Peer Review

Rubius snaps up Novartis vet Pablo Cagnoni as CEO; MiMedx dumps two execs following internal investigation

David Epstein has recruited another fellow Novartis vet to Rubius Therapeutics, the cell therapy startup that he’s chairing — this time straight to the top job. New CEO Pablo Cagnoni joins Flagship Pioneering partner Torben Straight Nissen, who’s been leading the company as president. The Cambridge, MA-based company believes it can engineer red blood cells to transport proteins, instead of oxygen, needed to fight diseases. The applications span from cancer — which Cagnoni is intimately familiar with, first as an oncologist and then as an exec at Novartis oncology and Onyx Pharma — to autoimmune and rare diseases. With a preclinical biotech that’s eyeing a whole new class of therapies, Cagnoni has his work cut out for him, but thanks to a recently completed mega-round, he also has $220 million in the bank to help.

Robert Azelby

→ Now that the dust has settled on Juno’s sale, chief commercial officer Robert Azelby is moving on to chart a marketing path for Alder BioPharmaceuticals $ALDR. He replaces interim president and CEO Paul Cleveland, who was in turn filling in for Randy Schatzman after the co-founder left the company in March. Azelby, an Amgen vet with extensive background in the oncology business, will now lead little Alder’s fight in the intense CGRP migraine rivalry with Novartis/Amgen and Eli Lilly, among others.

→ Canada’s Advanced Proteome Therapeutics has appointed two-time CEO Bill Dickie to oversee development of its targeted cancer therapies as the biotech continues to build out its antibody-drug conjugate platform. A founder of diagnostic company Atreus Pharmaceuticals and former leader of cardio-focused Liponex, Dickie’s appointment fills a vacancy left by Randal Chase, who resigned in April after only one year at the helm. The future strategy of Advanced Proteome Therapeutics will lean on joint ventures, collaborations and licensing agreements, Dickie said in a statement.

→ Engulfed in a curious series of regulatory and financial woes, MiMedx $MDXG is letting its CFO Michael Senken go after wrapping up an internal investigation into its sales and distribution practices. Also shown the door: John Cranston, the corporate controller and treasurer. An interim CFO, Edward Borkowski, has been brought in to restate financial statements from the past six years, as the company claims that information can no longer be relied upon. That’s a conclusion of the still ongoing investigation by its own audit committee, which began this February and delayed the release of 2017’s financial results (the company still doesn’t have a timeline for filing its 10-K). The internal review was quickly followed by a reported preliminary probe by the US Justice Department in the same matter as well as whether the tissue graft maker overcharged the government for its products. Marietta, Georgia-based MiMedx, which has a troubled history with short sellers, saw its stock fall by close to 13%.

→ Fresh off a new financing round, Gelesis has recruited former Walgreens CMO Harry Leider to lead its medical strategy. That involves interacting with medical associations, patients advocacy groups and other organizations in service of its pipeline of gastrointestinal drugs — including a weight loss drug dubbed Gelesis100. Leider has been an adviser to PureTech Health, which has a 20% ownership stake in the company. His appointment coincides with a move for founding CMO Hassan Heshmati, freeing Heshmati up to focus on a different set of clinical activities as EVP, endocrinology and metabolism. Helping guide some of their work will be Paul Fonteyne, chairman and former CEO of Boehringer Ingelheim USA, who’s just joined the board of directors.

Louise Rodino-Klapac

Sarepta $SRPT is on an executive hiring spree. First, the Cambridge, MA-based company of Exondys-51 fame has snagged a top executive from one of its partners, Louise Rodino-Klapac, to lead its newly created gene therapy unit. Rodino-Klapac is coming from Nationwide Children’s Hospital, where she was heading up the laboratory for gene therapy research for muscular dystrophies, and will continue to double as the CSO of Myonexus, another partner of Sarepta’s. A few days later, Sarepta announced ex-Biogen executive Gilmore O’Neill will become the CMO, a position held briefly by Regeneron vet Catherine Stehman-Breen. O’Neill’s range of drug dev experience spans Tecfidera, Zinbryta, Plegridy, and Spinraza, the company said. And that’s all in line with Sarepta’s overall strategy: CEO Doug Ingram told Endpoints that the company has grown its staff by 100 people since the start of 2018, from 240 t0 340, with plans to reach nearly 480 by the end of the year.

Anthony DiTonno is upping his involvement with Tenax Therapeutics $TNEX, taking up an appointment to the CEO seat. Until recently, the board director headed up a medical device company, but can now devote himself to executing a business strategy he helped form. The priority will be advancing levosimendan, a critical care drug for a subset of pulmonary hypertension patients that’s available in over 60 countries but not the US, through a Phase II trial.

→ Ex-Mallinckrodt exec Ronald Lloyd is the new president and CEO of Aziyo Biologics, taking over commercial strategy and business development for the company, which is marketing a slate of regenerative medicine from grafts to cardio implants.

→ Just one month after Portola won a long-awaited FDA approval of its bleeding antidote for blood thinners, the company’s chief executive is relinquishing the reins to retire. CEO William Lis, who’s been leading the company since 2008, will stay on until August 1, then exit both the company and the board. Portola $PTLA has appointed the company’s EVP of R&D John Curnutte and CFO Mardi Dier as interim co-presidentson top of their current positions.

David Chang and Arie Belldegrun have wooed a heavyweight exec to the C-suite of Allogene Therapeutics, the next chapter of their biotech career after selling Kite to Gilead. Alison Moore, formerly of Amgen and Genentech, will now take charge of the nitty gritty details necessary to turn their allogeneic CAR-T dreams into reality. Her official title is chief technical officer, and her responsibility covers everything from product sciences, supply chain, manufacturing, quality to technical operations. She is joining in very early days of Allogene, which launched in April with $300 million from well-heeled investors and a portfolio of cancer cell therapies from Pfizer.

→ Pharma vet Yaping Shou is making the jump to biotech at Trillium Therapeutics $TRIL, signing on as CMO just as the company preps its CD47 drug for first-in-human trials. Between GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and most recently Takeda, Shou has amassed 18 years of clinical experience, much of which was in oncology.

→ A booming Zai Lab $ZLAB has poached AstraZeneca’s top oncology drug marketer in China to help with the planned launch of its first cancer drugs in the massive Asian market. William Liang played a key role in burnishing AstraZeneca’s Q1 numbers with the successful growth in Tagrisso sales, which the pharma giant badly needs to prove to analysts that the next chapter at the company will include growing revenue numbers. During his stretch at AstraZeneca as vice president of the oncology business unit, Liang’s sales group grew from 500 to around 2,000.

→ After playing a key role in Novartis’ acquisition of AveXis, Phillip Donenberg has joined Lake Forest, IL-based Depomed as CFO — the same role he had at the gene therapy startup and a few other companies. August Moretti, who’s had the job for six years, is returning to California (where Depomed has just relocated from) for his next gig. Depomed execs like the combination of finance, M&A and operations experience that Donenberg brings to the table as they navigate a way out of opioids and into new disease areas.

Roivant-partnered Arbutus $ABUS has found a permanent CFO in David Hastings, a longtime CFO of Incyte. Koert VandenEnden, who’s been doing the job ad interim, will continue to shoulder some accounting responsibilities during the transition and beyond.

→ Former Gilead exec Utpal Koppikar is bringing his global financial management skills to Atara Biotherapeutics $ATRA as the South San Francisco company positions itself for a Phase III readout of one of its allogeneic T cell immunotherapies. As CFO, he will also be involved in pre-commercial activities.  

→ Still contending with a clinical hold, a struggling Advaxis $ADXS has enlisted Molly Henderson as its CFO, pulling her out of the consulting business and back on the front lines of biotech. Her hiring comes just a day before the immunotherapy company announced it’s axing a clinical program — a parallel effort to slash burn rate and guard cash.

→ NASH drug developer MediciNova $MNOV has taken on another CFO after Ryan Selhorn resigned from the position. Like Selhorn, Carla Reyes is an outsources exec from the accounting services firm Signature Analytics.

→ With Phase III studies of its monoclonal antibodies — which it believes can treat both hematological malignancies and autoimmune diseases — underway, TG Therapeutics $TGTX has scooped Adam Waldman from Celgene’s hematology-oncology unit. As chief commercial officer, he is expected to build a team from scratch in anticipation of several launches in the coming years.

Atlas Venture has brought on Andrea Armstrong as its chief talent officer, trusting her to recruit and nurture star execs for both at the VC firm and for the early-stage biotechs it’s incubating. A seasoned human resources professional, Armstrong has served in a variety of administration and organizational roles at C4 Therapeutics, the New York Genome Center and Infinity Pharma.

→ New York’s UroGen Pharma $URGN is losing its CFO Gary Titus, the company announced Tuesday. UroGen is putting its COO Stephen Mullennix in an interim CFO role while the company hunts for his replacement. UroGen also announced the addition of Jason Patel, the former senior director of accounting and finance at Kite, as the company’s new VP of finance.

→ After getting blasted by the failure of its lead drug for Alzheimer’s, Vivek Ramaswamy’s Axovant $AXON is going to try and blaze a new path forward by developing a gene therapy for Parkinson’s. To hustle along the asset, which Axovant is paying Oxford BioMedica $30 million for, CEO Pavan Cheruvu has recruited Fraser Wright — who had a senior role at gene therapy pioneer Spark Therapeutics — as chief technology officer. A former Penn investigator, Wright is also a veteran of the gene therapy program at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which provided Spark with its initial pipeline in gene therapy.

→ Following a career in government, Marykay Marchigiani is now CFO at ABL, a contract research and manufacturing organization headquartered in Rockville, MD.

Gilead $GILD is promoting Andrew Dickinson to EVP, corporate development and strategy, in preparation for Martin Silverstein’s departure. Dickinson, who’s headed up a couple of acquisition efforts since joining the company in 2016, will now have an expanded role.

Sage Therapeutics CEO Jeff Jonas has taken a board seat at Atlas-backed Generation Bio.


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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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