‘Natural evolution’: Carisma’s scientific co-founder moves into the CSO post; Vas Narasimhan enlists Ronny Gal to help with Novartis revamp
When Michael Klichinsky was working with the famed Penn researchers Carl June and Saar Gill as a grad student, he didn’t picture a C-suite title in his future. But after co-founding a biotech with Gill in 2016 to go after a new cancer destroying frontier in drug development, that started to change.
“It was such a cool idea, and when we first thought it up, our initial goal was, ‘Wow, what if we could really make these cells eat anything we want to?’” Klichinsky told Endpoints News about his research that helped found the CAR macrophage technology behind Carisma Therapeutics.
After founding the startup, it took about two years for Klichinsky to leap full-time into the biotech. He climbed from VP of discovery to SVP of research and has since escalated another rung of the ladder to CSO. From that perch, he’ll head up the translational sciences team, lead a Moderna partnership on cancer cell therapies and build out the early clinical work at the 75-employee biotech. His increased responsibilities at Carisma are part of a “natural evolution,” the early-30s executive said.
With the C-suite hat placed firmly on his head in recent weeks, the 2021 Endpoints 20 under 40 honoree is ready to help the Philly-area biotech mold into its vision as an “engineered myeloid cell company,” not just a “CAR macrophage company,” Klichinsky said.
The company’s first CAR-M therapy entered human studies last year and a data readout from the first cohort is slated for ASCO this June, Klichinsky said. That “Trojan horse idea,” as the executive previously characterized to Endpoints, has blossomed into a platform and is now among a pipeline of other efforts, including discovery work on CAR monocytes, which are the precursor to the macrophage, the newly-minted CSO said.
“[B]y engineering cells at the monocyte stage, we have the potential to shorten our cell manufacturing from a week to a single day,” he said.
Oncology isn’t the only area, either. Discovery work across liver fibrosis and Alzheimer’s disease are starting to sprout up. “Macrophages in the absence of tumors accumulate in the liver,” the CSO explained. And for the neurodegenerative disease, Carisma is working with Gill’s Penn lab to look at engineering cells to target beta amyloid and other protein aggregates that are thought to trigger the memory robbing disorder.
Add CRISPR gene editing to the hopper, a collaboration to test a Carisma asset with Merck’s Keytruda in a clinical trial next year and other tie-ups, like Novartis signing on to manufacture the biotech’s CAR-Ms.
The new CSO will also play a big part in Carisma’s work with Moderna on in vivo cell therapies for cancer, potentially comprising as many as 12 programs.
— Kyle LaHucik
→ Ronny Gal will forego his work as an analyst, joining Novartis “no later than August 1” in the newly created role of chief strategy & growth officer. The industry watcher for 17 years at Bernstein is a crown jewel in CEO Vas Narasimhan’s reorganization plan, whereby Gal will be tasked with seeking M&A opportunities valued at less than $2 billion and helping the company gain traction in the US market. Narasimhan’s overhaul will affect thousands of staffers, already resulting in the dismissals of CMO John Tsai, head of oncology Susanne Schaffert and president of customer & technology solutions Robert Weltevreden.
Gal’s move brings to mind Biren Amin, who left Jefferies after nearly a decade to take the CFO job at cancer upstart Immuneering in April 2021.
→ When Merck announced the Aug. 1 return of Joseph Romanelli to take charge of the Human Health international business, it completed a three-pronged approach to replace Frank Clyburn: Jannie Oosthuizen would lead Human Health US while Arpa Garay would handle Human Health global marketing responsibilities. It turns out that Garay won’t be around to see that leadership structure through.
Garay will instead be packing up for Moderna, replacing Corinne Le Goff as chief commercial officer on May 31. With Moderna exploding into a household name, commercialization efforts are under a greater microscope for its Covid-19 vaccine, which hasn’t been readily available for low-income countries compared with the Pfizer and J&J jabs.
→ As Nektar sounds taps on bempeg, washing away the high hopes they once had for IL-2 after late-stage flops with Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo, the job cuts run deep. Nektar will jettison approximately 70% of its workforce, and the C-suite isn’t exempt. CMO Dimitry Nuyten and chief commercial officer John Northcott will walk out the door, while head of immunology Brian Kotzin gears up to replace Nuyten. Nektar’s future now hinges on two other candidates in the pipeline, NKTR-358 and NKTR-255.
→ The strategic reorganization trend has also reached Duchenne biotech Solid Biosciences, pruning its staff count by 35%. And at the end of May, Solid Bio will be saying goodbye to Joel Schneider, who started out as a science analyst in 2014 and rose to COO last year. The press release got interestingly specific about Schneider’s next steps, mentioning that he will become CEO of a “privately held novel, viral-based gene therapy platform company.” In March 2021, Solid Bio did reveal some SGT-001 data that would ostensibly help the biotech rebound from a bout of clinical holds, but investors weren’t exactly united in their enthusiasm.
→ The hits just keep on coming for BridgeBio, which is laying off an unspecified number of employees following disastrous results with its TTR amyloidosis drug acoramidis. And as Nicole DeFeudis points out in her scoop this week, “The company’s central commercial team was significantly affected.” Most notably, Cameron Turtle is out after five years with BridgeBio and one year as chief strategy officer. He’s also been CBO of BridgeBio subsidiary Eidos Therapeutics.
→ Big Pharma vet Vlad Hogenhuis has taken the CEO job at Chimera Bioengineering, a South San Francisco biotech that’s been operating out of the spotlight since 2015 and developing CAR-T therapies with its GOLD Platform technology. Hogenhuis filled several positions in his 18 years at Merck/MSD China, including chief marketing officer, before moving on to GSK in 2012. He would become SVP and global franchise head, specialty pharmaceuticals at the UK pharma giant before his appointment as COO of rare disease biotech Ultragenyx in 2018.
→ Big Pharma vet Cherry Thomas has decided to leave the Jennifer Doudna CRISPR upstart Caribou Biosciences to take her first CMO gig at Catamaran Bio. Thomas joined Caribou as SVP of clinical development two years ago from Array BioPharma, where she was VP, oncology clinical development. After touring through several pharma giants — GSK, Novartis and Bristol Myers among them — she became part of the clinical development leadership at BeiGene and Jounce Therapeutics. Specializing in off-the-shelf (CAR)-NK cell therapies, Catamaran has turned up enough in Peer Review since its November 2020 launch to earn rewards points — and this is one of the biotech’s biggest hires yet.
→ Cyrus Mozayeni’s leadership team is coming into clearer focus as Anna-Maria Demetriades is named CMO of ocular gene therapy player Vedere Bio II not long after CFO Gina Consylman’s arrival. As senior medical director for ophthalmology clinical development at Genentech, Demetriades was the lead clinician for Eylea competitor Vabysmo, which snagged an approval for diabetic macular edema and wet age-related macular degeneration in January.
→ Stephen From is making his way to the helm of Aruna Bio as CEO, succeeding Skip Irving, who has served in the interim. From joins the company after a stint as CEO and chairman of EyeGate Pharmaceuticals. Earlier in his career, From served at Bank of America and Robertson Stephens. Meanwhile, Irving will continue to serve on the company’s board.
→ With a Bloomberg article indicating a possible sale of I-Mab after CEO Joan Shen’s exit, the Chinese biotech has appointed Richard Yeh as COO and John Hayslip as CMO. Yeh recently held the roles of CFO and head of strategic operations at Abbisko Therapeutics, and he’s also been finance chief for CStone Pharmaceuticals. Hayslip, who just had a brief run at Nektar as VP of clinical development, is a natural fit for I-Mab after working on lemzoparlimab at AbbVie. The two companies teamed up on the CD47 antibody in a deal that saw AbbVie pay $180 million upfront for ex-China rights.
→ Laura Clague is stepping down as CFO of Travere Therapeutics in August as Chris Cline, the SVP of investor relations and corporate communications, prepares to take her place. Both Cline and Clague have served at Trevere since 2014, and when Cline takes over as finance chief, Clague will then keep an advisory role until 2023. The company disposed itself of all traces to founder Martin Shkreli by rebranding from Retrophin to Travere in late 2020.
→ Co-founded by Stuart Schreiber and pulling in a $50 million Series B last summer, Roche neurology and immunology partner Jnana Therapeutics has locked in Doug Pagán as CFO and COO. Pagán is set for double duty here after nearly two years as CFO of Dicerna Pharmaceuticals, which was sold to Novo Nordisk for $3.3 billion in November 2021. The former finance exec at Acceleron also resigned from the board at Ziopharm Oncology (now Alaunos) in the activist attack maelstrom that was stoked by WaterMill in 2020.
→ In bounceback mode with an orphan drug designation for BCMA CAR-T ALLO-605 after the FDA lifted a clinical hold on its AlloCAR T trials in January, David Chang has welcomed Susan Lundeen to Allogene as chief people officer. Lundeen has worked in HR since her days at Amgen, and since 2016 she was chief human resources officer with Unity Biotechnology. In the eight years before Unity, Lundeen was SVP of human resources at Kythera Biopharmaceuticals until Allergan forked over $2.1 billion to purchase the biotech in 2015.
→ After naming Nicholas Jackson president of global R&D in February, Joshua Liang-led Clover Biopharmaceuticals has appointed LiongHo Chua as president of Greater China. Before setting off for the Shanghai vaccine biotech, Chua was chief strategy officer for AIM Vaccine. The ex-Sanofi Pasteur China GM has also spent time with Gilead as VP and general manager, Asia commercial operations, and he’s also been country manager for Sandoz China.
→ The folks at San Diego protein degradation biotech Biotheryx may have stripped away the capitalizations in their company name, but they’ve gained a CFO. Jeff Caravella worked in finance at J&J for a decade and leaves Barbara Weber’s team at Tango Therapeutics, where he was VP, finance. He’s also been senior finance director for Charles River Laboratories and Editas Medicine, the gene editing player where Sarepta’s Gilmore O’Neill just succeeded Jim Mullen as CEO.
→ Generate Biomedicines, the Flagship machine learning joint led by ex-Merck chief marketing officer Mike Nally, has picked up Sean Martin as chief legal officer and general counsel. The one-time VP for commercial law and corporate law at Amgen — which ponied up $50 million upfront in a January deal with Generate — Martin spent the last five years as SVP and general counsel with Baxter.
→ Third Rock startup Flare Therapeutics, taking aim at transcription factors with an $82 million Series A at its disposal, has recruited Adrian Jubb as CMO. The Genentech vet leaves 23andMe after three years as head of clinical oncology and neurology. Jubb has been a CMO before at Immune-Onc Therapeutics after leading early development at Achaogen.
→ Microbiome sciences company Seed Health is bringing aboard Dirk Gevers as CSO. Gevers hails from J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, where he helped launched the Janssen Human Microbiome Institute and served as global head. Prior to his work with Janssen, Gevers was at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
→ There are quite a few changes happening over at Toronto-based Highland Therapeutics. For starters, the company has locked in Stephanie Read as president and CEO of the company, taking over for Stefan Antonsson, who has been serving in the interim. Read has spent the last 6.5 years with CSL as global VP, corporate strategy and business development and 7.5 years with AstraZeneca/MedImmune. Earlier in her career, Read served in roles R&D and global medical affairs at Shire.
Meanwhile, Antonsson (former SVP of marketing at Supernus Pharmaceuticals) will move back to his role as independent director of the board. And, finally, joining him will be Scott Myers (former AMAG Pharmaceuticals CEO) as chairman and Kevin Bain (currently chief corporate development officer at Cell Research Corporation and former CFO of Alvogen and Alvotech) and Ildiko Mehes (SVP and general counsel at Teva Pharmaceuticals) as independent directors.
→ Han Lim is jumping from one AI biotech for another, taking on the role of CBO at Morningside-backed DeepCure, which clinched a $40 million Series A last fall. In 2019, Lim was promoted from global head of partnering to CBO at Atomwise, which has built AI partnerships with Eli Lilly, Bayer and, more recently, BridgeBio.
→ Sanofi bispecific antibody partner Biomunex Pharmaceuticals, a US-French biotech that recently opened new laboratories in Paris, has appointed Simon Plyte as CSO and as a member of its scientific advisory board. Plyte, a veteran of Boehringer Ingelheim and Pfizer, most recently served as VP, immuno-oncology at Merus.
→ University of Pittsburgh spinout BlueSphere Bio has pegged Robert Keefe as chief development officer, dashing to the T-cell therapy biotech after a short stay at AstraZeneca. Since October 2020, Keefe had served as the pharma giant’s head of CMC cell therapy development, and he’s also held posts at Lonza, WuXi AppTec, MaxCyte and Autolus.
→ Medtronic is saddling on Laura Mauri as chief scientific, medical and regulatory officer. Mauri joined the Dublin-based healthcare tech company in September 2018 and became a member of the company’s executive committee in August 2020. Prior to this, Mauri was an interventional cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital for 15 years.
→ Mainz Biomed, a molecular genetics diagnostic company, has named Darin Leigh as CCO. Leigh brings with him experience from his times at Abbott, Luminex (VP of global commercial operations), Metabolon and CDR Health (CCO).
→ Twist Bioscience is shouting out a pair of promotions: Tracey Mullen (SVP of operations) joined the DNA synthesis outfit as general manager when it scooped up the company she helmed, the in vivo antibody drug discovery shop Abveris, in late November. Nimisha Srivastava (SVP of R&D), a Twist staffer since 2014 when she was a senior manager in systems engineering, had been VP of engineering prior to her new post.
Gaining extra competition with the recent launch of Emeryville, CA startup Ansa Biotechnologies, Twist is also looking for a new COO after the departure of Patrick Weiss, who cited personal reasons for his decision to step down on April 21.
→ When in Rome, become the SVP, corporate development and strategy at ROME Therapeutics. At least that’s what Nurjana Bachman has done at Rosana Kapeller’s repeatome drug developer. Bachman, the former VP of biopharma and corporate alliances at Foundation Medicine, was also co-founder and CBO of Claritas Genomics.
→ Sonal Gupta has been appointed SVP and head of clinical development at Natick, MA-based AffyImmune Therapeutics, a CAR-T biotech that raised $30 million in what was designated as a Series A+ round last October. Gupta was head of preclinical and clinical assays at CRISPR Therapeutics from 2016-19, and from there she became head of translational research at Rubius Therapeutics. She joins AffyImmune from Avrobio, where she was head of translational medicine.
→ Progenity, the company focused on women’s health, gastrointestinal health and oral biotherapeutics, has tapped Paul Shabram as SVP, technical operations. Before making his way to the San Diego-based company, Shabram formed Ventana BioSciences Consulting and was VP of technical development at Emergent BioSolutions. Earlier in his career, Shabram had stints at PaxVax, Schering-Plough/Canji, Cytel and Chiron.
→ Deerfield-backed infectious disease biotech Adaptive Phage Therapeutics has appointed Rob Casper as VP of clinical operations. Most recently, Casper served as VP of clinical operations at Altimmune and as senior director of clinical operations at Kolon TissueGene. Trials are ongoing at APT to examine prosthetic joint infection and diabetic foot osteomyelitis.
→ Tachi Yamada legacy upstart iECURE, a gene editing biotech from chief scientific advisor Jim Wilson at Penn, has installed George Diaz as VP, therapeutic area lead for urea cycle disorders. Diaz brings more than two decades of experience from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai — during his tenure, he was chief of the Division of Medical Genetics and a professor in both genetics & genomic sciences and pediatrics.
→ Synthetic lethality shop Cyteir Therapeutics, which joined Nasdaq at a blazing-hot moment for IPOs in 2021 that seems like light years ago, has brought on Adam Veness as general counsel. Veness closed out his seven years at Acceleron as SVP, general counsel and secretary before the company caught Merck’s eye last fall.
→ Galapagos CEO Paul Stoffels has added chairman to his list of titles. The former J&J luminary took over this substantial rehab project on April 1 after Onno van de Stolpe announced his retirement last August. Galapagos, which fell from grace in a doomed partnership with Gilead, has also elected ex-Sanofi CFO Jérôme Contamine and Dan Baker to the board of directors.
→ On May 1, Gennao Bio chief Stephen Squinto will no longer be chairman of Genenta Science, the Milan gene therapy biotech co-founded by Luigi Naldini. Genenta has nominated ex-Aruna Bio CEO Mark Sirgo to replace Squinto, who will “pursue a new business opportunity,” according to the release.
→ Ken Song’s radiopharma startup RayzeBio has added Angie You to the board of directors. You, the ex-CEO of Amunix, is a senior advisor for Frazier Life Sciences, a strategic advisor at Casdin Capital, and a board member at ORIC Pharmaceuticals.
→ Frank Karbe has been granted a seat on the board of directors at New Jersey GI biotech Phathom Pharmaceuticals. The one-time finance chief at Exelixis was recently the president and CFO at Myovant, the company from the Vivek Ramaswamy “vant” stable partnering with Pfizer on Orgovyx and Myfembree.
→ Kadmon gene therapy spinout MeiraGTx has ushered in Debra Yu to the board of directors. The Pfizer alum is president and CBO of Perceptive startup LianBio.
→ Grabbing ex-US licensing rights to Regeneron’s cholesterol disorder drug Evkeeza, Ultragenyx has elected Amrit Ray to the board of directors. Ray, the former CMO for J&J’s Janssen, is currently the chief patent officer at Nurtec maker Biohaven.
→ IMV has selected Michael Bailey from within its board to serve as chairman, effective May 1. Bailey currently serves as president and CEO of Aveo Oncology and has sat on the board of IMV since 2020. Bailey started out at Aveo as CCO in 2010, before moving onto the role of CBO in 2013. Prior to his stint at Aveo, Bailey had roles at Synta Pharmaceuticals, ImClone Systems and Genentech.
→ Jean Liu will take a seat on the board of directors at Erasca, the San Diego oncology biotech that debuted on Nasdaq with a hefty $300 million IPO last summer. Liu currently serves as chief legal officer at Seagen, and before that, Liu was VP and general counsel at Halozyme.
→ Compass Therapeutics has pointed the way for Ellen Chiniara and Mary Ann Gray to join its board of directors. Chiniara was chief legal officer of Alexion until the sale to AstraZeneca closed in July 2021, while Gray — the president of Gray Strategic Advisors — is a board member at Sarepta and Palisade Bio, among others.
→ At the same time that they pulled in an undisclosed amount of seed financing, Oxford-based MitoRx Therapeutics is bringing in Glyn Edwards as chairman of the board. Edwards formerly served as CEO of Summit Therapeutics.
Derek Graf also contributed to this edition.