Sunao Man­abe takes top job at Dai­ichi Sankyo in wake of As­traZeneca deal; CAR-T play­er Celyad pro­motes Fil­ip­po Pet­ti to CEO

Sunao Man­abe

→ Bare­ly a day af­ter Dai­ichi Sankyo wrapped a mam­moth col­lab­o­ra­tion deal with As­traZeneca, the Japan­ese phar­ma an­nounced a suc­ces­sion plan for its CEO. George Nakaya­ma, who’s keep­ing his chair­man seat, is pass­ing the reins to Sunao Man­abe, cur­rent­ly pres­i­dent and COO. This marks one of the fi­nal tran­si­tions as Nakaya­ma winds down his decades-long ca­reer run with the com­pa­ny, start­ing at Dai­ichi sub­sidiary Sun­to­ry in 1979. He del­e­gat­ed the pres­i­dent role two years ago.

Celyad, the Bel­gian biotech now mak­ing a low-pro­file run for off-the-shelf CAR-T suc­cess along­side more promi­nent peers like Cel­lec­tis, Servi­er and Al­lo­gene, has pro­mot­ed CFO Fil­ip­po Pet­ti to CEO. He re­places Chris­t­ian Hom­sy, who’s step­ping aside to a non-ex­ec­u­tive, sup­port­ing role af­ter lead­ing the com­pa­ny through a tran­si­tion from stem cell ther­a­py for the heart to im­muno-on­col­o­gy dur­ing his 12-year tenure.

→ Palm Beach Gar­dens, Flori­da-based Xcov­ery has tapped two Big Phar­ma vets for top posts at its on­col­o­gy op­er­a­tion. Li Mao, a long time aca­d­e­m­ic, is tak­ing the helm af­ter a stint as head of the John­son & John­son Chi­na Lung Can­cer Cen­ter. Gio­van­ni Sel­vag­gi, who’s served roles at Glax­o­SmithK­line, No­var­tis and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb in the past nine years, joins as CMO. To­geth­er, they will steer de­vel­op­ment of en­sar­tinib and vorolanib, Phase III and Phase I/II drugs for ALK-pos­i­tive non-small cell lung can­cer and tho­racic can­cer, re­spec­tive­ly — both in­di­ca­tions that Sel­vag­gi be­came fa­mil­iar with over the course of both his med­ical and in­dus­try ca­reers.

Willem Scheele

→ As Imara gets up to full speed with its mid-stage pro­gram for sick­le cell dis­ease, the biotech has wooed Pfiz­er’s rare dis­ease head to be its per­ma­nent CMO. Hav­ing scored a $63 mil­lion round co-led by Ar­ix and Or­biMed just days ago, the Cam­bridge, MA-based biotech is an­tic­i­pat­ing some da­ta on its ex­per­i­men­tal med IMR-687, a phos­pho­di­esterase-9 in­hibitor, by June. Scheele re­places Shi Yin Foo, an ex­ec of the or­phan drug ac­cel­er­a­tor Cy­dan who was help­ing out on an in­ter­im ba­sis.

Rekha Hem­ra­jani is join­ing Ar­cus Bio­sciences $RCUS as chief op­er­at­ing and fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, a role that com­bines her ex­pe­ri­ence at FLX Bio and 3-V Bio­sciences. The biotech, led by Ter­ry Rosen’s crew at Flexus, is busy eval­u­at­ing sev­er­al Phase I read­outs for its slate of can­cer drugs: AB928, a dual A2a/A2b re­cep­tor an­tag­o­nist; AB154, an an­ti-TIG­IT an­ti­body, and AB680, a small-mol­e­cule CD73 in­hibitor.

Shree­r­am Arad­hye has fol­lowed his old col­league Bill Hin­shaw out No­var­tis’ doors and in­to Ax­cel­la’s C-suite. As EVP and chief de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer, Arad­hye will steer the Flag­ship-found­ed biotech’s non-IND clin­i­cal stud­ies fo­cused on re­pro­gram­ming me­tab­o­lism with en­doge­nous meta­bol­ic mod­u­la­tors. Karen Lewis, Bio­gen’s for­mer head of hu­man re­sources, has al­so come on board in a sim­i­lar role.

→ Af­ter work­ing with Abing­worth on a num­ber of co-in­vest­ments (in­clud­ing Wil­son Ther­a­peu­tics and Val­ne­va) as a se­nior part­ner at MVM Part­ners, Bali Mu­ralid­har is join­ing Tim Haines’ promi­nent biotech fund. He will be­come part of a glob­al team spread be­tween Lon­don, Boston and Men­lo Park that iden­ti­fies new in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and sup­ports star­tups in the ex­ist­ing port­fo­lio.

Turn­ing Point Ther­a­peu­tics has hired ex­pe­ri­enced health­care com­mu­ni­ca­tor Jim Maz­zo­la to lead cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions and in­vestor re­la­tions as it preps its lead ki­nase in­hibitor for a Phase II tri­al in the sec­ond half of the year.

→ In Abzena’s lat­est ef­fort to beef up its man­age­ment team, the bi­o­log­ics con­tract re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion is ap­point­ing Camp­bell Bunce and Bo Adair to the new po­si­tions of CSO and SVP process and op­er­a­tions. Bunce will keep his oth­er role as the head of Abzena’s Cam­bridge, UK, which he’s filled since 2015. Adair, on the oth­er hand, comes from a reg­u­lar con­sult­ing gig fol­low­ing a re­cent job at Ap­tu­it.

Wind­MIL Ther­a­peu­tics has tapped San­jin Zvonić, a sea­soned ex­ec who most re­cent­ly led Prog­en­i­tor Cell Ther­a­py’s in­te­gra­tion in­to Hi­tachi, to lead its process­es and man­u­fac­tur­ing.   

“At Wind­MIL, we’re al­ways look­ing to the fu­ture of can­cer im­munother­a­py, so San­jin’s abil­i­ty to bridge re­search and man­u­fac­tur­ing makes him an ide­al fit for us as we de­liv­er both the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of MILs and look to­ward de­vel­op­ing the next gen­er­a­tion,” in­ter­im CEO Don Hay­den said, re­fer­ring to the Bal­ti­more biotech’s mar­row-in­fil­trat­ing lym­pho­cytes tech­nol­o­gy.

→ On the heels of a sec­ond glau­co­ma drug ap­proval, Aerie Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $AERI has  re­cruit­ed An­gela Jus­tice (for­mer­ly of Sun Phar­ma) as west­ern re­gion­al di­rec­tor, med­ical sci­ence li­ai­son, and Bri­an Saku­ra­da (for­mer­ly of Intar­cia Ther­a­peu­tics) as di­rec­tor of sci­en­tif­ic mar­ket ac­cess. Con­cur­rent­ly, No­var­tis alum David El­lis is join­ing as di­rec­tor of chem­istry while  Karis­ma Shar­ma has been named VP, hu­man re­sources.

→ Af­ter try­ing out re­search and ear­ly de­vel­op­ment at Roche and No­var­tis, Shao­lian Zhou has re­turned to the CRO world. He is now the SVP and lab di­rec­tor for bio­an­a­lyt­i­cal ser­vices at World­wide Clin­i­cal Tri­als, re­spon­si­ble for the over­all op­er­a­tions of the lab fa­cil­i­ty in Austin.

→ As In­tra-Cel­lu­lar Ther­a­pies plots a turn­around and quick launch for its schiz­o­phre­nia drug lu­mate­per­one, it has ap­point­ed Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb vet John Bar­di to spear­head mar­ket ac­cess, pol­i­cy and gov­ern­ment af­fairs. Bar­di jumps to the New York-based biotech $IT­CI from Ot­su­ka, where he played a sim­i­lar role in bring­ing the an­tipsy­chot­ic Abil­i­fy to mar­ket.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Mark Mal­lon charts post-Iron­wood course by tak­ing CEO job at NeoGe­nomics; Glax­o­SmithK­line vet Feng Ren joins In­sil­i­co as CSO

Mark Mallon steps aside at Ironwood on March 12 after close to two years at the helm, and he already has a new change of scenery squared away. Beginning April 19, Mallon takes charge as CEO of cancer-focused genetic test maker NeoGenomics out of Fort Myers, FL while his predecessor, Douglas VanOort, is retiring after 12 years as NeoGenomics’ chairman and CEO.

It’s a fresh start for Mallon after what will amount to a tumultuous 23 months as Ironwood’s chief executive. Last year was marked by trial failures that spelled double trouble, leaving the Ironwood cupboard bare: first, a Linzess reformulation for irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea (IBS-D) in May, and then the drug IW-3718 for persistent acid reflux in September. After IW-3718’s discontinuation, Ironwood chopped its staff by 35%. On Feb. 8, Mallon announced his departure at Ironwood, with president Tom McCourt getting bumped up to interim CEO.

With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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J&J ad­comm live blog: Com­mit­tee votes 22-0 to rec­om­mend an FDA OK for the J&J vac­cine, set­ting up 3rd US Covid-19 jab

The US could have a third authorized Covid-19 vaccine within hours.

The FDA’s advisory committee voted unanimously — 22-0 — to recommend the agency issue an emergency use authorization for J&J’s vaccine. If they follow the precedent of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine,  the FDA will likely authorize the vaccine by Saturday, immediately adding a few million doses to the US supply and adding a 100 million by June. An authorization would give the world its first single-dose vaccine, a major weapon in the effort to vaccinate the world and bring the virus to heel, particularly in rural and developing areas.