John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

'I want to be a grand­dad': Why John Maraganore left and where he (and Al­ny­lam) are go­ing

John Maraganore knew that peo­ple would be sur­prised when Al­ny­lam an­nounced his de­par­ture this morn­ing af­ter 19 years as CEO of the com­pa­ny. But he said it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock.

“Nine­teen years as a CEO lead­ing Al­ny­lam has been the great­est joy of my life, but 19 years has been a long time,” he said in an in­ter­view Thurs­day morn­ing. That’s “be­ing in the 24/7 op­er­a­tional mode of run­ning a com­pa­ny for 19 years.”

Maraganore, 59, start­ed as CEO when Phillip Sharp and a hand­ful of sci­en­tists and in­vestors de­cid­ed to launch a new com­pa­ny around RNAi, a new tech­nol­o­gy for si­lenc­ing genes that would go on to win the No­bel Prize. He re­mained CEO as the com­pa­ny faced tech­no­log­i­cal hur­dles, laid off em­ploy­ees, and lost the in­ter­est of in­vestors and large phar­mas.

But be­gin­ning about a decade ago, Maraganore out­lined a se­ries of five-year plans that, by 2018, re­sult­ed in the first ap­proved RNAi drug. An­oth­er ap­proval fol­lowed each suc­ces­sive year, and a fourth is like­ly to come in 2022.

In the process, he won a rare de­gree of trust from the once skep­ti­cal in­vestors, which ex­plains why the stock $AL­NY dropped 12.5% on news of Maraganore’s de­pa­ture, a $3 bil­lion swing for the big biotech.

So Maraganore will like­ly have his share of of­fers, though he’ll prob­a­bly turn many down. His CEO days are done, he said: Too much time, too much en­er­gy, too much com­mit­ment.

“My wife would punch me in the gut,” he said.

In­stead, he’ll drift for the ven­ture world, he said, even if he nev­er ful­ly joins any one firm. He be­lieves the hey­day of bio­med­ical in­no­va­tion is just be­gin­ning and he wants to ad­vise new com­pa­nies at the fore­front.

“It’s like a grand­fa­ther, right?  You get the ben­e­fit of lov­ing your grand­chil­dren, but not hav­ing to take care of them all the time,” Maraganore said. “I want to be a grand­dad.”

Yvonne Green­street

He leaves the keys to Al­ny­lam with Yvonne Green­street, who joined the biotech in 2016 af­ter stints at Pfiz­er and GSK and who was pro­mot­ed last year to pres­i­dent and COO.

Green­street, al­so 59, will be re­spon­si­ble for ex­e­cut­ing Al­ny­lam’s lat­est five-year plan. Un­veiled be­fore last year’s JPM, it promised to leave as a top five biotech by mar­ket cap by 2025, with six drugs on the mar­ket, 20 mol­e­cules in the clin­ic, and 500,000 pa­tients tak­ing RNAi ther­a­peu­tics glob­al­ly.

The new move won’t change that plan, Green­street said. Al­ny­lam had been ear­mark­ing her as a suc­ces­sor for “a bit of time,” Maraganore said, and she helped craft the lat­est plan.

Ex­e­cut­ing will re­quire com­pet­ing with oth­er new modal­i­ties. RNAi was one of the on­ly ge­net­ic tech­nolo­gies avail­able when Al­ny­lam was found­ed, along­side an­ti­sense. Now, thanks in part to some of the in­no­va­tions the com­pa­ny helped pi­o­neer, there are more than a half dozen, in­clud­ing mR­NA, gene ther­a­py, gene edit­ing.

This year, In­tel­lia, one of the first CRISPR com­pa­nies, showed proof-of-con­cept for a one-time treat­ment for amy­loi­do­sis, threat­en­ing Al­ny­lam’s biggest rev­enue gen­er­a­tor: On­pat­tro, an amy­loi­do­sis treat­ment that has to be giv­en every three weeks. The com­pa­ny’s next big drug is a new amy­loi­do­sis treat­ment that has to be giv­en quar­ter­ly.

Green­street and Maraganore are con­fi­dent, though, that Al­ny­lam will re­main com­pet­i­tive in any dis­ease that in­volves knock­ing down a gene. They’re work­ing on med­i­cines with even longer du­ra­tions, re­search­ing ways to de­liv­er in­to the ner­vous sys­tem with Re­gen­eron, and be­gin­ning to push their own drugs in more com­mon dis­or­ders.

“I’m go­ing to con­tin­ue ex­e­cut­ing with­out los­ing any mo­men­tum,” Green­street said in an in­ter­view. “We’ve on­ly just re­al­ly start­ed see­ing the pos­si­ble is well be able to de­liv­er to pa­tients with RNAi.”

Spe­cial re­port: Meet 20 ex­tra­or­di­nary women who are su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D

Even though many biopharma leaders have come together in recent years to address its gender gap, the consensus is clear: We still have a long way to go.

Companies this year were 2.5 times more likely than last year to have a diversity and inclusion program in place, according to a recent BIO survey, but women are still largely absent from executive roles. Getting women to enter the industry isn’t the problem — studies show that they represent just under half of all biotech employees around the world. But climbing through the ranks can be challenging, as women still report facing stereotypes, and, unfortunately, harassment.

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Op­ti­miz­ing Oral Drug De­liv­ery us­ing Zy­dis® Oral­ly Dis­in­te­grat­ing Tablet Tech­nol­o­gy to Ad­dress Pa­tient Chal­lenges

KEY POINTS

Patients prefer oral dosing, but swallowing tablets can be a challenge for many patients.
The Zydis® orally disintegrating tablet (ODT) platform addresses challenges associated with oral dosing, expanding benefits for patients and options for healthcare providers.
A strong growth trajectory is expected for ODTs given therapeutic innovation and continued technology development.

Many patients prefer conventional tablets for the administration of medications, but some geriatric and pediatric patients and those with altered mental status and physical impairments find swallowing tablets to be difficult. Orally disintegrating tablets (ODTs), which dissolve completely without chewing or sucking, offer a patient-friendly dosage form for the administration of small-molecule drugs, peptides and proteins. With the potential for multiple sites of drug absorption, often faster onset action for the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), and potentially greater bioavailability, ODTs are an attractive option for drug developers considering first-to-market formulations or product line extensions of existing drugs with compatible API. In this report, we look at how innovation in the industry-leading Zydis ODT platform is expanding oral formulation options and bringing benefits to patients.

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Geoffrey Porges (SVB Leerink)

The 2022 wave com­ing? Top an­a­lyst says Big Phar­ma will have more than $1T avail­able to sat­is­fy its grow­ing ap­petite for biotech M&A

All through this year you could practically feel the frustration of the biotech investor class as M&A activity continued to drag behind expectations — or desires. Buyouts of public companies provide the essential juice for keeping stocks lively, and there’s been a notable lack of juice in 2021.

So is all that about to change, big time?

SVB Leerink’s Geoffrey Porges, a longtime student of biotech M&A, thinks so. In a lengthy analysis he put out last week, Porges totted up the cash flow of the major pharmas and determined that there was a good long list of industry buyers who would have around a half trillion dollars of cash to play with in 2022. Leverage that up with added debt and you could get that deal cache to $1.6 trillion.

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Richard Lerner (Scott Audette/AP Images)

Richard Lern­er, an­ti­body pi­o­neer and long­time pres­i­dent of Scripps Re­search, dies at 83

Richard Lerner, the esteemed biochemist who pioneered a new way to develop monoclonal antibodies and led Scripps Research Institute to prominence, has passed away.

A spokesperson for Scripps told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Lerner died of cancer in his La Jolla home. He was 83 years old.

Among other things, Lerner’s lab was known for devising a new technique for creating antibodies — deployed as cancer treatments as well as in immunology and disease research — one that the New York Times called a “major advance in biotechnology.” It led to companies making mAbs a thousand times faster, more accurately, at a lower cost. That foundational research cemented the discovery of Humira, which went on to become the world’s best-selling treatment.

Gary Glick, Odyssey Therapeutics founder

Al­ways busy, Gary Glick re­cruits Or­biMed in a mas­sive $218M Se­ries A for enig­mat­ic da­ta sci­ence biotech

Gary Glick is back at it again, founding yet another biotech company. And by the sheer size of its first raise, this may be the biggest one yet.

Glick has assembled what he calls an all-star roster and recruited one of the biggest healthcare investors in OrbiMed to put together a massive $218 million Series A for his newest venture, Odyssey Therapeutics. The launch, announced Tuesday morning and co-led by SR One Capital Management, comes not three months after Glick sold First Wave Bio to AzurRx for $229 million.

Mar­ket­ingRx Matchup: How Ab­b­Vie and Bio­haven ads rank in head-to-head mi­graine chal­lenge

Are you ready to rumble? DTC brands that is. MarketingRx is launching a new monthly feature today called MarketingRx Matchup. We’re pitting two pharma brands’ DTC advertising in the same therapeutic category against each other to find out what consumers and patients really think.

Market research company Leger is handling the polling and analysis each month, and I’ll be writing up the results — along with my own take — inside MRx on the first Tuesday of the month.

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Wendy Lund, Organon chief communications officer

Q&A: Organon chief com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer Wendy Lund talks about the Mer­ck spin­off, women’s health and why it mat­ters

One of Wendy Lund’s earliest jobs was head of marketing at Planned Parenthood. As the youngest person on its management team, she introduced them to emerging new technologies, and in return, she learned the importance of fighting for what you believe in.

Now as chief communications officer at Organon, the women’s health company recently spun off by Merck, Lund is keeping that point top of mind. That’s in part because women’s health hasn’t been a spotlight therapy area for Big Pharma in years. Several companies have spun off, sold or at least considered selling women’s health assets to focus on “core” products.

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Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: Pfiz­er re-ups pneu­mo­nia ads as Mer­ck threat looms; Re­al Chem­istry founder CEO Jim Weiss steps back

Every autumn, leaves fall from the trees and people start holiday shopping – and for the last few years Pfizer debuts a new “Know Pneumonia” awareness TV ad. This year the commercial, launched a week ago, features different people who talk about why they got vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia. Actors portray a young female firefighter with asthma, a mechanic with heart disease and an older woman with her grandchild. A Pfizer spokesperson declined comment on the latest iteration of the long-running campaign.

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Mer­ck pumps the brakes on two more PhI­II tri­als for its lead an­ti-HIV drug

After trial investigators flagged a drop in immune cell counts that an external committee determined was related to treatment last month, Merck has been pausing HIV-related Phase II and III trials ever since.

On Monday, the biopharma company announced it’s pausing enrollment in two of its Phase III trials evaluating its leading anti-HIV drug candidate, which is the once-monthly, oral islatravir.

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