Shehnaaz Suliman dives back into Alzheimer's at Alector; Pyxis recruits SpringWorks founder Lara Sullivan as CEO
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 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.
→ 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.
→ 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.
→ 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.
→ Takeda–partnered 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 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.
→ 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.