Peer Review

One year in, Joanne Kotz assumes CEO role at Jnana; President/Executive chair duo will now run BlackThorn

Joanne Kotz

Jnana Therapeutics is marking its anniversary with the installation of a permanent chief, and it’s going for someone who’s been there since the beginning: co-founder and president Joanne Kotz. Amir Nashat, the interim CEO who will now focus on his other job as managing partner of Polaris, credits Kotz for building “a talented team and a collaborative, empowering culture, while also leading important work to validate Jnana’s proprietary drug discovery platform.” Before launching the SLC transporter-focused biotech, Kotz had held leadership roles at the F-Prime Biomedical Research Initiative and the Broad Institute.

Greg Vontz has stepped down as president and CEO of BlackThorn Therapeutics, prompting the promotion of CSO Bill Martin to the president and COO role. Martin will now run the company alongside new executive chairman Paul Berns, a veteran biotech executive of ARCH, matching his familiarity with BlackThorn’s neurobehavioral therapies with Berns’ product development, strategic and commercial expertise.

→ Seasoned diagnostics and pharma exec Bernhard Sixt is the new CEO at Edinburgh Molecular Imaging, tasked with steering its optical imaging product on a path to approval and eventual commercialization. EMI-137 has compared favorably to colonoscopy in a cancer detection trial, the company says, and is being tested in several other cancer indications.

Michael Linden

Michael Linden has chosen Touchlight Genetics as the next stop of his gene therapy journey. As CSO, he is responsible for applying Touchlight’s doggybone DNA tech on its discovery pipeline and translational research efforts. A former academic actively advocating for gene therapy research, Linden recently served as Pfizer’s VP of gene therapy and head of its Genetics Medicines Institute.

→ After months of searching for a permanent CFO, Five Prime Therapeutics has decided to lock in David Smith, a former Genentech staffer and recent COO of forensics DNA company Integenx before Thermo Fisher snapped it up. The South San Francisco-based immuno-oncology biotech likes his breadth of experience, having worked at a mix of companies spanning different scales and stages. Linda Rubinstein, who’s been filling in from a CFO services firm, is signing off.

→ As Steve Fruchtman pivots to the president’s job at Onconova $ONTX, he’s tapped Richard Woodman to succeed him as CMO. Woodman, a former head of Novartis’ hematology franchise, inherits a late-stage pipeline focused on myelodysplastic syndromes. Two other new hires will help him hustle the lead drug, rigosertib, toward an approval: clinical operations director Matthew Parris, who joins from Inovio; and Celgene vet David Evans, who will be associate director, regulatory affairs.

→ As Impel NeuroPharma gears up for a couple of mid-stage readouts of its central nervous system disorder treatments, it has appointed Ellen Lubman to scout deals for the drugs and its nasal drug delivery tech. As chief business officer, Lubman’s mandate will cover “partnering and acquisition strategy and execution,” not unlike what she did when she was VP of external science and innovation at Allergan.

→ With several of its programs lined up at the Phase II starting line, Alkahest has poached veteran sales exec Elizabeth Jeffords from Roche/Genentech to be its chief sales and strategy officer. Jeffords, who played a big role in marketing the big age-related macular degeneration therapy Lucentis, will now pivot to other age-related diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

→ Calgary, Alberta-based Xortx Therapeutics has appointed James Fairbarin to replace outgoing CFO Dave Matthews. The company is developing three treatments for different types of progressive kidney disease.

Farah Ahmad has jumped from Syneos Health to a COO position at Strategikon Pharma, which markets a tool for clinical trial planning and vendor management.

→ Following a mammoth $200 million debut on the Nasdaq, gene therapy developer Orchard Therapeutics has recruited two biopharma vets to manage its commercial operations in the US and the massive bloc region Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), respectively. Both of them bring significant experience with rare diseases, Orchard’s specialty. Robin Kenselaar, who spent the past 15 years at Sanofi Genzyme, comes on board as SVP of general manager, EMEA commercial ops. His US counterpart, Brad Mathis, recently had a stint at Sucampo after 10 years at Alexion.   

Myovant, a member of Vivek Ramaswamy’s biotech family focused on women’s health and endocrine diseases, has wooed GSK exec Kim Sablick to be its chief commercial officer. The R&D team is also gaining a new member in Jeff Nornhold, who’s switching a technical operations position at Impax for a new role as SVP of pharmaceutical operations and development. Myrtle Potter and Frank Torti — industry vets who have recently taken senior roles at Roivant — are joining the board alongside Mark Guinan, with Potter appointed chairman.   

Novavax $NVAX has appointed Rachel King, a seasoned VC and founder of GlycoMimetics, to its board of directors.  

Grail CEO Jennifer Cook has taken a board seat at Denali, the high-flying neurodegeneration startup run by some of her former colleagues from Genentech.

→ Having guided Epizyme through a rough year at the FDA, CEO Robert Bazemore is taking on a side gig as board director at neoantigen pioneer Neon Therapeutics.


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