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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


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