People, R&D

Genentech vet Myrtle Potter takes a leading role in Vivek Ramaswamy’s fast-moving Vant ops

The talent magnet that is Vivek Ramaswamy’s Roivant Sciences has attracted a biotech veteran to oversee operations of the ever-growing Vant kingdom.

Myrtle Potter, a former president and COO of Genentech, has been named Vant operating chair. The role grants her an automatic board membership at each of Roivant’s 12 biotech subsidiaries, where she is expected to assist the (often high-profile) CEOs and “ensure operational excellence.”

Potter had a storied run in Big Pharma that began with 14 years at Merck, helping create the business that would later become AstraZeneca. She later moved to Bristol-Myers Squibb, eventually helming its cardiovascular and metabolic business and overseeing several crucial drug launches — a skill she continued to hone at Genentech, where under her watch blockbuster drugs like Avastin and Xolair came to be known.

She followed that up by founding a consulting firm in 2005, advising a range of pharma, biotech, medical device and media companies as well as VCs and investment bankers.

Her appointment was touted at Roivant’s inaugural R&D day, coinciding with a burst of announcements intended to highlight the company’s enthusiasm for its pipeline — undeterred even after the spectacular failure of Axovant’s first foray into Alzheimer’s cast shadows on founder Ramaswamy’s ability to bring actual drugs to the market.

Here are the updates we found most interesting:

  • Genevant, the RNA-focused joint venture formed on Arbutus’ delivery tech, has inked a deal to develop and commercialize five to ten therapeutic programs with German biotech unicorn BioNTech. Five of these will be rare disease therapies, to be developed using a combination of Genevant’s lipid nanoparticle platform and BioNTech’s mRNA drug discovery platform. The other half of the agreement covers a license to use Genevant’s tech in five of BioNTech’s oncology programs — a field that the company is best known in, with some of its personalized cancer vaccines already partnered with Genentech. If all goes according to plan, the duo will have something for the clinic by 2020.
  • Betting on the neonatal Fc receptor (FcRn) target in IgG-mediated autoimmune diseases, Roivant is founding yet another subsidiary called Immunovant to develop what it’s calling RVT-1401, a monoclonal antibody it in-licensed from HanAll.
  • Enzyvant has submitted a biologics license application — its first — for RVT-802, which treats an extremely rare disease called DiGeorge Anomaly, a fatal condition characterized by an inability to fight off infections.

Ramaswamy has become one of the most envied and despised executives in biotech. Love him or hate him, he’s raised more than $2 billion for this company and its subsidiaries. After the lead program for Alzheimer’s blew up in disgrace, the collective still has 30 drugs in clinical development compared to 13 a years ago. The group, which also recently reorganized with layoffs, now has 672 employees compared 262 a year ago; 12 vants now versus 5 at this point in 2017.

Image: Myrtle Potter (via YouTube)

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