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.

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others.

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

UP­DAT­ED: Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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No­vavax snags Ben Machielse for CMC and pro­motes a trio of staffers; Mar­ty Du­vall lands an­oth­er CEO post at On­copep­tides

Novavax has been making waves recently by securing a $384 million commitment from CEPI to cover R&D and manufacturing for its Covid-19 vaccine while also spending $167 million on a 150,000 square-foot facility. The Maryland biotech continues to shore up its leadership team as well, bringing in Ben Machielse as their EVP of CMC just a couple weeks after nabbing AstraZeneca vet Filip Dubrovsky as their new CMO. Machielse was president and CEO of Vtesse from 2014-17, and before that, he also spent more than 11 years at MedImmune and was EVP of operations for the back half of his tenure.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Look­ing for 'ex­ter­nal in­no­va­tion,' Boehringer In­gel­heim re­serves $500M+ for new Shang­hai hub

Now that Boehringer Ingelheim’s bet on contract manufacturing in China has paid off, the German drugmaker is anteing up more to get into the research game.

Boehringer has set aside $507.9 million (€451 million) for a new External Innovation Hub to be built in Shanghai over five years. The site will become one of its “strategic pillars” as the team strives to get 71 approvals — either for new products or indications — by 2030, said Felix Gutsche, president and CEO of Boehringer Ingelheim China.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Patrick Straub/​EPA-EFE/​Shutterstock)

No­var­tis pays $678M for kick­back scheme as Vas Narasimhan tries to dis­tance phar­ma gi­ant from shady be­hav­ior

Novartis has reached another large settlement to resolve misconduct allegations, agreeing to pay more than $678 million to settle claims that it had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lavish dinners, so-called speaking fees and expensive alcohol “that were nothing more than bribes” to get doctors to prescribe Novartis medications.

The top-shelf alcohol and lavish meals included a $3,250 per person night at Nobu in Dallas, a $672-per person dinner at Washington DC’s Smith & Wollensky and a $314 per person meal at Sushi Roku in Pasadena, according to the Justice Department complaint. There were at least 7 trips to Hooters and fishing trips in Alaska and off the Florida coast. Each of these events were supposed to be “speaker programs” where doctors educated other doctors on a drug, but the DOJ alleged many were “bogus” wine-and-dine events where the drug was barely mentioned, if at all.  (“Nobody presented slides on the fishing trips,” the complaint says.)

Dan Gold, MEI Pharma CEO

De­vel­op­ment part­ners at MEI, Helsinn dump a high-risk PhI­II AML study af­ter con­clud­ing it would fail sur­vival goal

Four years after Switzerland’s Helsinn put $25 million of cash on the table for an upfront and near-term milestone to take MEI Pharma’s drug pracinostat into a long-running Phase III trial for acute myeloid leukemia, the partners are walking away from a clinical pileup.

The drug — an HDAC inhibitor — failed to pass muster during a futility analysis, as researchers concluded that pracinostat combined with azacitidine wasn’t going to outperform the control group in the pivotal.

No­var­tis los­es biosim­i­lar ap­peal as court up­holds a 31-year mo­nop­oly by Am­gen's En­brel

A new court ruling has strengthened Amgen’s grip on the IP estate around Enbrel, keeping biosimilars of the autoimmune and inflammatory drug at bay until 2029.

Novartis, the patent challenger, isn’t throwing in the towel yet. In a statement noting the failed appeal, its generics division Sandoz noted its reviewing options, “including potential appeal to US Supreme Court.”

It’s been almost four years since the FDA approved Erelzi, Sandoz’s copycat version of Enbrel. While sales of the Pfizer-partnered drug in the US — the market Amgen is in charge of — have dipped slightly during that time, it remains a solid megablockbuster with 2019 revenue slightly above $5 billion.