Peer Review: Rubius recruits BD chief; Epizyme hires Novartis vet as CFO
→ Rubius Therapeutics — clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company developing a new class of medicines called red cell therapeutics — made the addition of Kris Elverum to its senior leadership team as SVP of business development and strategy. Elverum joins the company from Turnstone Biologics and has previously served at SQZ Biotech, Novartis and McKinsey & Co.
→ As Epizyme preps a transition to the commercial stage — which could come as early as next January if the FDA comes through — it’s installing Paolo Tombesi as CFO. A Novartis vet, Tombesi has overseen a similar transition for Insmed, helping launch a subsidiary in Japan and bringing in more than $1 billion by Epizyme’s count. Aside for the sarcoma application, now under priority preview, a second NDA for tazemetostat is slated for later this year, he added.
→ Jim Wilson and Steve Squinto has enlisted two more execs to their lean team at Passage Bio in pursuit of AAV gene therapies to treat rare monogenic central nervous system diseases. Jill Quigley, who’s credited for advice and negotiations in the Shire/NPS and Gilead/Pharmasset acquisitions, has been tapped as COO and general counsel, while Biogen vet Alex Fotopoulos is coming on board as CTO. Having overseen technical operations at Ultragenyx’s gene therapy unit (acquired from Dimension), Fotopoulos will now lead the buildup of Passage’s manufacturing capabilities as it advances lead programs in GM1 gangliosidosis, frontotemporal dementia and Krabbe disease into the clinic in 2020.”
→ Corbus Pharmaceuticals — a Phase III clinical-stage company focused on the development and commercialization of therapeutics to treat inflammatory and fibrotic diseases — recently hired Kaizar Lehri as head of global supply chain. Lehri joins the company as their lead product candidate, lenabasum — a synthetic, oral, selective cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2) agonist — is currently being evaluated in systemic sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, dermatomyositis and systemic lupus erythematosus. Lehri has had stints as associate director, supply chain process optimization and effectiveness at Biogen and director, supply chain operations at Regeneron.
→ Since sealing a deal for Aviragen Therapeutics to serve as Vaxart’s shell in a reverse merger, Joseph Patti has retreated to the back benches. But he’s jumping back to the front lines now as CEO of AgilVax, taking a stab at antibody-based cancer therapies. He succeeds Federica Pericle, who is leaving the Albuquerque-based biotech for another opportunity. AgilVax products go after xCT, an amino-acid transporter overexpressed in several cancers and suspected to play a role in metastasis. Patti — a scientific co-founder of Bristol-Myers Squibb acquired Inhibitex — is tasked with steering the two lead drugs into clinical trials, in combination with chemo, checkpoint or KRAS inhibitors.
→ Five months after leaving Vivek Ramaswamy’s rare disease offshoot Enzyvant, Alvin Shih has landed his next CEO job at Disarm Therapeutics. Incubated out of Atlas Venture’s Cambridge, MA hatching grounds, the biotech is zeroing in on SARM1 in hopes of disrupting the process of axonal degeneration. Shih’s experience with rare neurological diseases preps him for the challenge of applying this technology to a broad range of diseases including multiple sclerosis and ALS to peripheral neuropathies, Disarm said.
→ France’s ImCheck Therapeutics has put Receptos alum Paul Frohna in charge of its immune modulator programs across cancer and autoimmune diseases. As the company’s first CMO, Frohna will lead an anticipated entry into the clinic by early 2020. He brings some fresh experience from the same role at Bioniz, a biotech in Irvine, California he’d helped create. Instead of cytokines, though, his new niche will be g9d2 T cells and a novel family of immunomodulators dubbed butyrophilins.
→ With a number of programs for eye and neurodegenerative diseases in mid-stage studies, Alkahest is apparently confident enough about its anti-aging platform to begin scouting partnerships. Robert Klein will be heading up that effort as its newly-minted CBO, leveraging his background in neuroscience drug development as well as recent exposure to business development. Recent stints include CEO at iKaryos Diagnostics and CSO at Amnestix. Alkahest already has an alliance with Spain’s Grifols, an early believer in its protein products derived from blood plasma.
→ NeuBase Therapeutics welcomed Danith Ly aboard as their CSO. Ly is credited as the primary inventor of the company’s peptide nucleic acid (PNA) antisense oligonucleotide (PATrOL) platform technology. Prior to joining the company, Ly co-founded PNA Innovations (now Trucode Gene Repair) and held stints as a scientific advisory board member at HelixBind and a member of the board of directors of Karuna Commune Enterprise. He is a founding director of the Biomolecular Design and Discovery Institute (BDI) at Carnegie Mellon University. In addition to his role at NeuBase, Dr. Ly will maintain his faculty appointment as professor of chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University’s Mellon College of Science.
→ Verb Surgical — the robotic surgery joint venture from Verily and J&J — tapped Kurt Azarbarzin as its president and CEO. Azarbarzin joins the company from his laparoscopic surgery startup, SurgiQuest — known for its FDA-approved AirSeal device. Azarbarzin was CEO of SurgiQuest until its acquisition in 2015 by Conmed, where he then became Conmed’s chief technology officer.
→ Joseph Papandrea hopped to Zynex — a company that sells electrotherapy medical devices used for pain management, such as NeuroMove — as their COO. Prior to jumping aboard Zynex, Papandrea was the vice president of operations at Arrow Electronics — a global provider of electronic components and enterprise computing solutions. Papandrea has also held various stints in Australia, Singapore, Germany, the UK, Chile and the US in a variety of senior leadership roles.
→ KEPRO appoints John Malanowski as chief people officer. In this new role, Malanowski will be in charge of talent management, leadership development and compensation and benefits. Malanowski recently served as the interim chief human resource officer for Virence Health Technologies and University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center.
→ Arcis Biotechnology — a nucleic acid sample preparation provider — has tapped professor Steve Howell as non-executive chairman to succeed Paul Foulger, who was serving as the interim chairman on behalf of the board. Howell joins the company after their recent announcements of strategic distribution and licensing agreements with Opentrons and Mirnax Biosens respectively. Howell founded Innova Partnerships in 2006, where he helped create over a dozen life science start-ups and raised in excess £100M in financing. Howell has also held positions at Unilever, Alere and Unipath. In 2015, he was made visiting professor of commercial innovation at King’s College, London.