UPDATED: Lonnie Moulder woos a seasoned development expert from Hillhouse's US/China play to helm his startup
Back in 2010, when Tesaro was still a nascent biotech startup, Lonnie Moulder remembers taking due diligence trips to China to meet and understand companies that could be potential commercialization partners for their immuno-oncology programs. One of them was Hutchison China MediTech, or Chi-Med, which was then led by CEO Samantha Du and CMO Hua Mu.
A lot has changed since then.
Tesaro ended up striking a pact with Zai Lab — Du’s pioneering US/China biotech — before getting snapped up by GlaxoSmithKline for $5 billion. Chi-Med has just renamed itself to HutchMed. Moulder himself set up his latest biotech startup, dubbed Zenas, to have a go at a version 2.0 of the global approach he had experimented with at Tesaro.
And Mu has just been recruited as the president, CEO and acting chief medical officer of Zenas, where he will be tasked with overseeing a development-stage pipeline in immunology. Joe Farmer, a former colleague of Moulder’s at Tesaro, is also coming on board as chief business and adminsitrative officer.
“As a cross border company, it’s important to us that we have the right mix of executives that have deep experience and knowledge in both Western markets, specifically the US, and also in China,” Moulder, who’s moving from interim CEO to the executive chairman seat, told Endpoints News.
With 20 people split between Shanghai and stateside, Zenas is focused on moving the molecules it’s licensed into clinical trials through 2022. Some of them will be executed in China only, while the rest will have global plans anchored by Chinese sites.
Just before he jumped ship, Mu had helped Hillhouse Capital put together another cross border company at Overland Pharma, hailing a new kind of in-licensing model that promised Western biotech entrepreneurs a way into China that was at once faster, more flexible and at a larger scale. The proposition was attractive enough that ADC Therapeutics and Allogene both signed on for joint venture deals.
“In the past, I think the focus was more on the execution, operational futures, right, because those assets had already mitigated risk before,” Mu said at the time, giving the example of Zejula, which Zai Lab licensed from Tesaro when it was in Phase III. “The key was how to execute the program, development and registration in China.”
These days, he added, “it’s more sophisticated as we talk about one of our focus is on those truly innovative, for example first in class drugs either just POC or near POC, relatively earlier. In this way, the two sides of the collaboration, they have to work more closely. In other words, it requires greater integration of the global expertise experience and the local expertise.”
Before taking on the interim CEO/CMO role at Overland, Mu has held a series of top roles at Simcere, WuXi, Biogen and Genentech. His departure leaves co-founder Ed Zhang solely in charge. Already the COO and CBO, Zhang has also been appointed interim CEO while a new CMO should arrive in the coming weeks.
“We are grateful to Hua for all of his contributions to helping get Overland off the ground,” he wrote in an email to Endpoints. “His departure from Overland was recent and under a mutual agreement. We wish him all the best with his new role at Zenas.”