Legend Biotech has a new chairwoman and permanent CEO. But where is Frank Zhang?
Frank Zhang isn’t going back to Legend Biotech any time soon.
More than a month after the Somerset, NJ-based company disclosed that Zhang was placed under house arrest in China for a customs investigation, it has installed Ying Huang — its CFO and interim CEO since late September — as the permanent leader, while tapping board director Ye (Sally) Wang as the chairwoman.
Zhang used to hold both of those titles. In a statement, Legend said he remains on the board of directors and offered his support through a written proxy. There is no update on his status.
The shocking turn of events in September, Legend said, surrounded suspected violations of import and export regulations by GenScript. While Legend had already been spun out from the Hong Kong-listed CRO and had its own Nasdaq listing by then, it remained a subsidiary and some of its staffers were former GenScript employees. As part of their inspection of GenScript offices in Nanjing and Zhenjiang, China’s Customs Anti-Smuggling Department also raided Legend.
Having risen from a virtual unknown to a star player partnered with J&J — and riding on that to a $424 million IPO earlier this year — Legend’s shares took a beating from the news. The incident also cast a cloud on the US/China biopharma dealmaking landscape, where transparency and clear expectations are critical.
But Legend has vowed to ensure that its pipeline of cell therapies will move ahead on time. The only press release it’s issued since Zhang was placed under house arrest featured new data from a pivotal US study conducted with J&J, affirming the efficacy of its BCMA CAR-T with a 94% response rate and 55% complete response rate. (It also revealed that out of 97 patients in the study, 10 died.)
The new appointments, in the same way, are all about “enhancing operational execution.”
Wang co-founded GenScript with Zhang in 2002, serving as the chief operating officer, president and board member at various points. Huang, a seasoned biotech analyst who came on board in July 2019, helped lead Legend’s crossover round and IPO.
The duo will be overseeing an expanded pipeline at Legend, which now features a Phase I allogeneic candidate targeting BCMA.