John Robinson recruits a small band of Array vets to kickstart discovery at Cogent; Syntimmune co-founder takes charge at Arch Oncology
Biotech is a small world — and all the more so in a tight-knit community like Boulder, CO.
A serendipitous reunion with Andrew Robbins, a former colleague at Array, was what sparked John Robinson’s jump to his new gig as CSO of Cogent Biosciences.
He had started following the company, a reincarnation of the troubled cell therapy biotech Unum Therapeutics, after it tapped Robbins as CEO. The two had worked on multiple projects together at Array — as Robinson shepherded to the clinic what eventually became Mektovi, Tukysa, Vitrakvi, Retevmo and Koselugo — but parted ways after Pfizer bought it for $11.4 billion. Robinson stayed on at the pharma giant, most recently getting elevated to VP of medicinal chemistry.
Robbins, who’s tasked with rebuilding Cogent with a new focus on precision medicines, was interested in setting up an in-house discovery unit that could keep feeding into the pipeline. Those conversations turned into a plan to gather some Array veterans and launch the Cogent Research Team. There are 8 of them now, with plans to slowly grow to 50 over the next 3 to 4 years as Cogent scales the physical research facility.
“There are many many biotech opportunities right now,” Robinson admitted.
Two things about Cogent, though, drew him in: the first is CGT9486, the KIT D816V kinase inhibitor that Unum got by acquiring Kiq before the brand refresh, which he can anchor the discovery group around. The other? He was itching to roll up his sleeves to start a research organization and ready to “build something great.”
Part of the early work will involve teaming up with CMO Jessica Sachs to solidify the data around PLX9486, a key relationship to navigate.
“I’ve seen it operate in a couple of different ways,” he said. “One is sort of a siloed organization where you toss an asset over the wall. I think a really great organization is one in which the development organization and research organization has a common vision for which patients we’re going after, how we’re gonna select those patients, and there’s no surprises.”
The mantra he will be taking into the job echoes what many seasoned drug hunters say: Short-term, early and frequent failures drive long-term success.
“If you think about the fastest way to derail or kill a compound or a project and you do that as early as you can in a project and you’re not emotionally wedded to that project, you can make a really — I think a much better decision,” he said. “It’s uncomfortable, though, because you really pressure test the system early.” — Amber Tong
→ Anti-CD47 outfit Arch Oncology has named Laurence Blumberg president and CEO as board member after ex-Ideaya Biosciences CMO Julie Hambleton had been leading the biotech on an interim basis. Blumberg co-founded and was the founding CEO of Syntimmune, which Alexion nabbed in September 2018 for $1.2 billion. In addition, Blumberg co-founded Syntonix Pharmaceuticals (bought by Biogen in 2007) and was Kadmon’s SVP, project management. Hambleton was chosen as interim CEO after Julie Cherrington helmed Arch Oncology from 2017-20.
→ The search is over for a new leader at the National Pharmaceutical Council, with John O’Brien taking on the roles of president and CEO at the organization effective June 1. Robert Dubois had held those titles on an interim basis when Dan Leonard stepped aside last September after a 12-year run, and Dubois will ease back into his duties as EVP and CSO. O’Brien was senior advisor to former HHS Secretary Alex Azar and deputy assistant secretary of planning and evaluation (health policy). He’s also been VP of public policy for CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.
→ Hillhouse-backed Overland ADCT BioPharma, which bands together Overland Pharmaceuticals and ADC Therapeutics in a new kind of in-licensing model that our Amber Tong reported on in December, has brought on Eric Koo as CEO. Koo previously led the oncology business unit at Takeda China and directed both the oncology business unit and market access, external affairs & key account management at Merck Sharp and Dohme in Taiwan. He also devoted 16 years to Pfizer in an assortment of capacities ranging from product management to marketing.
→ Charlie Silver will no longer be CEO of Mission Bio, the company he co-founded in 2014, moving into an advisory role as Yan Zhang steps in to propel the biotech’s single-cell sequencing platform forward. Over a 10-year period at Thermo Fisher, Zhang was general manager of the reproductive health and microarray businesses, and in China she led the genetic sciences and clinical next-generation sequencing divisions. She’s also had marketing stints at Affymetrix and NuGEN Technologies.
→ Geoff von Maltzahn’s gene writing biotech Tessera made a loud statement with a hefty $230 million Series B, and that same splashiness is carrying over as he builds his C-suite. Tessera has plucked David Davidson from bluebird bio as chief medical and development officer while making Hari Pujar COO and Lin Guey SVP of rare diseases program strategy and operations. Davidson’s departure from Nick Leschly’s crew was announced the same week that Be Bio turned to ex-bluebird COO Joanne Smith-Farrell to fill the CEO slot. Pujar, an 18-year Merck vet who recently became an operating partner at Flagship Pioneering, is the former CTO at Spark and was Moderna’s head of technical development and manufacturing. Guey also spent time at Moderna (senior director, rare diseases) and makes the leap from Xilio, where she was VP, program and portfolio strategy.
→ Cyril Konto has left Allogene to be CMO at Glenmark spinoff Ichnos Sciences, which launched in October 2019 and is developing drugs for cancer, auto-immune disorders and pain. Konto has Big Pharma roots from Pfizer, where he was global head of early immuno-oncology clinical development, and from Bristol Myers Squibb. Not long after Allogene snapped up Pfizer’s allogeneic CAR-T portfolio in 2018, Konto became Allogene’s VP of clinical development, but now he’s ready for a change as David Chang loses a key staffer to Ichnos, helmed by Gilead alum Alessandro Riva.
→ Resurrecting birtamimab after it went bust in a Phase IIb trial, Prothena has given Hideki Garren the nod as CMO. Garren, who co-founded Bayhill Therapeutics, piloted the Phase III programs for Ocrevus and Enspryng during his tenure as Genentech’s global head of multiple sclerosis and neuroimmunology. Our Nicole DeFeudis has more on Garren’s appointment here.
→ With its June 1 PDUFA date looming and more Phase III data to comb through with relugolix, Myovant has made its biggest staff change since CEO David Marek took the baton from Lynn Seely, as longtime Roche and Genentech vet Lauren Merendino becomes chief commercial officer. Merendino had been Genentech’s VP, neurological rare diseases, ending an association with Roche and its subsidiary that began in the 1990s. Adele Gulfo had been serving as Myovant’s interim CCO for the past year.
→ Like Garren and Merendino, Howard Stern has Genentech experience of his own; in his case, he was a scientist/pathologist for seven years there. His latest chapter is with Ram Aiyar and Atlas upstart Korro Bio, the RNA editing biotech which launched in October 2019, as their CSO after nearly two years as chief scientist at FogPharma. Stern also worked in translational science at Juno Therapeutics and Infinity Pharmaceuticals.
→ Frederic Pla led off Peer Review exactly one year ago when he signed on to become COO at the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. But for Pla, another opportunity awaits as he takes on the COO post at spatial biology player Akoya Biosciences out of Marlborough, MA. Prior to his time at the Parker Institute, Pla was Genomic Health’s chief business and product development officer and later its COO up through the company’s 2019 sale to Exact Sciences for $2.8 billion.
→ Endpoints got more acquainted a year ago with Howard Federoff when he captained the ship at Aspen Neuroscience during its $70 million Series A raise. He has since decided to sign on as CEO of Brooklyn ImmunoTherapeutics, which put the finishing touches on a reverse merger with NTN Buzztime a couple weeks ago. Federoff has been a neurology professor at UC-Irvine and is the ex-CEO of UCI Health. Brooklyn is shooting for topline results of a Phase IIb trial of its cytokine-based IRX-2 for squamous cell cancer of the head and neck in 2022 after the success of the Phase IIa study.
→ Roughly a couple months after announcing its launch, Longwood Fund immunology company and Stephen Elledge spinout ImmuneID has named Annalisa D’Andrea its president and CSO. D’Andrea heads to ImmuneID after more than a year and a half as chief scientist at Kiniksa, and before that, she was Roche’s VP and global head of discovery for immunology and inflammation. Elledge and ImmuneID’s founding CEO Lea Hachigian also helped launch TScan.
→ Singin’ in the Rain: Richard Bryce has gotten the call to be CMO at Rain Therapeutics the same week that the California oncology player filed for a $100 million IPO. Prior to this latest CMO gig with Rain co-founders Robert Doebele and Avanish Vellanki, Bryce was chief medical and scientific officer at Puma Biotechnology the last four years, spending nine years total at the biotech. From 2008-12, Bryce was with Onyx Pharmaceuticals as senior medical director of clinical science.
→ Surpassing its Series A with a $57.6 million Series B last fall, Sandra Glucksmann-led cancer biotech Cedilla Therapeutics has welcomed Véronique Riethuisen as CBO and head of finance. Riethuisen hails from Ipsen, serving as SVP, global business development and strategic alliance management. She also led global transactions for a year at Takeda and has also taken on M&A, BD and alliance management posts at Pfizer, Teva, Bristol Myers and Monsanto.
→ Janssen vet Nushmia Khokhar has been selected as CMO of Seattle in vivo immunotherapy upstart Umoja Biopharma, which popped the Series A champagne bottle with $53 million in financing back in November. Khokhar, the former global clinical leader for Darzalex at Janssen, had previously been SVP, head of clinical development at Autolus, where she had served the past four years.
→ Speaking of Autolus vets, Dominic Moreland has jumped on board at Oslo-based GE Healthcare spinout Exact Therapeutics, the artists formerly known as Phoenix Solutions, as CFO. As Autolus’ VP of finance, Moreland guided the biotech through its IPO in the summer of 2018. Elsewhere, he founded and was CEO of Careology — once Genzyme’s homecare business — and it was later sold in 2010 to Medco Health Solutions.
→ Amryt — focused on the treatment of rare and orphan diseases — has signed on Sheila Frame as president Americas. Frame brings to the table experience from her times at Novartis, Bristol Myers, UCB and AstraZeneca.
→ Several weeks removed from a meaty $120 million Series B that followed its pact with Merck and now with an S-1 filed, San Diego NK cell therapy player Artiva Biotherapeutics has recruited Michael Faerm as CFO. Faerm’s previous stops have ranged from Wells Fargo (senior pharmaceuticals equity research analyst) to Theravance (CBO). Most recently he had his own enterprise, MEF Consulting, and was interim CFO and CBO for biopharma startups at Burkland Associates.
→ Jonathan Wang’s new immunology biotech, Inmagene, has appointed two execs with Anbo Xiang and Qian Xu joining the team. Xiang, Inmagene’s CMO (China) and SVP, operations, makes the move after being CMO (non-oncology) for Qilu Pharmaceutical Group. She spent 14 years in pharmaceutical R&D at GSK Japan and was a senior medical director for Hengrui. Xu, himself a former senior medical director at Hengrui, has Big Pharma credentials from Roche, Eli Lilly and Novartis.
→ Donald Wuchterl is on board as SVP and chief manufacturing officer at T cell receptor biotech T-knife Therapeutics, backed by Versant and RA Capital in its $78+ million Series A round. Wuchterl pivots to T-knife from his role as SVP, technical operations & quality for Audentes, where he spent five years. He’s also been COO at Cytovance, the director of manufacturing at Dendreon and Shire, and the senior manager of manufacturing at Amgen. Wuchterl’s appointment comes after the additions of CEO Thomas Soloway and CBO / CFO Camille Landis in January.
→ Natural killer-focused NKGen Biotech out of Santa Ana, CA has ushered in Philip Moody as CFO. Moody moved through the ranks at Chiron Corporation for 11 years, eventually serving as CFO and SVP of finance and operations, biopharmaceuticals before Novartis bought the company in 2006. He was also CFO at PaxVax before it was purchased in 2018 by the now-embattled Emergent BioSolutions.
→ Cancer metabolism-based therapy developer Tyme Technologies — helmed by ex-NFL kicker Richie Cunningham — has tapped Jan Van Tornout as acting CMO, succeeding Giuseppe Del Priore. Before founding B.IO.Pharma eConsulting, Van Tornout had brief stays as head of oncology at Natera and VP of oncology development at Inovio. He was also an oncology director at Bristol Myers Squibb and Astellas.
→ PsyBio Therapeutics has pulled in Mike Spigarelli as CMO. Spigarelli is making a quick pivot to PsyBio after taking the CMO gig at Lumen Bioscience seven months ago. In addition, Spigarelli has served at Immucor and was chair of the American Board of Clinical Pharmacology.
→ Click Therapeutics has made a new round of hires with the appointments of Randall Stanicky as CFO, Lee Shapiro as a board member and Muzammil Mansuri as board chair. Stanicky is a Wall Street veteran, bringing with him experience from RBC Capital Markets and Goldman Sachs.
Shapiro is managing partner and co-founder at investment firm 7wireVentures. His previous work includes stints at Livongo and Allscripts. Meanwhile, Mansuri serves as a partner at F-Prime Capital. Prior to F-Prime, Mansuri was EVP, strategy, business development, and licensing at Sanofi. In addition, he was SVP research and development strategy and business development at Gilead.
→ Amie Krause was elevated to SVP and chief people officer at Atara Biotherapeutics effective April 2, as reflected on Atara’s social media and website. An 11-year Amgen alum in talent acquisition and human resources, Krause has held a series of posts since she joined Atara in 2016 as senior director of human resources. In December, Bayer made a move to get a winning hand in the CAR-T game by inking a $610 million deal ($60 million of that upfront) for Atara’s assets that target mesothelin.
→ Seattle-based Nautilus Biotechnology, which took a dip in the SPAC pool by reverse merging with Arya Sciences Acquisition Corp III in February, has corralled Matt Murphy as general counsel. Murphy has most notably served as VP, general counsel at 10x Genomics and as VP of intellectual property and general counsel with Pacific Biosciences.
→ Durham, NC-based BioSkryb has brought on Sean Keohane as SVP of commercial operations. Keohane comes from numares AG, where he served as VP of US marketing and sales. Prior to that, Keohane held roles at Molecular Devices, Thermo Fisher, Qiagen and Roche among others.
→ Lexeo Therapeutics is bringing in Paul McCormac as SVP, technical operations and Libbie Mansell as SVP and head of regulatory affairs. McCormac comes to the New York-based company from Pfizer Rare Disease, where he served as medicinal sciences category lead. Prior to Pfizer, McCormac was with Avecia. As for Mansell, she joins from AskBio, where she served as SVP, regulatory affairs. Prior to AskBio, Mansell was with Curis, Genzyme and Millennium Pharmaceuticals among others.
→ Candel Therapeutics has bagged Chris Matheny as VP, development leader. Matheny brings to the table nearly two decades worth of experience from GSK — most recently serving as asset development leader on four separate immuno-oncology programs.
→ Investment firm MPM Capital has enlisted David Bredt to its team of executive partners. Prior to his new role at MPM, Bredt was site head for Johnson & Johnson’s R&D campus in La Jolla and was also global head of neuroscience discovery at J&J. Prior to that, Bredt was with Eli Lilly as VP of integrative biology and, later on, VP of neuroscience discovery and early development.
→ One of several biotechs that have braced themselves from the ferocious NASH headwinds, CymaBay has brought on Tom Wiggans and Janet Dorling to serve on the board of directors. Wiggans, the former chairman and CEO at Dermira, was recently named chairman of Annexon. Meanwhile, Dorling had a fleeting tenure as CymaBay’s CCO and then became Gilead’s SVP, global commercial product strategy in May 2020. Also, Paul Truex resigned from the CymaBay board to take on CEO duties at LQT Therapeutics.
→ A rough 2020 started out as an equally rough 2021 for DBV Technologies after the peanut patch biotech sent 200 staffers packing at the start of the year. DBV has nonetheless elected Timothy Morris to the board of directors as it picks up the pieces from the FDA rejection. Morris, the COO and CFO for Cameron Durrant at Humanigen, has also been CFO at Iovance and AcelRx.
→ With such luminaries as Sandra Horning and Ian Clark already on the board, Sean Bohen-led Olema Oncology has made room for Yi Larson on the board of directors as well. Larson just made a Peer Review appearance a month ago when she accepted the CFO post at LianBio.
→ Former Bayer Pharma CEO Dieter Weinand has added a new board seat to his résumé with his appointment to Robert Millman–founded Vesigen Therapeutics. Weinand previously served in roles at Sanofi, Pfizer, Bristol Myers and Otsuka. Weinand also participates on the boards of ZielBio and Replimune.
→ Dry eye disease biotech Oyster Point Pharma has named George Eliades to the board of directors. The ex-Bain partner has been SVP, corporate development and chief transformation officer at Jazz Pharmaceuticals since December.
→ Liver and gastrointestinal disease-focused Metacrine has pulled in ex-Millendo CEO Julia Owens to its board of directors. Currently, Owens serves as executive chairperson for the beleaguered biotech she co-founded, which merged with Tempest Therapeutics in late March. Owens also sits on the boards of BIO and Michigan Biomedical Venture Fund.
→ Sweeping the leg with a nine-figure IPO to fight cancer through its ImmunoPhage platform, Sensei Biotherapeutics has made Jessie English a member of the board of directors. An ex-staffer with Pfizer, Merck and EMD Serono, English is currently CSO at Bakx Therapeutics.
→ Panthera Biopartners has reeled in Chris Steed as non-executive director. Steed is the founder and managing partner at Argyll Partners and has gained experience from his time at Arthur Andersen and Deloitte.
→ BioRestorative Therapies — focused on stem cell-based therapies — has appointed Nickolay Kukekov to its board of directors. Currently, Kukekov is a senior managing director at Paulson Investment Company and has previously served at Highline Research Advisors, Paramount BioCapital and Rodman and Renshaw.
→ Advanced cancers-focused Penrose TherapeuTx has added Mircea Ivan, David Rubin and Patrick Farmer to its scientific advisory board. Ivan is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Indiana School of Medicine. His research contributed to the 2019 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology. Rubin is the Joseph B. Kirsner professor chair, chief of the section of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition and the co-director of the Digestive Diseases Center at UChicago Medicine. Farmer is a professor and chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry at Baylor University.