Shehnaaz Suli­man dives back in­to Alzheimer's at Alec­tor; Pyx­is re­cruits Spring­Works founder Lara Sul­li­van as CEO

Shehnaaz Suli­man

Amid Shehnaaz Suli­man’s lengthy re­sume it could be easy to miss her stint lead­ing ear­ly-stage Alzheimer’s R&D at Genen­tech, where she over­saw a pro­gram for the ill-fat­ed crenezum­ab and ini­ti­at­ed one of the first pre­ven­tion stud­ies around the dev­as­tat­ing neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease. But it is this ex­pe­ri­ence that she — af­ter think­ing long and hard about her next ca­reer move over the past months — will be lean­ing heav­i­ly on as the first pres­i­dent and COO of Alec­tor.

Re­turn­ing to the dis­ease area af­ter spend­ing some years ad­vis­ing and work­ing for sev­er­al com­pa­nies on oth­ers, most re­cent­ly as SVP of cor­po­rate de­vel­op­ment and strat­e­gy at Ther­a­vance, Suli­man sees rea­son to be com­pelled by Alec­tor’s pi­o­neer­ing work in im­muno-neu­rol­o­gy, which is fast ap­proach­ing a piv­otal test loom­ing next year.

“The field has evolved in terms of the so­phis­ti­ca­tion with which we are now able to both iden­ti­fy as well as cor­re­late bio­mark­ers with clin­i­cal out­comes,” she told End­points News.

That in­cludes the work that some of her old col­leagues from Genen­tech are now do­ing at De­nali, just down the road on Oys­ter Point Boule­vard in South San Fran­cis­co. At Alec­tor, their big idea is that ge­net­ic mu­ta­tions and the ag­ing process ac­cel­er­ate senes­cence or de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the brain im­mune cells. Restor­ing a healthy im­mune sys­tem can ad­dress those is­sues — and with her ex­pe­ri­ence lead­ing clin­i­cal tri­als in mild-to-mod­er­ate Alzheimer’s “I al­most in­tu­itive­ly un­der­stood how this ap­proach could be a game-chang­er.”

In her new role Shehnaaz has broad re­spon­si­bil­i­ty over day-to-day op­er­a­tions in every­thing rang­ing from pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment to po­ten­tial com­mer­cial­iza­tion strat­e­gy. A key at­trac­tion for the job is to part­ner with Arnon Rosen­thal, founder and CEO, in fig­ur­ing out how to scale the or­ga­ni­za­tion while pre­serv­ing the agili­ty through which the biotech has cre­at­ed 14 can­di­dates and ush­ered four of them in­to the clin­ic with­in five years.

“Arnon is a tow­er­ing leader in the field of neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion and he has built an in­cred­i­ble team,” she said.

She now plans to help grow that team from 117 to be­tween 120 and 140 by the end of the year. And they have got­ten more ex­perts on board for the scale-up: Alec­tor an­nounced this morn­ing that Genen­tech vet Richard Scheller and Stan­ford pro­fes­sor Thomas Süd­hof, renowned neu­ro­sci­en­tists, will co-chair their strate­gic port­fo­lio ad­vice and re­view com­mit­tee. — by Am­ber Tong


Lara Sul­li­van

Lara Sul­li­van was deep in­to seed stage on­col­o­gy op­por­tu­ni­ties, just wrap­ping up a round for a stealth pre­clin­i­cal play­er when she came across the team at Pyx­is On­col­o­gy this sum­mer.

“I im­me­di­ate­ly rec­og­nized the trans­for­ma­tive po­ten­tial of Pyx­is’s nov­el bi­o­log­i­cal ap­proach­es built on the tech­nol­o­gy out of Tom Gajew­s­ki’s lab at Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go,” she told End­points News. “The en­thu­si­asm in the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty for Tom’s work com­bined with the horse­pow­er that was al­ready in place through the Se­ries A syn­di­cate of Long­wood, Leaps by Bay­er, Agent Cap­i­tal and Ipsen made it a no-brain­er to jump on board.”

As the new CEO of the com­pa­ny, suc­ceed­ing Long­wood part­ner David Stein­berg, she will keep the team laser-fo­cused on the ear­ly pipeline while bring­ing in the right part­ners for the plat­form, which iden­ti­fies new tar­gets for can­cer im­munother­a­py from the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment. CSO Ronald Herb­st, who joined in Oc­to­ber, has helped “set our sci­en­tif­ic strate­gies and rapid­ly at­tract tal­ent,” Sul­li­van said, and their biggest chal­lenge right now re­mains the tech­ni­cal one of pick­ing the right drugs for the right pa­tient pop­u­la­tions.

It has been a year since Sul­li­van left Spring­Works, the biotech she helped spin out of Pfiz­er with mid- to late-stage can­di­dates that didn’t make the cut for in­ter­nal de­vel­op­ment.

“I’ve al­ways felt strong­ly that great sci­ence de­serves the op­por­tu­ni­ty to de­clare it­self, and that at­tri­tion of great sci­ence (whether at dis­cov­ery or clin­i­cal stage) dri­ven by in­suf­fi­cient bud­get or in­ef­fi­cient op­er­a­tions is in­ex­cus­able,” she said.

With $22 mil­lion in Se­ries A fund­ing from deep pock­et­ed in­vestors and an ex­pe­ri­enced team in place, she is count­ing on Pyx­is to tack­le the chal­lenge head on. — by Am­ber Tong


→ More changes at com­ing at Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb. Just a day af­ter con­firm­ing BD chief Paul Bion­di’s de­par­ture, the phar­ma gi­ant said John Elick­er, EVP of cor­po­rate af­fairs and in­vestor re­la­tions, is set to re­tire by the end of March next year. His role will be split in­to two: Kathryn Met­calfe, the chief com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer of CVS Health, has been poached to take on the lead in cor­po­rate af­fairs; 13-year vet­er­an Tim Pow­er is be­ing pro­mot­ed to head of in­vestor re­la­tions.

→ Fol­low­ing an FDA OK for its be­ta-tha­lassemia drug Re­blozyl, Ac­celeron Phar­ma has wooed Jay Back­strom, the CMO of its part­ner Cel­gene, to the new­ly cre­at­ed role of head of R&D. Back­strom moves as Cel­gene is be­ing in­te­grat­ed in­to Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb af­ter a $74 bil­lion ac­qui­si­tion. Back­strom’s pre­vi­ous stints span Pharmion, Mar­i­on Mer­rell Dow and Quin­tiles

James Burns

→  San-Diego-based Lo­cana — which launched ear­li­er this year based on ge­net­ic re­search from UC San Diego pro­fes­sor Gene Yeo’s lab — has tapped James Burns to run the com­pa­ny as CEO. Burns suc­ceeds Jef­frey Os­trove, who will con­tin­ue to serve as a board di­rec­tor. Burns joins af­ter a stint as CEO of Case­bia, lead­ing the team in de­vel­op­ing new CRISPR/Cas9 ther­a­peu­tics to treat blood dis­or­ders. Burns al­so brings ex­pe­ri­ence from his time at Sanofi-Gen­zyme to the role.

Leila Al­land

PMV Phar­ma has wel­comed Leila Al­land to the fold as CMO, help­ing push the p53 drug it re­ceived $74 mil­lion back in 2017 to test in hu­mans. Most re­cent­ly, Al­land served in the same role at Af­fimed and has pre­vi­ous­ly held stints at Tarve­da Ther­a­peu­tics, As­traZeneca, Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb, No­var­tis and Scher­ing-Plough

Eli Wal­lace

→ Af­ter drop­ping their bid to re­claim Ei­dos af­ter three of­fer re­jec­tions, Neil Ku­mar-led Bridge­Bio Phar­ma has ap­point­ed Eli Wal­lace as the com­pa­ny’s CSO in res­i­dence for on­col­o­gy. Wal­lace joins the com­pa­ny af­ter a stint as CSO at Pelo­ton Ther­a­peu­tics, the can­cer biotech Mer­ck snapped up for $2.2 bil­lion. Pri­or to Pelo­ton, Wal­lace served in the med­i­c­i­nal chem­istry de­part­ment at Ar­ray Bio­Phar­ma — where he led re­search that pro­duced eight chem­i­cal en­ti­ties for the treat­ment of can­cer, in­clud­ing Mek­tovi.

Take­dapart­nered I/O play­er Shat­tuck Labs has ap­point­ed Casi DeY­oung as CBO. DeY­oung hops aboard af­ter serv­ing as COO at Im­mune­Sen­sor Ther­a­peu­tics. Pri­or to Im­mune­Sen­sor, DeY­oung was CBO of Mir­na Ther­a­peu­tics and had var­i­ous ex­ec roles at Rea­ta Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, EMD Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and Mer­ck KGaA

Julie Grant

Julie Grant and Bren­dan Dick­in­son have been pro­mot­ed to gen­er­al part­ner at Canaan Part­ners, the Sil­i­con Val­ley-based VC firm known for jump­ing in ear­ly. Grant joined in 2013 as an as­so­ciate, af­ter a stint at Genen­tech, while Dick­in­son start­ed in 2010. Grant is the fourth woman in the com­pa­ny to be­come GP.

Roche has a slew of up­com­ing changes to its board of di­rec­tors and cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee. As an­nounced in Ju­ly 2018, An­dreas Oeri will re­tire from the board along with John Bell — their pro­posed suc­ces­sors are Jörg Duschmalé and CEO of Swiss Life Group Patrick Frost re­spec­tive­ly. In ad­di­tion, Clau­dia Böck­stiegel, the cur­rent head of le­gal of the di­ag­nos­tics di­vi­sion, will suc­ceed gen­er­al coun­sel Got­tlieb Keller, who is step­ping out and in­to re­tire­ment. An­nette Luther, cur­rent­ly gen­er­al man­ag­er of Roche Di­ag­nos­tics In­ter­na­tion­al, will take over for Keller as sec­re­tary to the board of di­rec­tors. 

→ Af­ter se­cur­ing FDA ap­proval for its con­tro­ver­sial lead drug El­zon­ris in use for blas­tic plas­ma­cy­toid den­drit­ic cell neo­plasm (BPD­CN), on­col­o­gy-fo­cused drug de­vel­op­er Stem­line Ther­a­peu­tics has pro­mot­ed Robert Fran­co­mano from the role of SVP, glob­al head of com­mer­cial med­ical af­fairs to that of CCO. Fran­co­mano has held po­si­tions at Bax­al­ta, Pfiz­er, GSK and As­traZeneca — where he played a role with­in the com­pa­ny’s breast can­cer fran­chise.  

→ Af­ter mak­ing its de­but on the Hong Kong Stock Ex­change with a $285 mil­lion IPO in Feb­ru­ary, CStone Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals has brought on Shirley Zhao as gen­er­al man­ag­er for Greater Chi­na and head of com­mer­cial. Pre­vi­ous­ly, Zhao was the coun­try GM for Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb, where she spear­head­ed the launch for Op­di­vo, the first PD-1 in­hibitor to en­ter the Chi­nese mar­ket. Be­fore that, Zhao had the same job at Gen­zyme and Al­ler­gan

Fresh off a $114 mil­lion round led by Sam­sara and with big plans for its CAR-NK plat­form, Nkar­ta Ther­a­peu­tics has re­cruit­ed On­coMed vet Yvonne Li as SVP, fi­nance and for­mer On­cBio­Mune Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals CMO Bri­an Bar­nett as SVP, clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.

Last year Sue Dil­lon and Karyn O’Neil left J&J to launch fledg­ling Aro Bio­ther­a­peu­tics, and now the com­pa­ny has wel­comed Scott Green­berg as VP, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment and al­liance man­age­ment. Green­berg joins Aro af­ter a stint as VP, head of op­er­a­tions at Roivant Sci­ences. Pri­or to that, Green­berg spent more than a decade at Cel­gene — now swal­lowed by Bris­tol-My­ers in a $74 bil­lion deal — and Gold­man Sachs.

Sean Khozin

→ Ex-FDA of­fi­cial Sean Khozin has made the leap to join Janssen R&D as their glob­al head of da­ta strat­e­gy. Khozin was the for­mer as­so­ciate di­rec­tor for the FDA On­col­o­gy Cen­ter of Ex­cel­lence and found­ing di­rec­tor of the agency’s In­for­ma­tion Ex­change and Da­ta Trans­for­ma­tion (IN­FORMED). Khozin al­so found­ed SKMD, where he was CMO, and Hel­loHealth

Parex­el — which re­cent­ly part­nered up with Vivek Ra­maswamy’s Roivant-spawned Data­vant to em­brace re­al world ev­i­dence — has snatched up some reg­u­la­to­ry pros from the US and UK to join its team. All four will serve as tech­ni­cal vice pres­i­dents. The ad­di­tions in­clude: Mark Birse, for­mer MHRA deputy di­rec­tor of in­spec­tion, en­force­ment and stan­dards di­vi­sion; Philip Crook­er, drug de­vel­op­ment at­tor­ney; Lynne En­sor, who served as FDA act­ing deputy di­rec­tor of the of­fice of process and fa­cil­i­ties; and Yuex­ia Li, most re­cent­ly the FDA deputy di­rec­tor of the of­fice of pro­gram and reg­u­la­to­ry op­er­a­tions.

→ San Fran­cis­co start­up Verge Ge­nomics has ap­point­ed Thomas Large, the cur­rent CEO and co-founder of Blue Oak Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, and James Sum­mers, for­mer VP of neu­ro­science re­search at Ab­b­Vie, to its sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board. 

Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

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Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

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Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

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Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

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Caught in a Covid-19 mael­strom, Eli Lil­ly locks down clin­i­cal tri­als as multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D ops de­rail

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed Eli Lilly’s $6 billion R&D operations.

The pharma giant reported Monday morning that it has decided to hit the brakes on most new study starts and pause enrollment for most ongoing studies. Lilly adds that it is continuing dosing for ongoing studies, “but with study-by-study consideration.”

The pandemic has severely disrupted healthcare systems around the globe, says Lilly, making it difficult or impossible to conduct studies at many research sites. And there’s no timeline for when it expects to get back on track.

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As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

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A Sin­ga­pore VC rais­es $200M for a new round, but will Covid-19 pre­vent it from rais­ing the rest?

A top Singaporean biotech venture fund is nearly halfway toward its largest ever fund, but in a sign of what could be in store for VCs amid a global economic freeze, said they could face headwinds raising the other half.

Vickers Venture Partners has secured $200 million out of a targeted $500 million for its 6th fund, first announced in early 2018. They’ve given themselves 13 months to complete the financing, Vickers founder Finian Tan told Deal Street Asia, but the financial frost settling amid the Covid-19 pandemic could slow efforts.

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Strug­gling Unum ex­ecs are ready to con­sid­er a sale, merg­er or any deal that comes its way

Unum $UMRX is working its way through a survival plan of sorts.

After getting hit with a trio of FDA holds in its brief public history and triggering its second pivot to a new lead drug program while laying off 60% of the staff, the troubled penny stock biotech Unum Therapeutics has hatched new plans to secure financial backing while lining up a go-forward strategy for the company.

First, Lincoln Park Capital Fund has agreed to buy up to $25 million of the long-suffering stock, as Unum directs. And the executive team — led by CEO Chuck Wilson — has put everything on the table for consideration: a sale, acquisition, merger, licensing deal, you name it. The ACTR707 program, meanwhile, is being formally wrapped up — their second failed lead program.