Sean Parker-backed cell therapy startup ArsenalBio plucks Merck VP as new CSO
Merck’s immuno-oncology superstar Nicholas Haining has been appointed CSO at ArsenalBio, which is working on an approach to programmable cell therapies.
The addition of a high-profile appointment like Haining, who co-founded the company but has been serving as VP of discovery oncology and immunology at Merck Research Laboratories and also did work on pediatric hematology/oncology at the famed Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, comes as ArsenalBio may set its sights on an IPO in the near future.
Haining replaces Genentech vet Jane Grogan, who in April moved over to be Graphite Bio’s CSO after serving as Arsenal’s CSO since the biotech’s launch in October 2019.
“ArsenalBio has laid out a vision and a roadmap for engineering the fate and function of T cells to help cure cancer,” Haining said in a statement. “It will be a privilege to be part of the mission of transforming the best science into effective therapies for patients who need them most.”
The new senior leadership fits right in with Arsenal’s recently announced collaboration with Bristol Myers Squibb. Back in January, Arsenal teamed up with BMS to find, develop and commercialize targeted T cell therapies for solid tumors. Arsenal will handle the early discovery work in the deal while Bristol will pay $70 million upfront with an option to license preclinical candidates and bring them to market.
Arsenal has sharpened its focus in the nearly two years since its inception, with new work on using a “stack” of biology compositions to create designer T cells that can be administered at lower doses, better target solid tumors and prevent the serious side effects common in other immunotherapies. The biotech says its candidates may be easier to manufacture too, given the fact they’re not administered through inactivated viruses.
Led by Ken Drazan, a J&J vet and former president of Grail, the South San Francisco-based biotech has a formidable group of investors, including the billionaire and former Napster head Sean Parker, who sits on Arsenal’s board of directors, and his Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, along with others like Westlake Village BioPartners, Kleiner Perkins, the University of California, San Francisco Foundation Investment Company, Euclidean Capital, and Osage University Partners.
“ArsenalBio allows us to rewrite vast stretches of code to give T cells dramatic new functions — that means they can be made to be more effective at killing cancer and a broad spectrum of other diseases,” Parker said in a statement. “It’s also very rewarding to see ArsenalBio born from the deep collaboration of PICI investigators — who worked together across research centers, hospitals and universities on the science behind these technologies.”