Rock­well's CEO re­fus­es to be fired, kick­ing up brawl with board that halts the com­pa­ny's stock

There’s an episode of Se­in­feld that ran in the late 90s in which George Costan­za tries — un­suc­cess­ful­ly — to break up with his girl­friend Mau­ra. “I refuse to give up on this re­la­tion­ship,” she says. “It’s like… launch­ing mis­siles from a sub­ma­rine. Both of us have to turn our keys.” When George urges her to “turn her key,” Mau­ra re­spect­ful­ly de­clines.

Robert Chioi­ni

The same sce­nario is play­ing out to­day at a mid-sized biotech just out­side of De­troit. Rock­well Med­ical’s board has vot­ed to fire its CEO Robert Chioi­ni. But the CEO won’t turn his key. He’s… un­fired him­self, al­leg­ing that Rock­well Med­ical’s board mem­bers may have vi­o­lat­ed fed­er­al se­cu­ri­ties laws by vot­ing him out. That’s be­cause the pur­pose of this par­tic­u­lar meet­ing was to dis­cuss al­le­ga­tions of breach­es of fidu­cia­ry du­ties, not to vote on fir­ing the CEO.

“As that ac­tion was not the pur­pose of the spe­cial meet­ing, the ter­mi­na­tion of the CEO, in the opin­ion of the non-con­flict­ed in­de­pen­dent di­rec­tors, was not ef­fec­tive,” writes Chioi­ni in a let­ter to share­hold­ers.

If that wasn’t enough, Rock­well Med­ical al­so fired its CFO Thomas Kle­ma, who they said was col­lud­ing with the CEO. But that’s OK, be­cause Chioi­ni al­so re­ject­ed that de­ci­sion, un­fir­ing Kle­ma short­ly af­ter via a let­ter to share­hold­ers.

“The chair­man of board is­sued a sec­ond con­flict­ing 8K this morn­ing,” Chioi­ni wrote. “There­in is ref­er­enced a board meet­ing in which it is as­sert­ed that the CFO, Thomas Kle­ma, was ter­mi­nat­ed. I have no in­for­ma­tion to sug­gest the gov­er­nance re­quire­ments to call such a meet­ing were fol­lowed. The same 8K states that the board cre­at­ed a Spe­cial Tran­si­tion Com­mit­tee com­prised of Ben­jamin Wolin, Lisa Coller­an, and John Coop­er, to pro­vide board-lev­el over­sight of the com­pa­ny’s strate­gic di­rec­tion and day-to-day op­er­a­tions dur­ing the com­pa­ny’s tran­si­tion. I have no in­for­ma­tion to sug­gest that the gov­er­nance re­quire­ments for the cre­ation of such a com­mit­tee were fol­lowed.”

This bizarre sto­ry is par­tic­u­lar­ly in­ter­est­ing in light of Chioi­ni’s salary — $850,000 an­nu­al­ly for the past three years, with to­tal com­pen­sa­tion top­ping $12 mil­lion. That’s pret­ty de­cent for a com­pa­ny that hasn’t scored any com­mer­cial sales for two prod­ucts it won FDA ap­proval for in 2014 and 2015, as not­ed by STAT colum­nist Adam Feuer­stein yes­ter­day.

The com­pa­ny’s stock $RMTI has been halt­ed due to the dra­ma.

Rock­well Med­ical’s sit­u­a­tion re­minds us of an­oth­er biotech duk­ing it out with its ex-CEO. Arc­turus Ther­a­peu­tics has been in a very pub­lic bat­tle with its for­mer chief Joe Payne, who’s been work­ing hard to un­do the work of its board. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see if these ex-CEOs can el­bow their way back in­to board rooms in the com­ing months.

Mi­no­ryx and Sper­o­genix ink an ex­clu­sive li­cense agree­ment to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize lerigli­ta­zone in Chi­na

September 23, 2020 – Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai (China) and Mataró, Barcelona (Spain)  

Minoryx will receive an upfront and milestone payments of up to $78 million, as well as double digit royalties on annual net sales 

Sperogenix will receive exclusive rights to develop and commercialize leriglitazone for the treatment of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD), a rare life-threatening neurological condition

Vas Narasimhan (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Still held down by clin­i­cal hold, No­var­tis' Zol­gens­ma falls fur­ther be­hind Bio­gen and Roche as FDA asks for a new piv­otal study

Last October, the FDA slowed down Novartis’ quest to extend its gene therapy to older spinal muscular atrophy patients by slapping a partial hold on intrathecal administration. Almost a year later, the hold is still there, and regulators are adding another hurdle required for regulatory submission: a new pivotal confirmatory study.

The new requirement — which departs significantly from Novartis’ prior expectations — will likely stretch the path to registration beyond 2021, when analysts were expecting a BLA submission. That could mean more time for Biogen to reap Spinraza revenues and Roche to ramp up sales of Evrysdi in the absence of a rival.

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FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn at the White House (AP Images)

Un­der fire, FDA to is­sue stricter guid­ance for Covid-19 vac­cine EUA this week — re­port

The FDA has been insisting for months that a Covid-19 vaccine had to be at least 50% effective – a measure of transparency meant to shore public trust in the agency and in a vaccine that had been brought forward at record speed and record political pressure. But now, with concerns of a Trump-driven authorization arriving before the election, the agency may be raising the bar.

The FDA is set to release new guidance that would raise safety and efficacy requirements for a vaccine EUA above earlier guidance and above the criteria used for convalescent plasma or hydroxychloroquine, The Washington Post reported. Experts say this significantly lowers the odds of an approval before the election on November 3, which Trump has promised despite vocal concerns from public health officials, and could help shore up public trust in the agency and any eventual vaccine.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

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The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

Scoop: ARCH’s Bob Nelsen is back­ing an mR­NA up­start that promis­es to up­end the en­tire man­u­fac­tur­ing side of the glob­al busi­ness

For the past 2 years, serial entrepreneur Igor Khandros relied on a small network of friends and close insiders to supply the first millions he needed to fund a secretive project to master a new approach to manufacturing mRNA therapies.

Right now, he says, he has a working “GMP-in-a-box” prototype for a new company he’s building — after launching 3 public companies — which plans to spread this contained, precise manufacturing tech around the world with a set of partners. He’s raised $60 million, recruited some prominent experts. And not coincidentally, he’s going semi-public with this just as a small group of pioneers appears to be on the threshold of ushering in the world’s first mRNA vaccines to fight a worldwide pandemic.

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Isaac Veinbergs, Libra CEO

With $29M in Se­ries A, Boehringer-backed Li­bra looks to tack­le neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion through cel­lu­lar clean­ing

Can the natural process by which cells clean out toxic proteins be harnessed to create potential treatments for neurodegenerative disorders?

That’s the question Libra Therapeutics will be trying to answer, as the new biotech officially launched Wednesday morning with $29 million in Series A financing. The company has three preclinical programs at the ready, with its lead candidate targeting ALS and frontotemporal dementia. But CEO Isaac Veinbergs said he hopes to develop therapies for a wide range of diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s.

Patrick Enright, Longitude co-founder (Longitude)

As its biotechs hit the pan­dem­ic ex­it, Lon­gi­tude rais­es $585M for new neu­ro, can­cer, ag­ing and or­phan-fo­cused fund

The years have been kind to Longitude Capital. This year, too.

A 2006 spinout of Pequot Capital, its founders started their new firm just four years before the parent company would go under amid insider trading allegations. Their first life sciences fund raised $325 million amid the financial crisis, they added a second for $385 million and then in, 2016, a third for $525 million. In the last few months, the pandemic biotech IPO boom netted several high-value exits from those funds, as Checkmate, Vaxcyte, Inozyme and Poseida all went public.

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Gene Wang, Immetas co-founder and CEO (file photo)

Im­metas Ther­a­peu­tics nabs $11M Se­ries A to nar­row their bis­pe­cif­ic work tar­get­ing in­flam­ma­tion in age-re­lat­ed dis­eases

How does a biotech celebrate its two-year anniversary? For Immetas Therapeutics, it’s with an $11 million Series A round and a game plan to fight age-related disease.

Co-founders Gene Wang and David Sinclair came together years ago around the idea that inflammation is the ultimate process driving age-related illnesses, including cancer. The duo launched Immetas in 2018 and packed the staff with industry experts. Wang, who says he’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit, has held lead roles at Novartis, GSK, Bristol Myers Squibb and Merck. He’s worked on blockbuster drugs like Humira, Gardasil, Varubi and Zolinza. And now, he’s channeling that spirit as CEO.

Anthony Coyle (Repertoire)

Flag­ship's merged biotech Reper­toire nets ex-Pfiz­er CSO An­tho­ny Coyle as R&D chief

Flagship is building a big-name C-suite at its new, $220 million merged biotech.

Repertoire Immune Medicines, which already boasts former Bioverativ chief John Cox as its CEO, announced yesterday that Anthony Coyle, the former Pfizer CSO and the founding CEO of Pandion, will join as their head of R&D.

“As we progress clinical trials for our multi-clonal T cell candidates in immuno-oncology, Tony’s deep expertise in cellular immunology and novel therapeutic development will help us achieve our vision of creating a new class of transformative medicines for patients,” Cox said in a statement.