Peer Review

Ovid exec Yaron Werber crosses back to Cowen; Saqib Islam promoted to SpringWorks’ first CEO slot

Yaron Werber

→ While a number of analysts have been seen migrating to the front lines of biotech, Yaron Werber is moving in the opposite direction. After rotating through a couple of roles at rare disease biotech Ovid Therapeutics  and helping put together its $75 million IPO $OVID — he’s headed back to Wall Street.

The former Citigroup analyst is landing at Cowen as a managing director and senior member of its biotech team, at a time investment banks are paying big dollars to scoop popular biotech boosters from each other.

“We are thrilled to welcome Yaron back to equity research and back to Cowen, where he began his impressive career in biotech. As a trained medical doctor, respected public company CFO and a proven sell-side analyst, Yaron is an outstanding addition to Cowen’s leading healthcare and biotech research team,” said Cowen CEO Jeffrey Solomon in a statement.

Werber, who first joined Ovid as CFO in 2015, has since added CBO and treasurer to his title in addition to a stint as secretary.

SpringWorks Therapeutics will be celebrating its one-year anniversary with their first permanent CEO in place. Taking the helm is Saqib Islam, an ex-Moderna exec who’s been overseeing finance and business development since the biotech spun out with four rare disease assets from Pfizer. He will join the board of directors, working with executive chairman Dan Lynch, and lead the charge for finding more promising clinical-stage drugs from other industry players to grow their pipeline, which currently features lead programs in desmoid tumors and neurofibromatosis type 1. SpringWorks has also just entered a pact with BeiGene to test its MEK inhibitor in combination with the Beijing-based biotech’s RAF dimer inhibitor to target advanced solid tumors with RAS mutations.  

Lisa Ricciardi

→ As Suono Bio enters a new phase of its business marked by a new strategic investment from Fujifilm, Carl Schoellhammer is stepping aside from the CEO role to make room for Lisa Ricciardi. Schoellhammer, who helped found the company alongside MIT’s Robert Langer, Giovanni Traverso of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Polaris partner Amy Schulman, will remain as COO. A Pfizer vet with stints at Essex Woodlands Health Ventures, Express Scripts and Foundation Medicine, Ricciardi is tasked with steering Suono’s formulation-independent delivery tech to the clinic.

David Schenkein’s long run as Agios CEO — growing the company from his legendary blank sheet of paper to a high profile public biotech with close to 500 staffers, two approved drugs on the market and more advancing in the pipeline — is coming to an end. In five months Schenkein is passing the reins of the Cambridge, MA-based company $AGIO to Jackie Fouse, the ex-Celgene exec who went on to run one of Vivek Ramaswamy’s biotechs for a short stint. After Fouse jumped on the Agios board late last year, he says, regular discussions with the board about a transition plan began to gel. And “it became clear that Jackie had an interest in that role.” At Ramaswamy’s Dermavant, Fouse was in charge of growing the Phoenix, AZ-based startup. After she takes the new job at Agios February 1, she’ll be expected to continue to build on Schenkein’s vision for the company, looking to keep building a science-driven, research-oriented biopharma along the lines of Genentech. Frank Torti, who recently joined Roivant as Vant Investment Chair, will step in as Dermavant’s board chairman.

→ Five months after Third Rock partner Abbie Celniker officially launched Rheos Medicines with an aim at becoming a leader in immunometabolism, the startup has wooed a top Roche scientist to the helm. Sanjay Keswani has been named CEO at the Cambridge, MA-based company, joining a large migration of top executives leaving Big Pharma for the fast-growing start-up crowd. He had been a senior vice president and global head of the neuroscience, ophthalmology and rare diseases unit for Roche’s pRED organization, based in Basel. Before that he had a broad portfolio at Bristol-Myers Squibb, with earlier gigs at Eli Lilly and Amgen.

David Goren

→ Israel’s Vaxil has tapped Big Pharma vet David Goren to succeed serial entrepreneur Isaac Maresky as CEO. Goren first moved from New York to establish and grow Pfizer’s Israeli commercial presence. He stayed on to serve as general manager in the country for AstraZeneca and has recently started his own boutique consulting firm called Epione Strategy.

Founded on a platform developed by Weizmann Institute scientists, Vaxil’s lead asset is an orphan drug designated immunotherapy that targets a neoantigen known as MUC1. Having completed a Phase I/II trial in multiple myeloma, the biotech is looking to test Immucin in Phase II for additional solid tumor indications.

Gossamer Bio has recruited industry vet Luisa Salter-Cid to lead research and preclinical development efforts for its fledgling operation that’s moving “at light speed,” according to founder Faheem Hasnain. The new CSO jumps from a 13-year run at the immunology unit of Bristol-Myers Squibb, where her path crossed with Gossamer Bio CEO Sheila Gujrathi. She will be responsible for translating some of the preclinical programs that Hasnain and Gujrathi have been busy snapping up, many of which remain tightly under wraps. But one thing we know for certain is that the biotech will have plenty of cash — $330 million at last count — to see them through.

Ginna Laport

Ginna Laport is taking up her first CMO job since leaving academia at Versant-backed Tempest Therapeutics as the biotech eyes its first clinical trials in 2019. A former member of the FDA’s oncologic drugs advisory committee, Laport is expected to leverage both her expertise in hematology/oncology and recent experience managing clinical development at Corvus Pharma to advance Tempest’s immuno-oncology assets including TPST-1120, a PPARα blocker designed to inflame the tumor microenvironment and activates important tumor‐killing immune cells (the former lead asset, an IDO inhibitor, appears to have been dropped). Joining her in the C-suite will be Alicia Levey, who’s been promoted to chief business officer from a VP position.

→ The cell therapy experts at Tmunity have brought in an experienced exec to manage the biotech’s financial operations, connect with the financial markets and oversee IT and other day-to-day tasks. Graeme Bell comes to the EVP and CFO after serving in the same roles at Anacor Pharma and Intellia following a 20-year career at Merck. CEO Usman “Oz” Azam has this to say about his appointment: “Graeme’s extensive knowledge in finance and proven success in deal-making will be a tremendous asset to Tmunity as we continue to create and pursue strategic business opportunities that align with our vision” — to use CRISPR gene editing tech to modify immune cells.

→ Back in business after a spell in limbo, Ironshore Pharmaceuticals has recruited Scott Evangelista to lead the commercial rollout of its ADHD drug as president and COO. Execs like Evangelista’s years of experience providing commercialization support at what is now IQVIA, which he will now use to launch Jornay, a version of a generic stimulant with a delayed-release tech that Ironshore hopes will distinguish it from the crowd..

Hubert Chen

→ Days after announcing his departure from Pfenex, Hubert Chen is showing up as the new chief medical officer at fellow San Diego biotech Metacrine. The new job will take Chen back to his roots in endocrinology while leaning on the clinical development skills he’s built over the years with treatments for hepatitis, fibrosis, and inflammatory disease at places like Aileron, Regulus, Amylin and Amgen.

→ After eight years in the CSO seat at Amipo Pharma $AMPE, David Bar-Or says “the time is right” to retire. Though the little biotech’s BLA for Ampion, its drug for osteoarthritis in the knee, was spurned by from the FDA weeks ago, Bar-Or notes that preparation for another filing is ongoing. While staying on Ampio’s board of directors and scientific advisory board, he will turn his attention to some projects in trauma research at the Swedish Medical Center.

Radius Health, the Waltham, MA-based biotech best known for its fierce osteoporosis rivalry with Amgen, has appointed cancer expert Charles Morris to guide its expansion into oncology. As CMO, he will shepherd all clinical, regulatory and medical affairs for the company. “I believe elacestrant is uniquely positioned to potentially address unmet needs in the treatment of hormonal breast cancer,” said Morris, who’s run a number of early-stage programs at Allos Therapeutics, ImmunoGen and most recently PsiOxus Therapeutics. “I have already had the chance to review and provide input to optimize elacestrant’s clinical development plan and look forward to initiating our Phase 3 study in the fourth quarter of this year.”

→ With the combo of its lead drug PEGPH20 with Abraxane nearing Phase III, Halozyme $HALO has poached longtime Bristol-Myers Squibb exec Benjamin Hickey to be its chief commercial officer. Hickey, who’s been managing the pharma giant’s UK and Ireland operations in recent years, is joining the San Diego biotech’s commercial unit at ground zero, with a broad mandate to build the sales, marketing and market access teams.

→ BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics $BCLI has appointed Novartis vet Arturo Araya as chief commercial officer. Araya had been global head of commercial of Novartis’ Cell and Gene Therapies Unit and has been on the board at Brainstorm since February of last year.

→ Still in search for a CEO to replace William Lis, Portola will now be looking for a new chief commercial and business officer as well. Tao Fu resigned, effective later this month, just as the biotech is beginning to roll out its blood thinner antidote Andexxa and anticoagulant Bevyxxa. CFO Mardi Dier, who’s already shouldering half of the interim president role,  will lead the commercial activities in the interim.

John Nason just got a promotion at generics giant Teva to head up its API unit, which develops, manufactures and markets bulk API for both third-party clients and the company itself, as well as its biologics operations. Nason held similar roles for Bristol-Myers Squibb and Novartis in Ireland before joining the Israeli company in 2015.

Wellington Sun

→ Following a decades-long career in government agencies — capped by 10 years directing the FDA’s division of vaccines and related product applications — Wellington Sun is moving to the other side of the table, taking a job at biotech unicorn Moderna as head of vaccine strategy and regulatory affairs. His infectious disease specialty is especially appealing to Moderna as nine of its 21 development candidates — seven out of the 10 in clinical development — fall in the field.

Merck vet John Hunter is the new CSO at SiteOne Therapeutics, a developer of non-opioid pain therapies. While his recent role involves cardio-renal research, he has a background in neuroscience and has led discovery research in the area for both Schering-Plough and Roche.  


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Molecular Templates Austin, TX
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Molecular Templates Austin, TX
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Koneksa Health New York, NY

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