Genen­tech R&D leader Di­et­mar Berg­er moves to Atara Bio, head­ing up off-the-shelf T cell work

A se­nior glob­al R&D leader at Genen­tech is leav­ing the biotech gi­ant for a new post at South San Fran­cis­co’s Atara Bio­ther­a­peu­tics. Di­et­mar Berg­er will join Atara $ATRA as glob­al head of R&D, tak­ing the com­pa­ny’s al­lo­gene­ic T cell treat­ments through the clin­ic.

Di­et­mar Berg­er

Berg­er is best known for his re­cent role at Genen­tech/Roche, where he’s been work­ing as se­nior vice pres­i­dent and glob­al head of prod­uct de­vel­op­ment with­in the com­pa­ny’s hema­tol­ogy and on­col­o­gy unit since 2014. There, he led med­ical strat­e­gy for Genen­tech’s port­fo­lio of can­cer med­i­cines, in­clud­ing glob­al fil­ings of ap­proved drugs like Gazy­va, Cotel­lic, Ale­cen­sa, Tecen­triq and Hem­li­bra.

Atara, found­ed in 2012, is not the be­he­moth that Genen­tech is, but it’s not a small start­up ei­ther. The Nas­daq-list­ed com­pa­ny, which has a mar­ket cap of $1.75 bil­lion, is de­vel­op­ing off-the-shelf, al­lo­gene­ic T cell im­munother­a­pies for pa­tients with can­cer, au­toim­mune and vi­ral dis­eases. Orig­i­nat­ing at Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing and QIMR Berghofer, Atara’s T cells are en­gi­neered to al­low for rapid de­liv­ery from in­ven­to­ry to pa­tients with­out a re­quire­ment for pre­treat­ment, the com­pa­ny says.

Atara’s most ad­vanced pro­gram, tab­ele­cleu­cel, or tab-cel (for­mer­ly ATA129), is be­ing de­vel­oped for pa­tients with Ep­stein-Barr virus (EBV) as­so­ci­at­ed post-trans­plant lym­pho­pro­lif­er­a­tive dis­or­der, as well as oth­er EBV as­so­ci­at­ed hema­to­log­ic and sol­id tu­mors, in­clud­ing na­sopha­ryn­geal car­ci­no­ma (NPC).

“I am ex­cit­ed to join Atara and lead re­search and de­vel­op­ment dur­ing this trans­for­ma­tion­al pe­ri­od, in­clud­ing the on­go­ing Phase III de­vel­op­ment of tab-cel, the po­ten­tial first com­mer­cial­ly avail­able off-the-shelf, al­lo­gene­ic T cell im­munother­a­py,” said Berg­er in a state­ment. “Atara’s ro­bust pipeline in on­col­o­gy, au­toim­mune and vi­ral dis­ease, as well as its man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­per­tise and grow­ing glob­al com­mer­cial ca­pa­bil­i­ties unique­ly po­si­tion the com­pa­ny to trans­form the lives of pa­tients with se­ri­ous med­ical con­di­tions. To­geth­er with Atara’s strong R&D lead­er­ship team, we will con­tin­ue to fo­cus on rig­or­ous late-stage clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment and lever­ag­ing the full po­ten­tial of our tech­nol­o­gy plat­form.”

Isaac Ciechanover

Atara is al­so de­vel­op­ing ATA188 and ATA190, T cell im­munother­a­pies for the po­ten­tial treat­ment of mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.

Berg­er will re­port di­rect­ly to Atara’s pres­i­dent and CEO, Isaac Ciechanover, and will man­age all R&D lead­er­ship func­tions.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; 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.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Rob Califf (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Biden like­ly to nom­i­nate Ver­i­ly's Rob Califf to lead the FDA again

Capping a controversially long period for the FDA to go without a permanent leader, President Joe Biden is likely to select Verily’s Rob Califf, a former FDA commissioner under President Obama, as the next FDA commissioner nominee.

A former Duke cardiologist and member of the prestigious National Academy of Medicine, Califf will be a welcome face for an agency grappling with high-profile retirements in CBER and CDER. He’ll also return to a role that he was comfortable in for a short stint at the end of Obama’s presidency. The Washington Post first reported the news.

FDA ad­comm votes unan­i­mous­ly in sup­port of a J&J Covid-19 boost­er two months af­ter one-dose shot

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) on Friday voted 19-0 in favor of authorizing a second shot of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine to follow at least two months after the initial dose.

Regulators don’t have to follow VRBPAC’s recommendation, but they almost always do. Considering that the CDC’s advisory committee has already been set to review the expanded EUA, VRBPAC’s recommendation is likely to be adopted.

Tillman Gerngross, Adagio CEO

Q&A: Till­man Gern­gross ex­plains why his Covid mAb will have an edge over an al­ready crowd­ed field

If anyone knows about monoclonal antibodies, it’s serial entrepreneur, Adimab CEO, and Dartmouth professor of bioengineering Tillman Gerngross.

Even the name of Gerngross’ new antibody startup Adagio Therapeutics is meant to reflect his vision behind the development of his Covid-19 mAb: slowly, he said, explaining that “everyone else, whether it’s Regeneron, Lilly, or AstraZeneca, Vir, they all valued speed over everything.”

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