Join­ing the ex­o­dus at Gilead, CMO An­drew Cheng makes the switch to biotech CEO — trig­ger­ing a cross-coun­try move for Akero

An­drew Cheng spent close to 20 years at Gilead, end­ing as its chief med­ical of­fi­cer af­ter play­ing a key role in de­vel­op­ing a string of block­busters. Now, af­ter mak­ing a re­cent ex­it at Gilead in an ex­o­dus of top ex­ecs, he’s sur­faced at the helm of an up­start biotech with plans to play a dis­rup­tive role in the bur­geon­ing NASH field.

Jonathan Young

Cheng is the new CEO of Akero Ther­a­peu­tics, and his re­cruit­ment was im­por­tant enough for the still-small com­pa­ny to de­cide to switch its head­quar­ters from the hot hub in Cam­bridge, MA to trendy San Fran­cis­co. And start­up CEO Jonathon Young will now switch to the COO’s job.

With ven­ture cash surg­ing and IPOs still hot, start­up biotech has been an ap­peal­ing field for top re­searchers at the big play­ers look­ing for new chal­lenges — and an eq­ui­ty stake. Gilead in par­tic­u­lar has seen the re­volv­ing door to the ex­ec­u­tive suite spin in re­cent months, with CEO John Mil­li­gan join­ing Chair­man John Mar­tin and R&D chief Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er as they head out in search of new ca­reer chap­ters.

Tim Rolph

Akero CSO Tim Rolph has been en­thu­si­as­tic about the biotech’s chances in the crowd­ed NASH field. A Pfiz­er vet, Rolph is work­ing on an FGF21 drug that’s al­ready been through ear­ly-stage work at Am­gen. Now the com­pa­ny plans to jump in­to Phase II next year.

“My ex­pe­ri­ence with FGF21 goes back 8 years,” Rolph told me in June, when Akero land­ed its $65 mil­lion launch round. And the sci­ence around FGF21, he added, has grown ex­po­nen­tial­ly in the last 3 to 4 years. “It’s a mech­a­nism that us­es the whole body to get to a bet­ter place,” not­ed Rolph. “It plays an es­sen­tial role restor­ing cells un­der stress — that’s what drove my in­ter­est.”

I asked Cheng via email what prompt­ed him to jump from a lead­ing R&D role at a com­pa­ny with a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar re­search bud­get to a start­up. His re­ply:

I’ve spent most of my pro­fes­sion­al ca­reer at Gilead. I had the tremen­dous op­por­tu­ni­ty to shape and build a re­al­ly ex­cit­ing clin­i­cal pro­gram in HIV and be part of the growth and tra­jec­to­ry of the com­pa­ny from an ear­ly stage. Our ther­a­pies have ben­e­fit­ed mil­lions of peo­ple around the world. When I was ap­proached with the Akero op­por­tu­ni­ty, I was moved to once again build some­thing — to work with a great team, and be close to the sci­ence and clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment. Our lead can­di­date is a com­pelling as­set with strong po­ten­tial in NASH and oth­er meta­bol­ic dis­eases, one that I’m con­fi­dent we can build a com­pa­ny around.

Ap­ple Tree Part­ners, where Young has been a part­ner, seed­ed the project. At­las Ven­ture, ven­Bio Part­ners and Ver­sant Ven­tures all joined as co-leads, mak­ing an im­pres­sive group of deep-pock­et in­vestors, which no doubt played a big role in woo­ing Cheng. The in­vestors are rep­re­sent­ed on the board by Aaron Kantoff, Kevin Bit­ter­man, Aaron Roys­ton and Gra­ham Walm­s­ley.


Im­age: An­drew Cheng. AKERO

How Pa­tients with Epilep­sy Ben­e­fit from Re­al-World Da­ta

Amanda Shields, Principal Data Scientist, Scientific Data Steward

Keith Wenzel, Senior Business Operations Director

Andy Wilson, Scientific Lead

Real-world data (RWD) has the potential to transform the drug development industry’s efforts to predict and treat seizures for patients with epilepsy. Anticipating or controlling an impending seizure can significantly increase quality of life for patients with epilepsy. However, because RWD is secondary data originally collected for other purposes, the challenge is selecting, harmonizing, and analyzing the data from multiple sources in a way that helps support patients.

$DNA is once again on NYSE; FDA clears Soliris chal­lenger for the mar­ket; Flag­ship’s think­ing big again with eR­NA; and more

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I still remember the uncertainty in the air last year when nobody was sure whether ASCO would cancel their in-person meeting. But it’s now back again for the second virtual conference, and Endpoints News is here for it. Check out our 2-day event reviewing the landscape of cancer R&D and send news our way.

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Re­gen­eron's Evkeeza shows promise in curb­ing high triglyc­erides, but will ge­net­ic dis­par­i­ties lim­it use?

When Regeneron scored an early approval for lipid lowering antibody Evkeeza back in February, the drugmaker cracked open a new pathway to lower abnormally high cholesterol levels. Now, Regeneron is chasing high triglycerides as well with some promising mid-stage data — but will genetic restrictions limit the drug’s use?

Regeneron’s Evkeeza (evinacumab) cut median triglyceride levels by more than 800 mg/dL (57%) in patients with a rare disorder causing abnormally high triglyceride levels compared with an overall increase of 50 mg/dL (1.8%) in participants on placebo, according to Phase II data presented Sunday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.

Michael Dell (Richard Drew, AP Images)

'Dude, you're get­ting a Del­l' — as a new deep-pock­et biotech in­vestor

What happens when you marry longtime insiders in the global biotech VC game with the family fund of tech billionaire Michael Dell, a synthetic biology legend out of MIT and Harvard and the former director of the NCI?

Today, the answer is a newly financed, $200 million biotech SPAC now cruising the industry for a top player interested in finding a short cut to Nasdaq.

Orion Biotech Opportunities priced their blank check company today, raising $200 million with Dell’s multibillion-dollar MSD group’s commitment on investing another $20 million in a forward-purchase agreement.

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As­traZeneca's Farx­i­ga missed big on Covid-19 study, but it's tak­ing SGLT2 safe­ty da­ta as a sil­ver lin­ing

AstraZeneca hasn’t seen many setbacks in recent months for SGLT2 inhibitor Farxiga, which broke ground in heart failure and kidney disease regardless of diabetes diagnosis. But the British drugmaker had to admit defeat in taking Farxiga into Covid-19, but follow-up results add a bit of a silver lining to that trial’s safety data.

Of hospitalized Covid-19 patients dosed with AstraZeneca’s Farxiga, 11.2% experienced an organ failure or died after 30 days of therapy compared with 13.8% of those given placebo, according to follow-up data from the DARE-19 study revealed Sunday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.

Vas Narasimhan (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis whiffs on En­tresto study af­ter heart at­tacks — but that does­n't mean it's go­ing down qui­et­ly

If Novartis learned one thing from its interaction with the FDA over its latest heart failure approval for Entresto, it was that missing a primary endpoint may not be the nail in the coffin. Now, Entresto has missed again on a late-stage study in high-risk heart patients, and it’s already sowing the seeds for a path forward regardless.

Novartis’ Entresto couldn’t best standard-of-care ramipril in staving off a composite of deaths and heart failure events in patients with left ventricular systolic dysfunction and/or pulmonary congestion who have had a prior heart attack, according to topline data from the Phase III PARADISE-MI study revealed Saturday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.

Pfiz­er, Bris­tol My­er­s' Eliquis flops in post-heart surgery pa­tients, spurring an 'un­ex­plained sig­nal' in cer­tain deaths

Pfizer and Bristol Myers Squibb’s non-warfarin blood thinner Eliquis has raced out to become the most prescribed drug of its class on the market — even overtaking warfarin’s long-time lead. But in tricky-to-treat patients after a valve replacement, an investigator-sponsored study couldn’t turn up benefit and raised a troubling safety signal.

Eliquis failed to show benefit over standard of care in preventing serious clinical outcomes after a transaortic valve replacement (TAVR) and was linked to an “unexplained signal” in a subset of populations with a higher rate of non-CV deaths who did not need blood thinners apart from the surgery, according to data presented Saturday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.

Gene ther­a­py from Bio­gen's $800M buy­out flops in mid-stage study, deal­ing blow to new am­bi­tions

The #2 candidate from Biogen’s $800 million ocular gene therapy buyout has failed in a mid-stage trial, dealing an early blow to the big biotech’s plans to revitalize its pipeline with new technologies.

Biogen announced that the candidate, an experimental treatment for a rare and progressive form of blindness called X-linked retinitis pigmentosa (XLRP), failed to sufficiently improve vision in patients’ treated eye — patients only received an injection in one eye — after a year, on a standard scale, compared to their untreated eye. The company said they saw “positive trends” on several secondary endpoints, including visual acuity, but declined to say whether the trial actually hit any of those endpoints.

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Bris­tol My­ers backs up its case for heart drug mava­camten as FDA weighs app in car­diomy­opa­thy

When Bristol Myers Squibb signed off on its $13 billion acquisition of MyoKardia back in October, it was making a big bet that lead drug mavacamten could prove a game changer in cardiac myopathy. Now, with the drug up for FDA review, Bristol Myers is backing up its case with new quality of life data.

Patients dosed with myosin inhibitor mavacamten posted a clinically significant increase in scores on the Kansas City Cardiomyopathy Questionnaire, a catch-all summary of symptoms and quality of life markers, over placebo at 30 weeks, according to data from the Phase III EXPLORER-HCM study presented Saturday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.