Peer Review

Japanese billionaire Mikitani takes full control of Rakuten Aspyrian; HOX Therapeutics taps Karl Keegan as CEO

→ Having infused $150 million into Rakuten Aspyrian weeks ago, Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani is stepping up his control on the biotech he’s been chairing since 2016. The Japanese billionaire, known for building a legendary e-tailer from scratch, is taking over the CEO role so that Miguel Garcia-Guzman can continue to build the photoimmunotherapy pipeline as CSO and vice chairman. As the San Diego-based company turns the corner on a Phase III study, it’s also appointed Takashi Toraishi, who was managing its Japan offices, as COO to oversee clinical trials and commercialization.

→ With Jackie Fouse gone to take the reins of Agios, Dermavant Sciences — a dermatology focused unit of Vivek Ramaswamy’s Roivant Sciences — has hired industry veteran Todd Zavodnick as its CEO, as the company prepares to begin a late-stage trial of its lead experimental drug, tapinarof. Zavodnick comes with over two decades of experience, having worked at ZELTIQ Aesthetics before it was acquired by Allergan $AGN as well as Galderma, among other firms.

→ Cancer biotech HOX Therapeutics has appointed new CEO Karl Keegan to lead its entry into the clinic. In a career spanning product development at SmithKline Beecham, investment analyst in London and CFO/corporate development roles at Pharming, Vectura and Shield Therapeutics, the company notes, he’s amassed significant experience in financing companies, business development and corporate M&A. He is now expected to bring it all to the table at Guildford, UK-based HOX, which is focused on a type of “control” genes central to embryogenesis called HOX.

→ Serial entrepreneur Peter Suzdak is out at Rexahn Pharmaceuticals, passing the president and CEO baton to Douglas Swirsky. Swirsky, who joined the cancer drug developer at the beginning of the year, will carry on being CFO. A former investment banker, Swirsky was chief executive at GenVec for four years until it was sold to Intrexon.

→ After a decade with Thomas VanCott at the helm, ABL is turning a new leaf by promoting chief commercial officer Jarlath Keating to president and CEO. While Keating is a recent hire, he’s a veteran of the contract research and manufacturing service industry, having held commercial roles at MilliporeSigma and technical roles at Lonza Biologics. His appointment, the company says, is a “clear reflection of ABL’s commitment to a long-term global expansion strategy.”

→ Four new execs are coming on board Flagship-seeded Sigilon Therapeutics’ pursuit of the Holy Grail in diabetes: getting stem cells to transform into insulin producing pancreatic beta cells without triggering a severe immune reaction. Deya Corzo has joined as CMO after working up her clinical trial muscles at Sojournix, uniQure, Celgene, Takeda and Sanofi/Genzyme; ViaCyte vet Olivia Kelly is named VP of islet cell therapy research; Martha Rook is jumping from MilliporeSigma to become head of manufacturing; and Vanya Sagar, formerly of Biogen, will be VP of HR.  

Agenus’ $AGEN in-house mid-stage checkpoints and cancer vaccines may still have a long path to commercialization, but the Lexington, MA-based biotech wants to be sure it’s ready for it. Jennifer Buell is now chief operating officer, a role that combines all three positions she’s held in her five years at the company: She has a broad mandate covering research, clinical development, manufacturing and commercial operations. Allison Jeynes-Ellis, biopharma vet and Avillion CEO, has been appointed as a board director.  

Elliot Ehrich

Kevin Forrest has brought in a new partner from 5AM Ventures — where he used to be a principal — to his team at Expansion Therapeutics. Elliot Ehrich, the newly minted CMO, had recently joined the venture firm after a 17-year run at Alkermes that culminated in the top R&D and medical role. His experience in driving drug assets from early research through approval will be “instrumental” for Expansion, CEO Forrest says, which is still in discovery stage with its RNA-targeting small molecule medicines designed to treat a set of genetic diseases called expansion repeat disorders.

→ As Asha Das makes an abrupt departure from Tocagen to tend to “unforeseen and immediate personal matters,” it’s tapped a board member to fill in as the acting CMO. Lori Kunkel, who has three CMO stints from Loxo Oncology, Pharmacyclics and Proteolix under her belt, will take charge of advancing Tocagen’s Phase III high grade glioma program and the rest of its pipeline until the San Diego-based biotech finds a permanent hire.

→ Now that Ascletis has somewhat steadied its position on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange — albeit not an enviable one, currently trading around half of its debut price — it’s ready to move on with a new CFO on the team. Lindi Tan brings 15 years of as a healthcare analyst, with stints at SeaTown Holdings and Temasek.  

Merck vet Joel Lebowitz has joined Schrödinger as CFO at a time the computational drug discovery shop is doubling down on big biopharma partnerships, marked by a joint venture with WuXi AppTec launched days ago. Lebowitz, who spent much of his time at the pharma giant evaluating the portfolio and doing pipeline valuation, will also play a key role in business development.

→ After a decade at now troubled Idera, Louis Arcudi is moving on to his next CFO role. The seasoned exec will be entering Millendo Therapeutics with Michael Yeh, an alumni of Sobi and Biogen who’s just been appointed VP of medical affairs.

→ Oxnard, CA-based CURE Pharma has tapped venture capitalist Alex Katz to oversee its financial functions as CFO. Katz, a former managing partner for ff Venture Capital and Differential Venture Partners, has been working with the drug delivery innovator as an adviser.

→ On the heels of a much anticipated update that keeps the controversy burning over NKTR-214/Opdivo, Nektar $NKTR announced it has recruited Genentech vet Wei Lin to spearhead its oncology programs. As SVP of clinical development, Lin will have oversight not just on NKTR-214 combo trials but also the rest of the I/O pipeline.

→ We finally know where Lisa Suennen is headed after a surprising exit from GE Ventures.  Manatt Phelps & Phillips, a leading law and consulting firm with a health-focused branch, announced Suennan will head up its digital and technology businesses and as well as the firm’s venture capital fund from its San Francisco office.

Denali CMO Carole Ho has taken a board seat at Beam Therapeutics, the base editing biotech founded by CRISPR trailblazers Feng Zhang, David Liu and J Keith Joung.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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