Scoop: Med­Im­mune chief Bahi­ja Jal­lal is leav­ing As­traZeneca and join­ing the trek in­to biotech

Six years af­ter As­traZeneca’s then new CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot named Bahi­ja Jal­lal pres­i­dent of the big Med­Im­mune sub­sidiary in Gaithers­burg, MD, putting her at the cen­ter of the com­pa­ny’s R&D turn­around plans, the long­time phar­ma ex­ec is join­ing the great mi­gra­tion of in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als to biotech.

Eliot Forster

Jal­lal is tak­ing the helm at Im­muno­core next week, a promi­nent TCR play­er in the UK which has been go­ing through a re­mark­able shake­up af­ter the orig­i­nal team un­der CEO Eliot Forster — now chief at F-star — ei­ther left or were forced out. Im­muno­core was able to raise $320 mil­lion a lit­tle more than 3 years ago — a time when that kind of mon­ey was still able to cause as­ton­ish­ment in the in­dus­try.

This wasn’t the first such biotech job to come along, Jal­lal tells me in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view ahead of the an­nounce­ment. “But when the right one is there you jump on it.”

The job starts on Mon­day, and Jal­lal says she feels like “a kid in a can­dy store” when it comes to Im­muno­core, a com­pa­ny with a broad plat­form that is built to ac­com­mo­date on­col­o­gy as well as in­fec­tious dis­eases and au­toim­mune con­di­tions.

And Jal­lal isn’t the on­ly se­nior As­traZeneca ex­ec head­ing to new biotech fields. The Wall Street Jour­nal re­ports to­day that Mark Mal­lon — cur­rent EVP in charge of port­fo­lio strat­e­gy — is on his way to take the CEO job at Iron­wood, as that com­pa­ny splits up un­der pres­sure and Pe­ter Hecht leaves to run the R&D spin­out.

An­drew Hotchkiss

Over the past year-plus Im­muno­core has run in­to some se­vere tur­bu­lence af­ter it tried to shop a new round at its old uni­corn val­u­a­tion. Po­ten­tial in­vestors weren’t ready to buy in, trig­ger­ing an ex­o­dus at the top and a move up for chief com­mer­cial of­fi­cer An­drew Hotchkiss as in­ter­im chief.

Jal­lal says Hotchkiss has done a great job this year, which in­cludes ink­ing a ma­jor new pact with Genen­tech, and he’ll go back to con­cen­trat­ing on his com­mer­cial fo­cus with an eye on ad­vanc­ing Im­muno­core’s late-stage can­cer ther­a­py to­ward the mar­ket.

“I can tell you there’s been a lot of progress in the past year,” she adds. “Next week we’re go­ing to JP­Mor­gan and share the sto­ry with the in­vestor com­mu­ni­ty and oth­ers. My in­ten­tion is to bring re­as­sur­ance to in­vestors that I will bring sta­bil­i­ty to the or­ga­ni­za­tion, bring the best team and have the vi­sion we can all work to­geth­er and show them why I am join­ing the com­pa­ny.”

Mene Pan­ga­los

Jal­lal was one of three top R&D ex­ecs So­ri­ot picked for the Big Phar­ma’s turn­around in 2013. Brig­gs Mor­ri­son left sev­er­al years ago to run Syn­dax. That leaves Mene Pan­ga­los and his new col­leagues to run the show at As­traZeneca’s re­search and de­vel­op­ment op­er­a­tions.

There’s no im­me­di­ate word on who will re­place Jal­lal at Med­im­mune, where she steered 5 drugs to an ap­proval, in­clud­ing their check­point play­er Imfinzi.


Im­age: Bahi­ja Jal­lal. MED­IM­MUNE

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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J&J ad­comm live blog: J&J faces ques­tions on old­er adults, asymp­to­matic in­fec­tion, long-term im­mu­ni­ty

The FDA adcomm has advanced to the free-for-all question stage of the hearing and, as they did for Moderna and Pfizer, committee members are raising questions about the lingering issues surrounding the vaccine.

In J&J’s case, one of those unknowns is a group of participants who appeared to respond worse to the vaccine: those over 60 with comorbidities. In that group, the vaccine was only 42% effective at stopping disease starting 28 days after vaccination.

Gos­samer push­es ahead with failed asth­ma drug; Cull­gen gets $50M Se­ries B for pro­tein de­graders

After getting beaten up by investors over the key failure of its lead drug GB001, Gossamer had already indicated that they thought they could move ahead in asthma, though likely through a partnership. And the biotech is pushing forward on that front, according to a Q4 statement today, following talks with regulators.

The company reported:

Gossamer engaged with the FDA and the EMA about the clinical development path in asthma, and based off those interactions, Gossamer believes that there is a viable clinical development path for GB001, or its backup molecule, in asthma. Gossamer does not currently plan to move forward with GB001, or its backup molecule, in further clinical trials without a partner.