Novartis vet O’Dowd takes the helm at Neon; FDA slaps a hold on Cel-Sci’s PhIII cancer study

Hugh O’Dowd

Hugh O’Dowd

Cambridge, MA-based Neon Therapeutics is celebrating its first birthday with a new CEO appointment. In classic Third Rock fashion the neoantigen biotech got started with a venture partner — Cary Pfeffer — at the helm. Pfeffer is now stepping to the chairman’s post while a veteran Novartis exec, Hugh O’Dowd, comes in as CEO. In some respects, O’Dowd is an unusual choice for the position. He played a prominent role in Novartis’s commercial operations, rather than R&D, which has provided the bulk of the industry migrants handing in their corporate positions in favor of small biotech startups. But O’Dowd tells me he relishes the new challenge. As he looked over various biotech opportunities, he said, “nothing proved quite as unique as Neon.” Neon will be in the clinic before year’s end with its take on personalized cancer vaccines, says O’Dowd.

The penny stock biotech Cel-Sci $CVM says the FDA has slapped a clinical hold on its Phase III study for its cancer vaccine Multikine. The Vienna, VA-based biotech says that it’s enrolled 926 patients in the head and neck cancer study. No reason was given for the hold and the biotech says that patients currently taking their drug can continue to do so. The stock didn’t have far to go, but it shed 41% of its remaining value this morning.

ProNAi Therapeutics is handing over a $7 million upfront to the CRT Pioneer Fund LP for rights to develop and commercialize PNT737 (formerly CCT245737), an oral small molecule inhibitor of checkpoint kinase 1. The therapy is in two Phase 1 clinical trials managed by the Cancer Research UK Centre for Drug Development.

BARDA is providing Sanofi with $43 million to fund mid-stage trial work on a new Zika vaccine. And Sanofi could win another $130 million in option cash if it can provide good enough data to take a vaccine into a late-stage test.

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