new faces to its leadership team with the appointments of Michael Holmes as CSO; Iain McFadyen as chief data officer; and Becky Lillie as chief human resources officer. Holmes comes aboard from Ambys Medicines, where he served in the same capacity. Prior to that, he held roles at Sangamo Therapeutics as SVP and chief technology officer. McFadyen hails from LifeMine Therapeutics and Moderna while Lillie joins from Alexion, where she served as chief human experience officer.
Additionally, Tessera’s co-founder and CSO Jacob Rubens has transitioned to the role of chief innovation officer. But that’s not all the changes being made. Tessera has also appointed Rebecca Wais as VP, intellectual property and legal affairs and Ian O’Reilly as VP, head of GMP quality.
→ Rachael Brake has left Takeda to become CSO at Norwood, MA-based Corbus after the small biotech felt the summertime blues by turning in a Phase III dud with its lead drug lenabasum. Brake, who had a nine-year run at the Japanese pharma, had led Takeda Oncology’s US medical affairs since June 2020 and was previously VP, global project leader in oncology. She also spent eight years as a scientist with Amgen. Lenabasum isn’t the only game in town: Corbus recently in-licensed a pair of monoclonal antibodies, branching out into solid tumors and fibrosis.
→ A Tachi Yamada legacy play from Jim Wilson named iECURE that launched in September with help from Versant and OrbiMed has tapped David Garrett as CFO. Garrett hails from Dynacure, where he shepherded the biotech through a Series C round that eventually yielded $55 million but couldn’t quite get an IPO over the hump. Before his two years as Dynacure’s CFO, he was VP, corporate controller and head of investor relations at Nabriva Therapeutics.
Two more hires to mention at iECURE, which is targeting severe genetic liver diseases: Kim Smith has been named VP of finance, and Ashley Kim is the Penn spinout’s director of business development. Smith completed a brief stay as managing director at Genova Group and has held the VP of finance role before at Tmunity, while Kim rolls into iECURE from Sean Nolan-chaired Jaguar Gene Therapy, where she was director of business development and corporate strategy.
→ After 13 years at Ardelyx, Jeff Jacobs has been named CSO of Gilead kidney disease collaborator Goldfinch Bio. Hired as Ardelyx’s VP of chemistry in 2008, Jacobs rose to CSO in January 2020, taking charge of the biotech’s kidney and cardiorenal disease programs. From 2000-08, he held several posts at Sunesis Pharmaceuticals, including senior director, development chemistry. Goldfinch’s lead drug GFB-887 is in Phase II for patients with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) and diabetic nephropathy.
→ Jacobs isn’t the only Ardelyx vet with a new gig lined up. Mark Kaufmann, the California biotech’s former CFO and CBO who spent a portion of his career in Montreal revving up companies like Allostera Pharma, has taken on both roles again at Escape Bio. The neuro startup led by CEO Julie Ann Smith hauled in $73 million worth of financing in September 2020 and its lead drug, ESB1609, is in development for Niemann-Pick type C and GBA Parkinson’s.
→ With current CMO Pat Horn departing at the end of the year, Albireo co-founder and CSO Jan Mattsson will take over as the company’s interim head of R&D. Albireo, which specializes in treatments for rare liver diseases and has had their pruritus drug approved this year, also named Sanofi and Eli Lilly veteran Constantine Chinoporos as CBO last week.
→ Another company focusing on liver disease, Ambys Medicines, has announced that co-founder Markus Grompe will take over as CSO as his predecessor, Michael Holmes, walks away “to pursue an external opportunity.” Grompe, a professor at the Papé Family Pediatric Research Institute at Oregon Health and Science University, also founded Yecuris Corporation. Ambys is currently working to advance its lead program, AMI-918, into IND-enabling studies.
→ Arnon Aharon has resigned as CMO of Israeli liver disease biotech Chemomab, led by ex-Lodo Therapeutics CEO Dale Pfost and chaired by current Gennao Bio CEO Stephen Squinto. David Weiner has been appointed interim CMO while Aharon stays for a two-month transition period. Weiner, the ex-CEO of Amathus Therapeutics and the former interim CEO of Proteostatis Therapeutics, is an Acadia vet who has been medical chief at Lumos Pharma and aTyr Pharma. Additionally, he was VP, neurology clinical development to close his four years with EMD Serono.
→ Two promotions have taken effect at Boston’s Ikena Oncology, a Bristol Myers Squibb partner that broke through on Nasdaq early this spring with a $143.8 million IPO. One of Ikena’s earliest hires, Michelle Zhang has been elevated from SVP of translational research and early development to CSO. Zhang, who once held a leadership role in the New Indications Discovery Unit at Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, has also been an entrepreneur in residence at Atlas Venture. Her predecessor, Jeffrey Ecsedy, has been bumped up to chief development officer. Before joining the biotech in 2017 when it was still called Kyn Therapeutics, Ecsedy was the head of oncology translational medicine at Takeda.
→ Making a rival drug to Amarin’s Vascepa, New Jersey-based Matinas BioPharma has lassoed Thomas Hoover as CBO. Hoover was promoted to chief commercial officer and then CBO at Millendo before the bugler sounded taps on the company at the start of 2021 and it reverse merged with Tempest Therapeutics in March. After spending six years in strategy positions at GlaxoSmithKline, Hoover was an exec at Sunovion from 2007-16.
→ Swiss cancer player ImmunOs Therapeutics has added an extra layer of leadership with Big Pharma vet Steve Coats as chief development officer. Coats had a 15-year run as an exec with AstraZeneca/MedImmune, rising to VP R&D, global project leader, and he was associate director of oncology research during his nine years with Amgen. Back in September, ImmunOs made another C-suite appointment by introducing COO Jeffrey Abbey.
→ RTW-founded Yarrow Biotechnology — focused on developing antisense oligonucleotides for CNS disorders — has welcomed Mark Keating as CSO. Keating hustles over to this little-known biotech after serving as VP and a distinguished fellow at Alnylam, preceded by more than a decade at Novartis, where he grabbed a front-row seat to the development of Entresto as VP and global head of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.
→ Mohammad Ahmadian has signed on as VP, chemistry and pharmaceutical development at San Diego’s Regulus Therapeutics, a microRNA biotech with a checkered past. Ahmadian makes this move after his time as VP and resident director at Kinovate Life Sciences. From 2016-18, Regulus suffered through a series of setbacks, including an FDA hold on its hep C drug after cases of jaundice were reported, a NASH partnership with AstraZeneca that folded, and two substantial staff reductions.
→ Another biotech that’s been through the wringer, gene therapy developer Adverum Biotechnologies, has tapped Rupert D’Souza as CFO. D’Souza — who has served as CFO of Replay Holdings for the last year — held financial posts at Genentech from 1999-2005, and he would spend another six years at BioMarin, becoming senior director, treasury & finance. This year has tested a wobbly Adverum: Its Phase II INFINITY trial for diabetic macular edema hit the skids in April after a patient lost vision, and the biotech decided to ditch DME altogether in July when more safety issues cropped up.
→ Speaking of Adverum, current board member and ex-president and CSO Mehdi Gasmi has been selected as COO of SparingVision, the French eye disease startup which cut a deal in October to use Intellia’s CRISPR technology on three targets. Further, SparingVision has also brought in Novartis and Roche alum Florence Paliargues as VP, portfolio project management and Spark vet Raffaella Toso as VP, corporate development & alliance management.
→ Conversely, Obsidian Therapeutics has had an eventful 2021 with a new partner in Vertex and a nine-figure Series B for good measure. This week Obsidian has brought on Lee Giguere as chief legal officer and corporate secretary. Giguere moves on from Chiasma, where he was general counsel for nearly two years, and from 2016-19 he was deputy general counsel with Karyopharm.
→ Bob Langer lab spinout Lyndra Therapeutics is bringing on former Vertex head of treasury Klas Holmlund as CFO. Holmlund spent a little over a decade at Vertex, building the company’s treasury infrastructure as its market capitalization increased from $7 billion to $52 billion.
→ Rocket Pharmaceuticals, which shared positive Phase I data from its gene therapy for Danon disease several weeks ago, has taken flight with Martin Wilson as general counsel and chief compliance officer. Wilson is a former assistant general counsel with Endo Pharmaceuticals who suits up for Gaurav Shah’s crew after a stint at Ichnos Sciences, where he was general counsel and chief corporate officer.
→ Covis Pharma has two executive management team appointments this week: Raghav Chari as chief innovation officer and Nicolas Verbeke as SVP, Europe & international. Chari has founded several startups over the last five years, and also served as president at Promius Pharma. Verbeke most recently served as VP and general manager, Europe, Middle East, and Africa for Astellas Gene Therapies.
→ Liquid biopsy company Karius — which raked in $165 million from a Series B funding round earlier this year — has named Bill Quirk as CFO and Steve Malaska as chief legal officer. Quirk most recently served as CFO of Freenome and has also spent nearly 20 years as an analyst at RBC Capital Markets and Piper Sandler. Meanwhile, Malaska comes from Dascena, where he served as general counsel. Additionally, Malaska has served as co-founder and CEO of Kota Biotherapeutics and has held roles at Intellectual Ventures, Ceptyr, Roche and Immunex.
→ New York-based Oramed Pharmaceuticals has tapped Netanel Derovan as chief legal officer (general counsel) and company secretary. Derovan brings with him experience from his times at Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Goldfarb Seligman & Co.
→ What’s new in the VC world? First, Matthew Rizzo and Peter Thompson have been promoted to general partners at OrbiMed, joining six other colleagues in that capacity. Rizzo and Thompson both started in 2010 at OrbiMed, which is attached to this week’s $218 million Series A for Gary Glick’s latest venture, Odyssey Therapeutics.
→ Next, Mission BioCapital has made some moves to accommodate the $275 million Mission BioCapital V, which is more than twice the size of its previous fund. Jennifer Griffin, who has been named partner for strategy and investor relations, spent four years at the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and was VP of industry strategy and investments. Elsewhere, Mission BioCapital has promoted Cassidy Blundell and Zach Collins from associate to principal.
→ Greenphire has tapped Alan Matuszak as its new chief technology officer. Prior to his new stint, Matuszak was VP of engineering at Medidata Solutions and formerly was CTO at eLynx.
→ Vijay Sabesan has been named SVP, technical operations at Nello Mainolfi‘s protein degradation shop Kymera Therapeutics, which raised $173 million when it went public during the go-go days of 2020 IPOs. Most recently, Sabesan held the same SVP position at Theravance Biopharma.
→ Allied with Innovent on the tyrosine kinase inhibitor taletrectinib for NSCLC, New York’s AnHeart Therapeutics has turned to Big Pharma alum Hua Zheng to be SVP, head of global regulatory affairs. Zheng has built an impressive regulatory résumé with Janssen, Celgene and Advaxis, and after a year as global regulatory lead for Amgen Oncology, he pivoted to Sorrento, where he had been VP, international regulatory affairs since 2019.
→ Swedish cancer biotech Kancera has pegged Peter Selin as EVP, corporate development. Selin had been the CBO of Oasmia Pharmaceutical for a year, and earlier he was Sobi’s VP of corporate development. According to the press release, Selin “will take up his position as soon as practically possible but at the latest on May 1, 2022.”
→ Serial Peer Review entrant PepGen has appointed Isami Salcedo as VP of program management and promoted Sonia Bracegirdle to SVP, strategy & operations. A Merck alum, Salcedo worked in a number of capacities at Proteostasis Therapeutics before leaving as VP of program management and operations. Bracegirdle, a former partner at Syncona, joined the Oxford neuro spinout in 2018 as head of business development. PepGen’s lead candidate PGN-EDO51 is in the preclinical phase for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
→ Nestlé chairman Paul Bulcke is not seeking re-election with the board of directors at Roche when the Swiss pharma’s annual general meeting comes around in March 2022. As a replacement, Roche has nominated Jemilah Mahmood — executive director of the Sunway Centre for Planetary Health in Malaysia — to the board.
→ BridgeBio co-founder Andrew Lo, part of a new dream team with John Maraganore and Scott McClellan on SalioGen’s scientific advisory board, has been added to the board of directors at AbCellera. DCVC Bio partner John Hamer has resigned after three years on AbCellera’s board, which is chaired by CEO Carl Hansen.
→ Pfizer’s former head of global regulatory affairs Peter Honig has joined the board of directors at Karyopharm. He steps in for his old colleague, Pfizer CSO Mikael Dolsten, who dropped out last week “due to competing professional demands.”
→ Versant-backed Ventus Therapeutics — which bagged $100 million in a Series B funding round earlier this year — has brought on some experienced execs to its board of directors with the appointments of Jane Henderson (CFO at Adagio Therapeutics); Dolca Thomas (EVP of R&D and CMO at Equilibrium); and Markus Warmuth (president and CEO of Monte Rosa Therapeutics).
→ Dutch phosphatase biotech Anavo Therapeutics launched in April and has now locked in Primmune Therapeutics chief Charles McDermott as its chairman of the board. McDermott has also served as president and CBO of Kala Pharmaceuticals and Impact Biomedicines.
→ Lexington, MA cancer player Curis has named ex-Anokion president and CEO John Hohneker to the board of directors. Hohneker has packed his post-Anokion career with a bunch of board seats, with Humanigen, Cygnal and Aravive leading the list.
→ Alison Finger and Saraswathy Nochur have joined the board of directors at Decibel Therapeutics as Christine Poon steps aside. Finger, a 21-year Bristol Myers vet, is the former chief commercial officer for bluebird bio, and Nochur became Alnylam’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer in January after nearly 15 years with John Maraganore’s crew in regulatory affairs.
→ Flagship’s cell behavior upstart Cellarity, which pulled in a $125 million Series B in February, has appointed Ian Estepan to the board of directors. Estepan was promoted to CFO in a December 2020 staff shakeup at Sarepta.
→ Tony Adamis has joined the board of directors at Gyroscope Therapeutics, a London-based biotech focusing on gene therapies for eye diseases like geographic atrophy. Adamis most recently served as SVP of development innovation at Genentech/Roche.
→ Orphazyme has a new spot open on its board of directors with the departure of Catherine Moukheibir. The company — which has been stuck in a rough patch and plans to lay off most of its staff after a string of failures for lead its ‘pipeline-in-a-product’ — has chosen Andrew Mercieca as her successor. Mercieca currently serves as CFO of LifeArc.
Derek Graf also contributed to this edition.