Sara Kenkare-Mitra leaves Genentech for a chance to lead neuro R&D; GlaxoSmithKline alum jumps to Vifor Pharma with the lid lifted on sale to CSL
Sara Kenkare-Mitra spent more than 23 years at biotech behemoth Genentech, climbing the corporate ladder from small molecule scientist all the way up to SVP of developmental sciences. At the same time, she was an adjunct professor at her alma mater, UC San Francisco.
But things have changed. Thursday was her first full day at her new job as president and head of R&D at neurodegenerative disease player Alector — just a few months after GlaxoSmithKline dropped $700 million upfront to partner with the San Francisco biotech on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia.
And only a few hours into the first full day of her new job, Kenkare-Mitra, who was featured as one of our 20 Women in Biopharma R&D last year, left an all-hands meeting to sit down with Endpoints News.
After immigrating from India — where she found her passion for medicine with inspiration from her physician grandfather — Kenkare-Mitra went to the University of Texas in Austin. But in her eyes, Texas was not the right fit — and she then went to UC San Francisco, where she ultimately graduated with her PhD in biopharmaceutical sciences. Kenkare-Mitra has been involved with UCSF ever since graduation as an adjunct professor, either talking to industry scientists about biologics or talking with students from the perspective of industry.
After graduating, she faced a little bit of a conundrum: whether to go into academia and be an academic in the pharmaceutical sciences, or go into drug discovery and development. And that was something she debated for a while before deciding down the path of biotech, Kenkare-Mitra said.
But then, Kenkare-Mitra got intrigued — “inspired” in her words — by Genentech, when the now-giant biotech’s monoclonal antibody Herceptin got approved back in the late 1990s. She thought that was so cool, and from her view, “that’s science.” And that’s where she ended up for the next two decades.
Looking back at her tenure at Genentech, Kenkare-Mitra learned one valuable lesson during her almost 24 years at the biotech: Follow the science — as simple as that.
Kenkare-Mitra got interested in Alector when she was approached by Alector’s founder and CEO Arnon Rosenthal, whom she knew through her community and friends at Genentech.
“For me, I’ve just been impressed always looking at Alector from a distance, because of just Arnon’s own passion and vision around neurodegeneration,” she told Endpoints.
Pairing the passion Kenkare-Mitra saw in Rosenthal with her first peek at what Alector was working on in its pipeline made her want to be a part of the company. And this is what started the conversations between Kenkare-Mitra and Rosenthal — ultimately bringing her on board.
What pulled her was not so much the deal with GSK, but Alector’s biology and targets. Alector flashed data in late July that indicated its lead antibody, AL001 for frontotemporal dementia, brought progranulin levels back to near-normal levels after a half-a-year. Seven stayed at near-normal after a year — which could prove to be more effective at slowing mental decline than Biogen’s controversial Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm. AL001 is currently in Phase III testing.
Other indications in Alector’s pipeline include two oncology targets in the preclinical phase.
Her first goal while on the job? Talk with people and get oriented. There’s a new dynamic of going from a large biotech to a small biotech. In Kenkare-Mitra’s case, while Genentech has over 13,000 employees, Alector has somewhere around 200 employees. She said her first 90 days will be talking with everyone at the small biotech, and getting to understand the programs and pipeline more in-depth.
— Paul Schloesser
→ Just prior to the buzz about Australian big leaguer CSL purchasing the company, Vifor Pharma tapped Hervé Gisserot as chief commercial officer, reuniting with Vifor CEO and former CSL board member Abbas Hussain on Jan. 17 after their long careers at GSK. After Hussain left GSK in 2017 as global president, pharmaceuticals & vaccines, Gisserot was elevated to head of pharmaceuticals & vaccines, intercontinental and later added Greater China to the scope of his responsibilities. The scuttlebutt surrounding the $11.7 billion megadeal with CSL ramped up Dec. 2 and the two parties made it official this week, lending credence to a growing sentiment about a groundswell of M&A activity — as evidenced further by Pfizer’s buyout of Arena Pharmaceuticals on Monday.
→ Sobi has turned to its board of directors to find a successor to Roche and GSK vet Ravi Rao as head of R&D. Anders Ullman will take over in a move “that will be fully implemented in early 2022,” according to the release, and his three-decade career includes stops at AstraZeneca, Bayer and Takeda. Rao had been on the job since Sept. 1, 2020 at Sobi, which just scored an approval with the European Commission alongside Apellis for its paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) drug pegcetacoplan, marketed in the EU as Aspaveli.
→ A pair of execs has headed over to Orna Therapeutics, the MPM-backed startup diving into circular RNA therapies dubbed oRNA. Robert Mabry, Takeda’s head of global biologics, has set off for Orna as the biotech’s new CSO — before his time at Takeda, Mabry was VP, protein sciences for Cogen, now known as Repertoire Immune Medicines. Orna has also named Nishla Keiser as chief legal and strategy officer after spending more than six years in legal roles at Intellia, including SVP, deputy general counsel. Orna launched in February with an $80 million Series A round.
→ Jim Neal is planning to hang up his CEO cap and retire from his role at XOMA Corporation. Neal joined the company in December of 2016 from Entelos where he served as CBO. Prior to that, Neal had experience from stints at Iconix Biosciences and Incyte. With plans underway in search for his successor, Neal has now been appointed as chairman of the board — taking over from Denman Van Ness who has served in the position since 2011. Van Ness will continue in his role as lead independent director.
→ Back in December 2020, we told you about Amy Broidrick leaving her post as Viking’s global head of corporate development to become chief strategy officer at Carlsbad, CA cancer biotech Qualigen. She can now add president to her title as Michael Poirier cedes those responsibilities and remains chairman and CEO. Broidrick, a Pfizer and Merck alum who will continue as chief strategy officer, is a former Arena exec and the ex-VP, head of global marketing excellence and business innovation for EMD Serono. Qualigen’s lead asset, QN-247, is in the preclinical phase for patients with acute myeloid leukemia.
→ Rick Modi’s gene therapy upstart Affinia Therapeutics — one of the Endpoints 11 for 2021 with CSO Charles Albright making the switch from Editas in February — has installed Thomas Leggett as CFO. Leggett had resigned from the same post at Black Diamond in his previous Peer Review appearance a few weeks back. During his two years at Black Diamond, Leggett was a major figure behind the cancer biotech’s $85 million Series C and its subsequent Nasdaq debut that helped kick off the 2020 IPO boom. Leggett’s also been CFO at Flagship’s Axcella Health (now Axcella Therapeutics) from 2017-19.
→ Tony Gibney has hit the exit at Fog Pharma, becoming chief business and strategy officer for retinal disease player Iveric Bio. Since May 2020, Gibney was Fog Pharma’s CBO and CFO after two years as the business chief at Achillion, where he guided its sale to Alexion before Alexion was sold to AstraZeneca around this time last year. He’s also been managing director and co-head of the biotechnology investment banking team at SVB Leerink back in the Leerink Partners days.
→ Maryland-based Altimmune made a pipeline pivot in June, turning its back on a single-dose intranasal Covid-19 vaccine candidate that sputtered badly in Phase I in favor of a renewed focus on liver diseases and obesity. Altimmune now has Richard Eisenstadt on board as CFO starting Dec. 31. Since 2014, Eisenstadt held the role of finance chief at Neos Therapeutics, which merged with Aytu BioScience in March and is now called Aytu BioPharma.
→ If you’re wondering about Eisenstadt’s predecessor, Peer Review knows his whereabouts too: Will Brown is on his way to women’s health biotech ObsEva, replacing David Renas — who will barely last a year on the job after announcing his departure in late October “for personal reasons,” effective Jan. 5. Brown was named acting CFO of Altimmune in May 2018 before shedding the acting label a year later.
→ Keytruda combo partner Surface Oncology has promoted Lisa McGrath to chief people officer and Shannon Devens to SVP, development operations. McGrath has been a Surface exec since 2017 and was the Cambridge, MA biotech’s SVP of human resources since 2020. Devens — a five-year Surface vet —moves up to SVP after becoming VP of clinical development operations in 2018, and from 2009-16, she was the senior director of clinical operations for Infinity Pharmaceuticals.
The hustle-and-bustle also spills onto the board of directors at Surface: Eli Lilly and J&J vet Denice Torres will chair the board, succeeding ex-Surface CEO Jeff Goater (who will retain his seat), while Mirati chief commercial officer Ben Hickey has also been added to the mix.
→ NeoGenomics’ liquid biopsy sub Inivata has pegged David Eberhard as CMO. Eberhard is a former pathologist at Genentech who comes to Inivata after his stint at Illumina as senior medical director, oncology, and from 2016-18, he was senior director, oncology development at Genomic Health. Mark Mallon has steered the ship at NeoGenomics after stepping down as Ironwood’s CEO in February.
→ New York-based IN8bio started trading on its second attempt this summer, jumping on the Nasdaq bandwagon before things really subsided with IPOs. Late last week, IN8bio promoted Kate Rochlin to COO after a year as VP, operations and innovation. Rochlin, who was also director of business development for Nanobiotix spinoff Curadigm, co-founded and was CSO of Immunovent. IN8bio just revealed very early data indicating that its off-the-shelf gamma delta T cells helped three acute myeloid leukemia patients stay in remission.
→ Roche’s Spark tells Peer Review that Paul Savidge has been promoted to chief legal officer after serving as the gene therapy biotech’s general counsel. Savidge, who’s spent the last five years at Spark, is a Bristol Myers Squibb alum who closed out his 15 years at the drug giant in 2014 as SVP and deputy general counsel for the global commercialization, R&D and Europe groups.
→ As we look back on the year, Affinivax started 2021 with a bang, hauling in a $226 million megaround to try and give Pfizer’s Prevnar 13 a run for its money. And the Cambridge, MA biotech continues to expand its team with Vanya Sagar as chief people officer, choosing a new path here after ending her three years with Sigilon Therapeutics as chief human resources officer. She also worked in HR at Biogen from 2015-18.
→ Around the Horn: Takeda liver disease partner HemoShear Therapeutics has recruited Patrick Horn as CMO. As medical chief of Albireo since 2018, Horn’s presence was pivotal to this year’s US and Europe approvals of Bylvay for progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis, and for nearly seven years he was CMO at Tetraphase. HemoShear has also joined forces with Horizon on developing treatments for gout.
→ Pushing its lead drug NRTX-1001 into Phase I/II thanks to a $41.5 million financing round co-led by The Column Group in June, Neurona Therapeutics has spruced up its C-suite with the promotions of Catherine Priest to chief development officer, Gautam Banik to chief technology officer and David Blum to CMO. Priest joined Neurona in 2015 and had been the San Francisco biotech’s VP of preclinical development after three years as a senior science officer with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Formerly Neurona’s VP of process sciences and manufacturing, Banik owned the same title during his nine years at Cellerant Therapeutics. And Blum, an ex-senior medical director at GSK, had led clinical development at Neurona since 2019 after his time with Sunovion as head of neurology clinical research.
→ Nordic Nanovector has retooled its leadership from the top down this year, naming Erik Skullerud as CEO and Pierre Dodion as CMO within the last few months alone. The Norwegian biotech that targets CD37 has now greeted Sandra Jonsson as COO. Jonsson has almost a dozen years at Novartis under her belt and was head of commercial strategy & operations at Shire before her most recent gig at Alexion as senior director, commercial international.
→ Remix Therapeutics, which launched last year with $81 million worth of financing, has welcomed Zaven Kaprielian to its C-suite as CSO. In addition to his academic appointments at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Kaprielian has also served as project CSO at Dementia Discovery Fund US. Prior to that, Kaprielian was director of neuroscience research at Amgen.
→ Cue Biopharma, whose Immuno-STAT agents aim to selectively control T cell responses, has selected Patrica Nasshorn as CBO. A veteran of Bristol Myers, Merck and J&J in such areas as business development, licensing and marketing, Nasshorn has previous CBO experience with Vencerx Therapeutics. Cue’s IL-2-based lead candidate, CUE-101, is in a Phase Ib study alone and in a combo with Keytruda for head and neck cancer.
→ Neutron Therapeutics has snapped up Elizabeth Reczek as CEO and as a member of its board. This isn’t Reczek’s first experience in the CEO seat, having previously helmed DNA/RNA sequencing company SeqLL and Excelimmune.
→ Looking to bounce back from the CRL the FDA issued for its antibiotic sulopenem this summer, Iterum Therapeutics has named Sailaja Puttagunta as its first CMO. Puttagunta is no stranger at Iterum, where she was VP of clinical development from 2016 to 2018. Most recently, she served as CMO at BiomX and was a medical director at Pfizer.
→ Rare bone disease biotech InnoSkel has appointed Sophie Amsellem-Bosq as chief technical officer. Most recently, Amsellem-Bosq served as global CAR-T program director at Servier, and she has also held positions at Gustave Roussy Cancer Centre, Ambroise Paré Hospital and INSERM.
→ Sydney-based oncology biotech Kazia Therapeutics has welcomed Karen Krumeich as CFO starting in January. Once a senior director with Bristol Myers’ health systems management team, Krumeich has held CFO posts at Theravectys and Soligenix before this latest move. Last month John Friend was named CMO at Kazia, which expanded the pipeline by nabbing VEGFR3 inhibitor EVT801 from Evotec in the spring.
→ Neogene Therapeutics has welcomed aboard Raphaël Rousseau as CMO. Rousseau hails from Gritstone bio, where he served as EVP, head of product development and CMO. Prior to Gritstone, Rousseau was global franchise head of pediatrics at Genentech and Roche.
→ Skye Bioscience has promoted Tu Diep to chief development officer and appointed Keith Ward to its board of directors. Diep joined the San Diego-based company as SVP of development after a stint at Protox Therapeutics. Prior to Protox, Diep was with OncoSec Medical and Element Biosciences. Meanwhile, Ward currently serves as president and CEO of InterveXion Therapeutics; he was formerly EVP and chief development officer for Reata Pharmaceuticals and held roles at Bausch + Lomb and GSK.
→ Charles Schweizer is moving on from GSK to join Houston-based ImmunoGenesis as SVP of clinical development. Schweizer had only been with the pharma giant a short time as the therapeutic area head of oncology, and earlier he was VP, clinical operations with Galera Therapeutics. ImmunoGenesis, which is focused on “re-envisioning cold tumor treatment,” hopes to march its lead candidates into the clinic next year.
→ Ex-Apple principal counsel Jennifer Newberger has signed on to Cognito Therapeutics as head of regulatory and compliance, having just completed a brief run as Abbott’s senior regulatory counsel after her time at Apple. The C-suite has really crystallized in the last year at Cognito, including CEO Brent Vaughan, CBO Mark Day, CFO Jonathan Lieber, and chief commercial officer Everett Crosland. Both Vaughan and Crosland are scheduled to appear with Endpoints News at #JPM22, now fully virtual due to a runaway train of Omicron concerns.
→ Biotech’s Got Talent: Alicja Januszewic has answered the call to be SVP, people and culture for Theseus Pharmaceuticals, a cancer biotech which broke through on Nasdaq in October with a $160 million IPO. After talent management roles with such companies as Epizyme, Baxalta and Agenus, Januszewic was VP of people & culture for Allena Pharmaceuticals. The OrbiMed spinout now led by CEO Tim Clackson launched with a $100 million raise six months before the IPO.
→ Mas Matsuda has taken on the roles of general counsel and corporate secretary for California skin disease biotech Arcutis. An 18-year legal vet with Amgen, Matsuda was recently SVP, general counsel, chief compliance officer and corporate secretary at Halozyme before joining Arcutis, which is developing roflumilast for such conditions as chronic plaque psoriasis and atopic dermatitis.
→ Bioanalytical research organization Sapient has brought on Phil Worboys as head of translational medicine. Worboys joins the San Francisco Bay area-based company after more than a decade at Theravance Therapeutics, where he most recently served as SVP of research and translational medicine. Earlier in his career, Worboys had stints at Roche, Pfizer and Merck.
→ Adar Makovski Silverstein has taken on the role of director, corporate development for Onconova Therapeutics, which released single-patient data earlier this month with rigosertib for squamous cell carcinoma complicating recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB-associated SCC). Silverstein hails from Amgen, where she was a senior licensing associate, business development, external R&D. In August 2020, rigosertib fell flat in a Phase III trial for patients with high-risk myelodysplastic syndrome.
→ Next-gen sequencing company Clear Labs has brought on a trio of new execs with the appointments of Darshna Tanna as VP of product portfolio, Scott Carlucci as VP of customer success and Tim Sandford as VP of operations. Tanna formerly served as VP of molecular solutions at Roche while Carlucci was most recently senior director of technical service & support at Hologic. As for Sandford, he was previously the head of operations at ThermoFisher Scientific.
→ JJ Bienaimé has space reserved on the board of directors at BioMarin for ex-Celgene chairman and CEO Mark Alles. Now chairman of Turning Point Therapeutics, Alles is on the boards of Antengene and Syros.
→ Tango Therapeutics CFO Daniella Beckman has joined the board of directors at Blueprint Medicines, which just snapped up Lengo Therapeutics in a $250 million deal. Beckman also serves as a board member for Vor Biopharma and 5:01 Acquisition Corp.
→ Longtime Deutsche Bank managing director Barbara Ryan has been appointed to the board of directors at OcuTerra, chaired by Brent Saunders and chugging along with $35 million in Series B cash. Ryan is also on the board of MiNK Therapeutics, now led by ex-Agenus president and COO Jennifer Buell.
→ London-based consumer genetics testing and medical diagnostics company DnaNudge has swept in ex-GSK chairman and CEO Richard Sykes as chairman elect of its board of directors. Sykes is the new chair of the UK government’s Vaccine Taskforce.
→ Ionis’ former CFO and COO Lynne Parshall is making her way onto the board of directors at Repertoire Immune Medicines. Parshall currently sits on the board of Cytokinetics and was formerly chairwoman at Akcea Therapeutics.
→ San Diego mRNA outfit Arcturus Therapeutics has appointed Jing Marantz to the board of directors. Marantz, formerly the head of medical affairs with Alnylam, now holds that very position at Merck sub Acceleron.
→ Longwood B cell startup Be Bio has also dipped into the Acceleron talent pool, naming Jay Backstrom to the board of directors. Backstrom has been Acceleron’s head of R&D as well as Celgene’s CMO and head of regulatory affairs.
→ Amgen and Genentech alum Kimball Hall has been given a seat on the board of directors at Vera Therapeutics, which did a 180-degree pipeline turn from gene therapy (when it was known as Trucode Gene Repair) to kidney diseases like IgA nephropathy. In December 2020, Hall was promoted to president of Abzena in addition to her COO duties.
→ Shoreline Biosciences CEO Kleanthis Xanthopoulos will no longer be on Zosano Pharma’s board of directors beginning Dec. 31, but the door has opened for Elaine Yang to join the board. Yang, the former VP of internal audit for Facebook, is the chief revenue officer at Lyra Health.
→ Magenta Therapeutics CMO Jeffrey Humphrey is taking a seat on the board of directors of Cyteir Therapeutics. Humphrey formerly served as CMO of Constellation Pharmaceuticals and previously held positions at Bristol Myers, Pfizer, Bayer and Kyowa Kirin.
→ Denis Patrick is adding another board appointment to his résumé with his new spot at Palleon Pharmaceuticals. Patrick is VP and head of partnering innovation at Pfizer and a managing partner at Pfizer Ventures. Patrick currently has seats on the boards of FoRx Therapeutics, Metabomed, Mission Therapeutics and EvolveImmune Therapeutics and previously had stints at GSK and Merck.
→ Heplisav maker Dynavax has brought in Elaine Sun as a member of the board of directors. Sun, the ex-CFO and chief strategy officer at SutroVax (now Vaxcyte), is EVP and CFO of Halozyme.
→ Randy Schatzman-led Bolt Biotherapeutics has recruited Nicole Onetto to its board of directors. Onetto formerly served as deputy director and CSO of ZymoGenetics and CMO of OSI Pharmaceuticals. She also brings with her experience from her times at Bristol Myers, Gilead and Immunex.
→ Cupertino, CA-based Durect has welcomed former ALX Oncology CFO Peter García to its board of directors. García was also CFO at PDL BioPharma, BioTime (now Lineage Cell Therapeutics), Marina Biotech, Nanosys, Nuvelo, Novacept, IntraBiotics Pharmaceuticals and Dendreon.
→ Life science tools company Lumicks has added former Vor Biopharma chief technology officer (CTO) Sadik Kassim and Michael Schnall-Levin to its scientific advisory board. Kassim currently serves as CTO of Danaher and formerly had stints at Kite, Mustang Bio, Novartis’ cell and gene therapies unit and J&J. Meanwhile, Schnall-Levin is the SVP R&D and founding scientist at 10x Genomics and formerly served as chief product officer at Medigram.
Derek Graf contributed to this edition.