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John Kaiser finds next CEO role at Duke spinout Evecxia; Immunocore vet Namir Hassan moves to I/O biotech Zelluna

Duke spinout Evecxia has recruited biopharma vet John Kaiser to steer clinical and business plans for its 5-hydroxytryptophan slow-release depression treatment. This will be his third time in a CEO role. After leaving a 28-year sales and marketing career at Eli Lilly, Kaiser founded and ran a now-defunct biotech, then had a stint as interim CEO at Cerecor, where he had orchestrated several licensing deals as chief business officer (Cerecor is also developing, among other things, a depression drug). Evecxia is now in the clinic with EVX-101, a first-line adjunctive treatment for depressed patients responding inadequately to conventional antidepressants, though it’s unclear exactly what stage they are in.

Steven Paul has decided to extend a 35-year track record with one last shot at a big development program. He is the new chief executive of Karuna, a startup which wants to show that one of the drugs he once championed at Eli Lilly can now be readied for prime time as a significant new anti-psychotic for schizophrenia — and then some. Paul, who’s been serving as chairman at Karuna, stepped down near the beginning of the year as CEO of Voyager, the gene therapy startup he co-founded.

→ Struggling to shed a bad rep for a string of ethics scandals capped by the explosive accusations of several US Senators that company execs recently misrepresented the cozy relationship between former CEO Joe Jimenez and President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, Novartis is once again looking to clean up its act. CEO Vas Narasimhan has recruited a prominent German attorney to lead their ethics, risk and compliance efforts.

Klaus Moosmayer will now be charged with keeping the company clear of any new ethics scandals, which have come fast and frequently at the pharma giant. The lawyer has spent the past few years as chief compliance officer at Siemens and chairs the Anti-Corruption Taskforce of the Business and Industry Advisory Committee at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Moosmayer is taking the place of Shannon Thyme Klinger, newly promoted to group general counsel in the wake of Felix Ehrat’s abrupt resignation during the crisis that hit Novartis as it struggled with revelations about their $1.2 million in payments to Cohen.

→ The exodus of top execs out of a high-performing Gilead is continuing. The biotech noted Tuesday night that Chief Medical Officer Andrew Cheng is leaving the company “to pursue another opportunity.” As of now, we don’t know what that other opportunity is, but Gilead $GILD has recently seen the departure of chief R&D exec Norbert Bischofberger (to a startup) as well as the announced exits of CEO John Milligan and longtime company exec John Martin, executive chairman.

Cheng plans to stay on to September 7 to help with the transition, according to Gilead. Meanwhile Gregg Alton has been appointed to the newly created position of chief patient officer while Diana Brainard was promoted to Senior Vice President, HIV and Emerging Viral Infections. Cheng joined Gilead 19 years ago to lead the company’s development-stage programs in HIV/AIDS. He was named Executive Vice President in 2015 and CMO in March.

→ After taking off the past 7 months to travel the world and spend time with family, former Foundation Medicine exec Steve Kafka is joining the startup foundry Third Rock Venture as their latest venture partner. Kafka has spent the bulk of his career in finance and operations at various biopharma outfits, most recently serving as president and COO of Foundation. This will be Kafka’s first post in the VC world, but that’s not unusual for Third Rock partners, which prides itself on operating like a “startup studio.” “For me, the early-stage company build is the best part,” Kafka told us. “To be able to go do that again — and again and again — sounds so incredibly fun and impactful to me.”

Allergan $AGN has recruited top cancer executive Charles Hugh-Jones, the guy who’s been leading Pfizer Oncology as CMO, to serve as the pharma giant’s new senior vice president and chief medical officer. The move comes just 16 months after Hugh-Jones joined Pfizer’s oncology arm. Before that, he was a long timer at Sanofi in New Jersey, where he held several executive roles, ending up at chief medical officer in North America. The move to Allergan will take Hugh-Jones back to New Jersey, as the new gig is at Allergan’s US headquarters in Madison. There, he’ll be reporting to executive vice president and chief R&D officer David Nicholson.

→ After walking away from a long career in Big Pharma last year — only to bail from his startup of choice only 10 months later — ex-Pfizer exec Geno Germano is back on the move. The respected biopharma chief has joined New York-based Elucida Oncology, a tiny Cornell spinout working on some fascinating nanoparticle tech with applications in cancer. At Elucida, Germano will serve as president and CEO — the first full-time post he’s taken up since his abbreviated stint at Intrexon, the flashy synthetic bio startup he exited from last November.

At Pfizer, he cultivated a $14 billion operation and oversaw a portfolio of drugs spanning several therapeutics areas. He also worked at the top of Pfizer’s oncology and specialty care business units and directed the integration of industry giant Wyeth after the massive $68 billion acquisition.

→ As Sigilon CEO Paul Wotton leaves the post to handle a family health issue, the company is putting Rogerio Vivaldi — a former senior exec at Bioverativ ahead of the Sanofi buyout earlier this year — in his place at the helm. It will be Vivaldi’s job now to get the startup in the clinic, looking to move the upstart’s stem cell therapy pipeline beyond its initial forays into diabetes, hemophilia and lysosomal storage disorders. An endocrinologist by training, Vivaldi had been executive vice president, chief global therapeutic operations officer at Bioverativ. Vivaldi also co-founded and helmed Minerva Therapeutics.

→ After rising up the ranks at British T cell receptor biotech Immunocore, Namir Hassan is moving to Norway for his next gig in TCR. As chief scientific officer of Oslo-based Zelluna Immunotherapy, Hassan is responsible for both managing the existing portfolio and leading efforts to expand it, all the while building out the research team and facilities. Immunocore, a biotech unicorn noted for scoring a stunning $320 million Series A, had seen the departures of CEO Eliot Forster and CFO Paul Fry in the past few months.

→ Now that Pfenex $PFNX looks set to file an NDA for its Forteo me-too, chief medical and scientific officer Hubert Chen is turning in his notice. The San Diego-based company said that while they are searching for a successor, his departure will not affect the trajectory of PF708 as they believe their lead asset already has the FDA’s blessing. Besides, he will remain as an advisor, supporting Pfenex’s regulatory interactions. Besides PF708, Jazz-partnered Pfenex is developing a hodgepodge of “therapeutic equivalents,” biosimilars and vaccines.

Allogene Therapeutics has enlisted another esteemed biopharma exec in its ambitious plan to bring the first allogeneic CAR-T cancer therapies to market. Named chief development officer, Susie Jun is tasked with accelerating clinical development of Allogene’s preclinical assets by leveraging her experience in translational research. Well versed in hematology and oncology, Jun had directed clinical research at Amgen and Gilead before landing at her most recent role in AbbVie-Stemcentrx.

→ Having seen through Armo Biosciences’ promising immuno-oncology drug all the way to an acquisition by Eli Lilly, Joseph Leveque has found his next stop at Synthorx. While his deep I/O expertise — honed during stints at Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck KGaA where he took a front-row seat in the development of Opdivo, Yervoy and Bavencio — made him a standout for the job, the new CMO will also be responsible for driving the autoimmune applications of Synthorx’s partially synthetic biologics. The startup, based in San Diego, builds its tech on a synthetic DNA base pair engineered by Scripps professor Floyd Romesberg that has the potential to tweak proteins by introducing novel amino acids.

→ Longtime investment banker Anthony Gibney is jumping to the CBO seat at Achillion $ACHN for a change. Having observed the company from the other side of the table as co-head of the biotech team at Leerink, Gibney will now be involved in corporate strategy, business development, investor relations and corporate communications. Brian DiDonato, another former banker, has been hired to work under Gibney.

Carol Suh is the latest member of the biotech investment team at Arch Venture Partners, where she’s worked as a consultant/intern since February. Fresh out of Stanford’s business school, the 28-year-old has previously worked on Magenta Therapeutics’ launch and, before that, served as an innovation fellow at GlaxoSmithKline specializing in stem cell and regenerative medicines.

→ We now know where Alan Musso is going after Bellicum. Peloton Therapeutics has tapped the seasoned fundraiser as its first CFO. The Dallas-based company, which is developing what it hopes will be a first-in-class cancer drug, is also counting on Musso for investor relations, accounting, human resources, information systems, and operations.


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