Peer Review

Heptares co-founder Fiona Marshall to lead Merck’s London research hub; Ablynx appoints Robert Friesen as new CFO

Fiona Marshall

→ In a boost to its planned $1.3 billion UK drug research hub and headquarters, Merck has recruited the noted British scientist and biotech exec Fiona Marshall to the top job at the center, which is expected to open in London in 2020. The Heptares co-founder resigned from the EVP and CSO positions at parent company Sosei last week, making waves in the G protein-coupled receptors-targeting biotech she helped create. Her new appointment puts her in charge of a staff of 950, with Merck recruiting 150 scientists for the operation, and she will be focused on early bioscience discovery and entrepreneurial innovation. The US pharma giant’s investment in the UK was a much needed public relations help for the government amid the uncertainty of Brexit, and hiring a high profile local scientist was another apparent vote of confidence.

→ With GlaxoSmithKline’s Korea general manager Hong Yoo-seok appointed the new chief of GSK Canada, Julien Samson is moving from the UK to head the Seoul office. Samson, a vice president, has been leading medicine commercialization for the company’s global respiratory franchise. Prior to joining GSK in 2012, Samson worked at France’s public hospitals and government agencies.

→ Now that the buzz around Novo’s buyout offer has died down, Ablynx $ABLX is refocusing on its nanobody science and bringing in a new CSO to replace Antonin de Fougerolles, now CEO at Evox Therapeutics. The appointee is Robert Friesen, the former global head of biologics at Janssen. Also a member of the executive committee, he will lead the Belgian biotech’s scientific, research and technology activities.

→ After a stint of more than 15 years at Actelion, acquired by J&J, Jean-Marc Bellemin is taking a new job at Emeryville, CA-based Gritstone Oncology. As CFO and EVP of finance, Bellemin has a broad mandate to lead the immunotherapy company’s finance, accounting and investor relations functions, as well as human resources and information technology. All of this will be familiar to him, as he steered much of Actelion’s strategic decisions before J&J bought out the Swiss biotech.

→ As Redx Pharma readies its launch into the clinical stage, it is turning to new CMO Andrew Saunders for oncology clinical insights. Having worked in the Norwegian immuno-oncology biotech Lytix Biopharma for three years, Saunders will now join the R&D team in spearheading the clinical development of RXC004 — the UK company’s lead drug candidate and a porcupine inhibitor — which is set to begin Phase I in a few weeks. Outside of biotech, his resume also boasts of clinical positions at big pharmas such as Eli Lilly and Roche, where he was global clinical science leader for rituximab (Rituxan).

→ After years in big name companies, Biogen vet Thomas Engber has joined Disarm Therapeutics as SVP, head of neuropharmacology and translational sciences. Whereas (most recently) in Takeda he was in charge of evaluating new technologies and scouting partnerships, now he will be guiding translational strategies for the in-house anti-axonal degeneration program.

Jonas Hannestad

→ San Carlos, CA-based Alkahest has made two new hires to advance its fight against age-related diseases. Yale professor Jonas Hannestad has been recruited from rival Denali to take on the role of senior medical director, and he will oversee the Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s programs. Karl Trass, a biotech vet most recently of Allergan-acquired Tobira, is the new VP of regulatory affairs. Alkahest’s pipeline consists of protein products derived from blood plasma, which it’s developing with Spain’s Grifols.

→ French biotech Advicenne has named Linda Law its US vice president, clinical development and medical affairs, with a focus on the pivotal Phase II/III study for ADV7103, the company’s most advanced program. A longtime pharma consultant, Law will also oversee Advicenne’s other clinical development and medical affairs in its orphan renal and neurological diseases pipeline.

→ In conjunction with its $15.5 million series C funding, Bonti — a neurotoxin developer led by several former Allergan/Botox execs — is onboarding David Ramsay as CFO. Ramsay previously held the same position at Halozyme.

→ Having served as interim CFO since last October, Richard Fitzgerald is finally going full-time at Eleven Biotherapeutics. The Cambridge, MA biotech is testing its lead targeted protein therapy, Vicinium, with AstraZeneca’s PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor durvalumab in a form of bladder cancer.


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