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. 

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

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Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.

FDA of­fers scathing re­view of Emer­gent plan­t's san­i­tary con­di­tions, em­ploy­ee train­ing af­ter halt­ing pro­duc­tion

The FDA wrapped up its inspection of Emergent’s troubled vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Tuesday, after halting production there on Monday. By Wednesday morning, the agency already released a series of scathing observations on the cross contamination, sanitary issues and lack of staff training that caused the contract manufacturer to dispose of millions of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine doses.

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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Bay­er plots a ma­jor facelift at Berke­ley cam­pus, un­cork­ing a 30-year, $1.2B plan to dri­ve cell and gene ther­a­pies

Bayer first set roots in Berkeley back in 1974, when it was still operating as Miles Labs. The site has pumped out three hemophilia A treatments for distribution worldwide; but now, as the pharma continues its cell and gene therapy push, it has something bigger in mind.

Bayer is planning a 30-year revamp at the campus, which includes 918,000 square feet in new buildings and double the jobs, according to a report by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

LLS backs 5 new can­cer drug projects with up to $50M; Trodelvy con­tin­ues to im­press with more TNBC da­ta

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has tapped 5 new early-stage projects to back with up to $10 million each in fresh investments. The 5 biotechs are:

— Caribou, headed by Rachel Haurwitz and co-founded by Jennifer Doudna, is working on next-gen, off-the-shelf CAR-Ts to replace the patient-derived cells now in use.

— The LLS supported NexImmune’s IPO, helping fund its work on nanoparticles that can gin up an immune response directed at cancer cells. The biotech has 2 projects now in Phase I trials.

Steffen Schuster, ITM CEO

Ra­dio­phar­ma re­mains hot as Ger­many's ITM rais­es $109M to ad­vance neu­roen­docrine can­cer pro­gram

The world of radiopharmaceuticals has been heating up over the last few years, and Thursday saw another company focused on the field pull in a new nine-figure raise.

Germany’s ITM, or Isotopen Technologien München, scored a $109 million round of loan financing to push forward its precision oncology pipeline and fund late-stage development for its lead program. As part of the agreement, the loan will convert to shares in the event of future financial or corporate transactions, ITM said.

Jenny Rooke (Genoa Ventures)

Ear­ly Zymer­gen in­vestor Jen­ny Rooke re­flects on 'chimeras' in biotech, what it takes to spot a $500M gem

When Jenny Rooke first heard of Zymergen back in 2014, she knew she was looking at something different and exciting. The Emeryville, CA biotech held the promise of blending biology and technology to solve a huge unmet need for cost-effective chemicals — of all things — and a stellar founding team to boot.

But back then, West Coast venture capitalists didn’t see in Zymergen the one thing they were looking for in a winning biotech: therapeutic potential. Rooke, however, saw an opportunity and made her bets. Seven years later, that bet is paying off in a big way.

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