Sanofi's BD chief heads to Owkin as CBO; Roche relies on its bench for Thomas Schinecker’s diagnostics replacement
Up until recently, Alban de La Sablière was Sanofi’s chief dealmaker, reporting directly to CEO Paul Hudson without officially being a C-suite executive.
That’s now changed with de La Sablière’s newest position at a much smaller French biotech, Sanofi partner Owkin. And to top it off, it’s his first job in the C-suite.
Tuesday was his first day as the chief business officer at Owkin, a now-transatlantic biotech with offices in both France and the US. Its emphasis in AI and a concept called “federated learning” earned a $270 million investment from the Big Pharma last year, with an eye to improving its odds in clinical development. The company has now inked other AI deals with other Big Pharma companies such as Bristol Myers Squibb.
A little introspection went a long way toward de La Sablière getting on board with Owkin.
“Personally, I was very happy at Sanofi,” de La Sablière tells Endpoints News. “But I was thinking about maybe having more direct impact. And I had discussions about what I could do with the rest of my life with the CEO and founder. And he told me, ‘Well, why don’t you join us?’”
De La Sablière’s background is not in biopharma — it’s in banking. The former BD chief spent close to two decades at Morgan Stanley as a managing director and M&A advisor before venturing over to Sanofi in 2016. As for what he learned, it’s not just M&A or deal making skills. Part of his experience, sitting on committees in looking at pharma companies at Morgan Stanley and advising on acquisitions, is that “even when you’re not an expert, you get a very good view of what it takes to develop a drug. Or in terms of what, what can go wrong, which is at least 30% of a job — is knowing what can go wrong.”
De La Sablière continued: “When you sign a big deal, you know, that deal is just a vision and a contract, and then you have a duty to implement it. And there’s gonna be a lot of twists and turns, because you’re planning for 10 years, and you can’t put 10 years in the contract.”
And based off what he has learned, he thinks it can apply well to where Owkin is right now as a growing company. But in his first days at his new role, the new executive noted that there are some decisions that have to be made pretty quickly.
“One thing — which is really top of mind — is how do we secure, identify assets which are out there to be in-licensed? We have a very specific, differentiated point of view, or expertise — which is, you know, our AI and data set,” the executive said, adding that he plans on bringing in assets for both Owkin and with partners.
Expect a bunch of BD and M&A deals with de La Sablière at Owkin — and with the biotech pivoting from consulting to starting to build out its own IP.
— Paul Schloesser
→ Now that Thomas Schinecker is all set to take charge at Roche next year, the Swiss pharma giant says that his in-house successor as CEO of Roche Diagnostics, Matt Sause, will start on Jan. 1, 2023. The 45-year-old Sause joined Roche 20 years ago as a senior molecular account manager, and he would later become president of country operations in Peru and Korea, and VP and lifecycle leader for Tecentriq at Genentech. He took a short break from Roche as SVP and head of global commercial product strategy at Gilead before returning to run Roche Diagnostics’ North America region in November 2019, the title he holds for just a while longer. In July, Roche announced that CEO Severin Schwan would step down and that Schinecker would take the top spot on March 15, 2023.
→ Assembly Biosciences is waving goodbye to its CEO John McHutchison as he heads towards retirement after a three-year stint with the company. Seizing the reins will be current president and COO Jason Okazaki. The former Gilead vet is taking over during some turbulent times as the company threw in the towel on its HBV drug and laid off 30% of its staffers back in July. Okazaki joined Assembly Bio as chief legal and business officer in 2020 and was promoted to COO in 2021.
→ In June, David de Graaf stepped aside as CEO of Abcuro, which has its lead asset — an anti-KLRG1 antibody named ABC008 — in early-stage trials for inclusion body myositis. Now a strategic advisor, de Graaf’s successor is Alex Martin, the former chief executive at Realm Therapeutics who had been running the show at Centessa sub Palladio Biosciences. Centessa hit a huge pothole after Memorial Day, scrapping its lead drug lixivaptan in an abrupt about-face when elevated liver enzymes in one patient forced the biotech’s hand, a problem that befell KalVista earlier this week. The hospitalization occurred in the open-label ALERT study after Centessa had just started dosing in the Phase III ACTION study of the Palladio drug in February. A $42 million “Series A-1” in January 2021 gave Abcuro enough cash runway to last for two years, so we’ll see if another raise is upcoming under Martin’s leadership.
→ Grace Colón, the CEO of InCarda Therapeutics since 2013, “intends to pursue other leadership opportunities within the life science space” and has handed the keys to Robert Lisicki. Everyone from Doug Manion to Fabio Cataldi has found their next landing spot after Arena Pharmaceuticals was sold to Pfizer, and you can add Lisicki to the list after serving as Arena’s chief commercial officer from March 2018 until the deal closed in March. The former CCO of Daiichi Sankyo’s US cardiovascular and oncology areas, Lisicki has also been a general manager at Amgen and Regeneron.
→ Zosano Pharma went belly-up several months ago, and its CEO Steven Lo has moved on to another gig with wet age-related macular degeneration biotech Valitor. Lo replaces Wesley Jackson, who’s now president and CSO, and Kyle LaHucik got a chance to speak with both when the UC Berkeley spinout unveiled a $28 million Series B round this week.
→ Fortress Biotech’s gout and chronic kidney disease subsidiary Urica Therapeutics has poached Jay Kranzler from Pfizer as chairman and CEO. Kranzler was the pharma giant’s VP and global head of external R&D innovation and worldwide R&D strategic investments; he’s also founded and helmed Cypress Bioscience, which was sold to Ramius and Royalty Pharma back in 2010. One other Urica tidbit: Stanford’s Vibeke Strand now has a seat on the board of directors.
→ Former J&J exec Seema Kumar is donning the CEO cap at Deerfield Management affiliate Cure, a healthcare innovation campus in NYC. Kumar’s nearly two-decade tenure at J&J culminated in her role as global head of the office of innovation, global health and scientific engagement. Prior to her gig at J&J, Kumar was the chief of staff and chief communications officer at MIT’s Whitehead Institute, having a hand in the Human Genome Project and the creation and launch of the Broad Institute.
→ Luke Walker has split from Seagen, taking the CMO job at Harpoon Therapeutics after the June 1 resignation of his predecessor, Natalie Sacks. Walker was the global development lead for Tukysa, the tyrosine kinase inhibitor approved for advanced HER2-positive breast cancer with chemo, and had been VP of clinical development since February. As Harpoon comes to grips with the recent discontinuation of HPN424, the will-they-won’t-they between Merck and Seagen on an M&A deal has cooled substantially, with Bloomberg reporting that the two companies are at an impasse on a price.
→ Ripping a page from GSK’s book by pushing ahead with the “New Biohaven” now that Pfizer has taken control of the migraine franchise, Vlad Coric has $248 million to work with and a pair of newcomers on staff. Ex-Agios CSO Bruce Car, a 19-year Bristol Myers veteran, has signed on as chief scientist, and Tanya Fischer takes the dual roles of chief development officer and head of translational medicine. A Bristol Myers alum in her own right, Fischer was VP, CNS and complement clinical development for Alnylam since January 2020. And as they pivot to neuroscience and rare disease, Coric promoted SVP of neurology Irfan Qureshi — a Biohaven exec since 2017 — to CMO.
→ Capturing our attention as one of the Endpoints 11 this year — and with ex-Pfizer CEO Ian Read in place as chairman — Areteia Therapeutics has installed Eric Bradford as CMO and Robin Walker as chief legal officer and corporate secretary. Bradford, an 18-year GSK vet, was VP of clinical development and then chief development officer of Aeglea BioTherapeutics, while Walker had held the roles of chief legal officer, chief compliance officer & corporate secretary at Goldfinch Bio since November 2020. Areteia came out blazing in July with a $350 million raise and is developing its lead drug dexpramipexole for eosinophilic asthma.
→ Greg Verdine has nabbed a 25-year Roche alum as his new chief scientist at GSK fungi partner LifeMine Therapeutics, which struck gold with a $175 million Series C in March. Martin Stahl may be leaving the Swiss pharma, but he’s staying in Basel at LifeMine’s European offices, breaking away from Roche after nearly four years as global head of lead discovery. LifeMine has also appointed Louis Plamondon as head of CMC after holding the same post at Constellation Pharmaceuticals. His earlier résumé is dotted with leadership positions at such companies as Tetraphase, Karyopharm and Vertex.
→ Samantha Truex’s Upstream Bio has promoted Jen Beachell to COO and called upon Mersedeh Miraliakbari to be SVP, regulatory and quality. Originally jumping on board as chief commercial officer, Beachell had led commercial strategy for Momenta and was then VP of global commercial strategy, autoantibody disease area for Janssen when the J&J buyout closed. Miraliakbari’s regulatory background includes posts at AstraZeneca, Teva, J&J and, since 2018, Nabriva Therapeutics. Upstream debuted with a $200 million Series A with the one-time Astellas monoclonal antibody UPB-101 in the spotlight to treat asthma and other inflammatory diseases. Marcella Ruddy, Ian Pavord and Michael Wechsler will also chime in as clinical advisors.
→ Endocrine disease biotech Crinetics has selected Dana Pizzuti as chief development officer. Pizzuti juggled the roles of CMO and SVP, development operations at Ascendis Pharma, a biotech that helped usher in an era of big raises after positive data readouts in March with a $500 million offering. She also brings regulatory experience from J&J, Gilead, Rigel and Theravance Biopharma.
→ Meanwhile, the Crinetics spinout Radionetics Oncology has enlisted Umesh Gangadharmath as SVP, technical operations. Gangadharmath had been COO of Optimal Tracers, ending a nine-year run overall at the radiopharma shop.
→ Going after Huntington’s and spinocerebellar ataxia types 3 and 1 with its lead program VO659 under new chief executive Micah Mackison, Danish biotech Vico Therapeutics has picked up Scott Schobel as CMO. To conclude his nine years at Roche, Schobel was clinical science leader for its Huntington’s candidate tominersen and Alzheimer’s drug gantenerumab, which has gotten its second wind (or third, or fourth) thanks to developments like Biogen and Eisai’s positive Phase III results for lecanemab last week.
→ Evommune has been making several key hires, and this week is no different at the inflammatory disease biotech with Jeegar Patel coming in as CSO. As Kadmon’s SVP, research and nonclinical development, Patel’s work with the chronic graft-versus-host disease drug Rezurock propelled it to an FDA approval in July 2021, setting the stage for some M&A action with Sanofi in a $1.9 billion deal a couple months later. Evommune has also added CFO Kyle Carver and chief corporate strategy and legal officer Greg Moss to the squad this year.
→ Robert Hariri’s Celularity, now hitching its wagon to allogeneic cell therapies, has tapped Adrian Kilcoyne as CMO. Kilcoyne splits from Humanigen, where he held the same role for a year and a half, and he was the lymphoma program lead at Celgene before jumping over to AstraZeneca in 2019, eventually serving as the pharma giant’s VP of global oncology evidence generation and external alliances a year later. Celularity also promoted John Haines to senior EVP, general manager and chief administrative officer, and Brad Glover to Haines’ old job as COO. Back when SPACs were really cooking (and hey, they’re trying to elbow their way back into the conversation in the case of Estrella Biopharma this week), Celularity linked arms with GX Acquisition Corp. in a $138 million merger.
→ Absci CEO Sean McClain had to make deep job cuts in an August reorg, but he’s made a senior leadership move by recruiting ex-Shire CMO and head of R&D Andreas Busch as chief innovation officer. Busch is a 10-year Bayer vet who had been CSO, chief innovation officer and head of the Innovation Center at Cyclerion Therapeutics. In a statement that eschewed the usual cookie-cutter language but didn’t specify the number of layoffs at Absci, McClain said, “I always knew that creating the impossible was going to be hard — however, parting ways with talented friends and colleagues is even harder.”
→ Cerevance is helping Merck give it another try with Alzheimer’s and enlisting Ottavio Vitolo as CMO. The former head of neuromuscular clinical research at Pfizer, Vitolo was previously the medical chief and global head of R&D for Alcyone Therapeutics, while other stops include Homology Medicines (VP, clinical development) and Relmada Therapeutics (head of R&D and CMO). This Alzheimer’s reclamation project comes four years after Merck stuck a fork in its BACE drug verubecestat.
→ Now led by ex-Sierra Oncology chief Stephen Dilly, enzyme engineering outfit Codexis has brought in a familiar face as COO. Genentech alum Kevin Norrett spent the last two years as CBO of Sierra, which GSK purchased for $1.9 billion in April, and he had a yearlong stint as chief commercial officer of Angion Biomedica. On top of that, Codexis is bolstering its board of directors by pulling up a chair for Resilience CEO Rahul Singhvi.
→ Targeting such neuro indications as Huntington’s disease and ALS with its lead candidate pridopidine, Prilenia has welcomed Anne Sullivan as CBO. Sullivan was the business chief for Rodin Therapeutics when Alkermes bought the biotech in 2019, and she’s been a corporate development exec for Sea Pharmaceuticals and Sunovion Pharmaceuticals. Prilenia gave itself some financial wiggle room in November 2021 with a $43 million Series B raise.
→ T cell therapy-focused BlueSphere Bio has promoted Keir Loiacono to the role of CEO. Loiacono had just joined the company last year as CBO. Prior to his role at BlueSphere, Loiacono was VP of business development and general counsel of OncoSec Medical. Loiacono has also served at Advaxis and Orapharma and sits on the board of EpiAxis Therapeutics.
→ A pair of execs has been promoted at AviadoBio, a London gene therapy player that unsealed an $80 million Series A round in December 2021. COO Graeme Fielder had been head of operations for two years, and he took on several corporate development roles at Audentes from 2015-20. Chief technical officer Alex Bloom was brought into the fold as SVP of technical operations just before the Series A was announced; he had previously been in charge of regulatory affairs and quality assurance at Gyroscope.
→ Trying to assuage the FDA’s concerns about its microbiome therapy MaaT013 that’s still on clinical hold in the US, French biotech MaaT Pharma has lined up Nathalie Corvaïa as CSO. Corvaïa had led immuno-oncology research at The Pierre Fabre Immunology Center and was previously the institute’s managing director and research director.
→ Competing with the aforementioned KalVista in the hereditary angioedema space, Swiss biotech Pharvaris has upgraded Annick Deschoolmeester to chief human resources officer. Deschoolmeester joined Pharvaris as head of HR last year from Takeda, where she was head of global learning and talent management after a gig as the Japanese pharma’s HR business leader, plasma derived therapies. She’s also been a human resources exec at Allergan.
→ Dublin-based Trinity Biotech has reeled in Aris Kekedjian as CEO and chairman. Kekedjian succeeds Ronan O’Caoimh, who will remain on the company’s board. Most recently, Kekedjian served as president and CEO of Icahn Enterprises. Additionally, Kekedjian had a three decade-long stint at General Electric and has held roles at Xerox, Finserv and XPO Logistics.
→ San Diego protein degradation outfit Plexium, which clinched a deal with AbbVie in April for $35 million upfront after teaming up with Amgen on “molecular glues” nearly three months earlier, has named Suzanne Zoumaras as head of human resources. Zoumaras, the co-founder of Human Capital Resource Partners, was chief human capital officer at Arena Pharmaceuticals from 2019-21.
→ Staying in the protein degradation space, Arvinas has plucked Paul McInulty from Bristol Myers, naming him SVP, regulatory affairs. McInulty climbed through the regulatory ranks at Celgene, and after the buyout, he was Bristol Myers’ VP, therapeutic head, hematology and precision medicines regulatory affairs. In July 2021, Pfizer reupped its alliance with Arvinas by plunking down $1 billion with the potential for another $1.4 billion in milestones.
→ Frazier Life Sciences has appointed Jan Møller Mikkelsen as a senior advisor. Mikkelsen has been president and CEO of Ascendis Pharma since he founded the company in 2007, and he’s chairman of the board at Hummingbird Bioscience.
→ With her days at Novartis behind her, Suzanne Schaffert has picked up another board seat, this time at Incyte. Schaffert and John Tsai were let go as part of a high-profile restructuring that Vas Narasimhan instituted at Novartis this spring, but she reemerged in Peer Review when she became a board member at Rubius Therapeutics in July. Her association with the Big Pharma had dated back to 1995, when she arrived as a sales representative.
→ US-Swiss LILRB (leukocyte immunoglobulin-like) biotech ImmunOs Therapeutics has made room for Joseph Leveque on the board of directors. Leveque is the ex-medical chief at Mirati and Synthorx who’s now the CMO at Medikine, which is developing an IL-7 mimetic named MDK-703.
→ Lalo Flores has expanded the board of directors at Century Therapeutics to eight members with the additions of Amicus CFO Daphne Quimi and Horizon CEO Tim Walbert. They join a board that also includes former Kite COO and CFO Cynthia Butitta, ex-Novartis chief Joe Jimenez and Versant’s Carlo Rizzuto.
→ James Dentzer is headed to the board of directors at Imunon, the New Jersey biotech once known as Celsion that’s now led by ex-Moderna commercial chief Corinne Le Goff. The former Amicus and Dicerna CFO has been chief executive at Curis since September 2018.
→ Sanofi vet and ex-Onxeo chair Danièle Guyot-Caparros is replacing Viviane Monges on the board of directors at peanut patch developer DBV Technologies. Humanigen COO and CFO Tim Morris will chair DBV’s audit committee in Monges’ stead.
→ Dallas-based Secretome Therapeutics is saddling up Angela Shen with a seat on its board of directors. Shen currently serves as VP, strategic innovation leaders at Mass General Brigham. Shen also comes with a hefty résumé with stints as CMO of several companies, including Walking Fish, Arcellx, Nkarta, Arvinas and Tizona. Earlier in her career, Shen had gigs at Novartis, Exelixis and J&J.
→ PaxMedica is welcoming aboard a new face on its board of directors with the appointment of Charles Casamento. This is far from Casamento’s first board appointment, currently sitting on the boards of Eton Pharmaceuticals, First Wave Biopharma and Relmada Therapeutics.