Fresh out of the blue­bird bio on­col­o­gy split, Joanne Smith-Far­rell flies the coop to Be Bio and its B cell plat­form

Stung by set­backs and a stag­nant pipeline, blue­bird bio, the once-dar­ling of gene ther­a­py biotech, made the tough call to sev­er its rare dis­ease and on­col­o­gy units ear­li­er this year. One of the busi­ness leads on blue­bird’s on­col­o­gy side has now popped up at a new­ly launched B cell play­er — and she’s tak­ing her for­mer em­ploy­er’s “pi­o­neer­ing” ex­am­ple to heart.

Joanne Smith-Far­rell

Joanne Smith-Far­rell, for­mer­ly blue­bird’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer and head of the on­col­o­gy busi­ness unit, is now CEO at Be Bio­phar­ma, an ear­ly-stage biotech tar­get­ing en­gi­neered B cells for ther­a­peu­tic use. Smith-Far­rell is joined on the team by CSO Rick Mor­gan, an­oth­er blue­bird vet who was most re­cent­ly se­nior VP of im­muno­genet­ics at Ed­i­tas.

Tak­ing the lead at Be Bio rep­re­sents a step in­to the CEO seat for the first time for Smith-Far­rell, who cut her teeth study­ing bio­med­ical en­gi­neer­ing in Bob Langer’s famed lab at MIT be­fore mak­ing the jump to in­dus­try. She’s both a Pfiz­er and Mer­ck vet­er­an and joined blue­bird in March 2017 to head the on­col­o­gy fran­chise. The most ad­vanced can­di­date there is mul­ti­ple myelo­ma can­di­date ide-cel, a Bris­tol My­ers Squibb-part­nered CAR-T that faces an FDA re­view this year.

In her telling, Smith-Far­rell was “at the heart” of de­lib­er­a­tions over spin­ning off blue­bird’s on­col­o­gy unit in­to an as-yet-un­named busi­ness led by CEO Nick Leschly. Mean­while, the re­main­ing gene ther­a­py as­sets, in­clud­ing gene ther­a­py Zyn­te­glo and can­di­dates in be­ta tha­lassemia and sick­le cell dis­ease, will keep the blue­bird moniker. De­spite the tec­ton­ic shift in the busi­ness mod­el af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing few years, Smith-Far­rell said the spin­off “was not the rea­son” she chose to de­part.

“It was very op­por­tunis­tic,” Smith-Far­rell told End­points News. “This (op­por­tu­ni­ty) came across, and it’s very hard to see some­thing with this kind of po­ten­tial for im­pact. It’s rare. The op­por­tu­ni­ty to come out and be a CEO … feels like a great next step.”

Mean­while, Smith-Far­rell looked back at the blue­bird’s de­ci­sion to split and called it “the right de­ci­sion” at the time.

“I have a lot of con­fi­dence in the blue­bird team be­ing able to do what they need to do go­ing for­ward,” she said.

As part of a rapid ex­pan­sion tak­ing Be Bio from just two em­ploy­ees at the end of 2020 to about 20 cur­rent­ly on staff, Smith-Far­rell said her first or­ders of busi­ness are build­ing a team that can mod­el the sort of “pi­o­neer­ing” work she be­came fa­mil­iar with at blue­bird.

Rick Mor­gan

Mean­while, Mor­gan will take over a B cell ther­a­peu­tic plat­form with a lot of promise but not much to show so ear­ly in­to launch. His first fo­cus, he said, will al­so be re­fin­ing the vi­sion for the plat­form’s po­ten­tial and build­ing a team that can suc­cess­ful­ly scale the pipeline.

“With the un­der­ly­ing tech­nol­o­gy, where do you point the ap­pli­ca­tions?” he said. “We’re not there yet in terms of say­ing what the first in­di­ca­tions will be, but be­cause the plat­form lends it­self to di­verse in­di­ca­tions, we will build a pipeline that has some breadth to it and a lit­tle more ver­sa­til­i­ty than you would see at oth­er cell ther­a­py com­pa­nies.”

Be Bio launched back in Oc­to­ber with a $52 mil­lion de­but round co-led by At­las Ven­tures and RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment. The biotech hopes to re-en­gi­neer B cells as a nov­el ther­a­peu­tic modal­i­ty that can skip past the se­vere side ef­fects of T cell and NK cell ther­a­pies and can al­so be pro­duced al­lo­gene­ical­ly.

Biotech in­vestors and CEOs see two paths to growth, but are they equal­ly vi­able?

The dynamic in the biotech market has been highly volatile in the last few years, from the high peaks immediately after the COVID vaccine in 2021, to the lowest downturns of the last 20 years in 2022. This uncertainty makes calling the exact timing of the market’s turn something of a fool’s errand, according to Dr. Chen Yu, Founder and Managing Partner of TCG Crossover (TCG X). He speaks with RBC’s Noël Brown, Head of US Biotechnology Investment Banking, about the market’s road ahead and two possible paths for growth.

Casey McPherson shows his daughters Rose (left) and Weston around Everlum Bio, a lab that he co-founded to spark a treatment for Rose and others with ultra-rare conditions. (Ilana Panich-Linsman)

Fa­ther starts lab af­ter in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty is­sues stymie rare dis­ease drug de­vel­op­ment

Under bright lab lights, Casey McPherson holds his 6-year-old daughter, Rose. His free hand directs Rose’s gaze toward a computer screen with potential clues in treating her one-of-a kind genetic condition.

Gray specks on the screen show her cells that scientists reprogrammed with the goal of zeroing in on a custom medicine. McPherson co-founded the lab, Everlum Bio, to spark a treatment for Rose — and others like her. A regarded singer-songwriter, McPherson never imagined going into drug development.

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Vlad Coric, Biohaven CEO

Vlad Coric charts course for new Bio­haven with neu­ro­science push and Big Phar­ma vets on board

What’s Biohaven without its CGRP portfolio? That’s what CEO Vlad Coric is tasked with deciding as he maps out the new Biohaven post-Pfizer takeover.

Pfizer officially scooped up Biohaven’s CGRP assets on Monday, including blockbuster migraine drug Nurtec and the investigational zavegepant, for $11.6 billion. As a result, Coric spun the broader pipeline into an independent company on Tuesday — with the same R&D team behind Nurtec but about 1,000 fewer staffers and a renewed focus on neuroscience and rare disease.

New Chroma Medicine board member Jeff Marrazzo

Jeff Mar­raz­zo has found a buzzy new biotech cause to cham­pi­on. And once again, he's all in

Jeff Marrazzo is one of those biotech execs who has always been focused on the next big goal. He has a track record for meeting objectives, relentlessly staying on message, and breaking new ground.

The fact that he stayed around for a couple of years after Roche’s $4.3 billion Spark buyout, making sure the organization he founded weathered Covid-19, is one example. And that came after he carefully guided the company to the first-ever US approval of a gene therapy — no easy task.

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In AstraZeneca's latest campaign, wild eosinophils called Phils personify the acting up often seen in uncontrolled asthma

As­traZeneca de­buts an­noy­ing pur­ple ‘Phil’ crea­tures, per­son­i­fied asth­ma eosinophils ‘be­hav­ing bad­ly’

There are some odd-looking purple creatures lurking around the halls of AstraZenca lately. The “Phil” character cutouts are purple, personified eosinophils with big buggy eyes and wide mouths, and they’re a part of AZ’s newest awareness effort to help people understand eosinophilic asthma.

The “Asthma Behaving Badly” characters aren’t only on the walls at AZ to show the new campaign to employees, however. The “Phils” are also showing up online on the campaign website, and in digital and social ads and posts on Facebook and Instagram.

Kite Phar­ma gets FDA to sign off on new Cal­i­for­nia-based vec­tor man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty

Kite Pharma just got FDA approval to kick off operations at a new manufacturing campus.

The cancer-focused, CAR-T cell therapy player made the announcement Monday, saying that the federal regulatory agency gave the green light to Kite’s 100,000 square-foot, retroviral vector manufacturing facility in Oceanside, CA.

Kite’s global head of technical operations Chris McDonald tells Endpoints News that the facility has been in the works for about four years, after Kite teamed up with its parent company Gilead. Gilead acquired Kite Pharma for just shy of $12 billion in 2017.

Marc Dunoyer, Alexion CEO (AstraZeneca via YouTube)

Up­dat­ed: As­traZeneca nabs a small rare dis­ease gene ther­a­py play­er for 667% pre­mi­um

AstraZeneca is kicking off the fourth quarter with a little M&A Monday for a gene editing player recently overcoming a second clinical hold to its only program in human studies.

The Big Pharma and its subsidiary Alexion are buying out little LogicBio for $2.07 per share. That’s good for a massive 667% premium over its Friday closing price, when it headed into the weekend at 27 cents and just weeks after Nasdaq said LogicBio would have to delist, which has been put on hold as the biotech requests a hearing. It’s one of two biotech deals to commence October, alongside the news of Incyte buying a vitiligo-focused biotech.

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Dave Marek, Myovant CEO

My­ovant board balks as ma­jor­i­ty own­er Sum­it­o­mo swoops in with a $2.5B deal to buy them out

Three years after Sumitomo scooped up Roivant’s 46% stake in the publicly traded Myovant $MYOV as part of a 5-company, $3 billion deal, they’re coming back for the whole thing.

But these other investors at Myovant want more than what the Japanese pharma company is currently offering to pay at this stage.

Sumitomo is bidding $22.75 a share for the outstanding stock, which now represents 48% of the company after Sumitomo bumped its ownership since the original deal with Roivant. Myovant, however, created a special committee on the board, and they’re shaking their heads over the offer.

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Christophe Bourdon, Leo Pharma CEO

Leo Phar­ma looks 'be­yond the skin' in atopic der­mati­tis aware­ness cam­paign

As Leo Pharma aims to take on heavyweight champ Dupixent in atopic dermatitis, the company is launching “AD Days Around the World,” an awareness campaign documenting real patient stories across Europe.

The project, unveiled on Monday, spotlights four patients: Marjolaine, Laura, Julia and África from France, Italy, Germany and Spain, respectively, in short video clips on the challenges of living with AD, the most common form of eczema.