Takeda oncology vet drills down the 'basics' at cell therapy startup; Sarepta promotes new R&D chief
Kathryn Corzo — an oncology veteran and the program head behind Sanofi’s multiple myeloma monoclonal antibody isatuximab — is now in the C-suite.
The newest member at cell therapy player bit.bio as their COO, the longtime drug developer left Takeda (where she served, in turn, as the head of oncology cell therapy and then a partner in its venture arm) to join the small biotech. For Corzo, bit.bio presented a unique opportunity to try and solve issues that had been plaguing cell therapy — and one of the three reasons why she left Takeda.
Aside from bit.bio’s cell coding platforms and “their ability to pretty much target any human cell,” according to Corzo, she left Takeda to both leverage her experience in drug development and build upon skills that she learned at MIT just a few years prior, while getting her MBA.
Corzo’s journey into the world of biotech and medicine began early in life — born into a family of engineers. And it was when she was growing up that she realized the importance of problem solving, alongside a keen interest in math and science.
But her passion for oncology and cancer therapy really started to come into view when a family member was diagnosed with cancer — Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“And I saw that individual go through treatment, and really, really suffer through treatment. Now, the positive outcome is that he’s in remission. He has lived his life, and he is doing extremely well. But that, for me, galvanized my interest in working to develop new cancer therapies,” Corzo told Endpoints News.
After she graduated from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in the mid 1980s, she then went on to work with several notable biotechs, including Roche, Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Takeda before joining bit.bio.
And while at Sanofi, 28 years into her professional career, Corzo decided to go to MIT and get her MBA in 2017, finishing the program two years later.
Corzo joined bit.bio on Nov. 1, the same week bit.bio announced its $103 million Series B raise — alongside some impressive names joining bit.bio’s board. The pitch revolved around a gene engineering approach that enables the company to produce any number of batches of any human cell for research, drug discovery and therapeutic purposes.
With the new cash, Corzo said there is a ton of opportunity to go into different indications with bit.bio’s current platform — so over the next few months, bit.bio will be working on prioritizing where the company wants to go in its portfolio.
In her first few weeks at bit.bio, Corzo has focused on the basics, as she called it, to get the ball rolling. Those “basics” are decently expansive, such as figuring out bit.bio’s “key priorities,” what they can deliver in the next six to 24 months, and how bit.bio can expand more into cell therapy. According to Corzo, that’s just step one.
Number two? Getting bit.bio to build out what it still needs. Bit.bio is working on setting up a project management office, Corzo said — to “not only define the [bit.bio’s] strategy, but we can drill that down and execute on the strategy we’re looking at.” And with the biotech currently headquartered in Cambridge in the UK, the biotech is also looking at if they need a footprint in the US, should bit.bio decide to expand.
And the third thing? Partnerships. Corzo emphasized how important they are to small biotechs, but remained mum on any negotiations or talks with other companies to partner with bit.bio.
— Paul Schloesser
→ Sarepta R&D chief Gilmore O’Neill is on his way out at the end of the month, paving the way for Louise Rodino-Klapac to slide into his job while remaining CSO of the Duchenne biotech. In February, the FDA approved Sarepta’s third DMD drug, Amondys 45, without much fanfare. And after a failed study of its gene therapy SRP-9001-102, Sarepta declared itself back in the game with safety results from 103 that it revealed in May to catapult the drug into Phase III. Rodino-Klapac was elevated to CSO in a December 2020 staff reshuffling that included Ian Estepan moving to CFO. In other Sarepta news, Merck board member and Caltech biology and chemistry professor Stephen Mayo has joined the board of directors.
→ Mike Grey has jumped back into the fold as a CEO once again, stepping in at San Francisco’s Spruce Biosciences on an interim basis. Richard King, Spruce’s CEO since 2019, has announced his retirement and will be a strategic advisor until the end of the year. Grey, the chairman at Spruce since 2017, chairs the board at two other companies he’s helmed, Mirum Pharmaceuticals and Reneo Pharmaceuticals. He’s also chairman at Plexium, which just named Astellas’ Percival Barretto-Ko as CEO, and is on the board of directors at Horizon.
That’s not all: Pamela Wedel, the former SVP of clinical operations at another biotech where Grey has been chief executive — Amplyx — has been appointed VP of development operations. Spruce, part of the IPO avalanche of 2020, is continuing development of its drug for classic congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), tildacerfont.
→ This week in “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” (non-Robert Califf division), Jakob Lindberg returns as CEO of Oncopeptides after leading the company from 2011-20. Lindberg takes over from Marty Duvall, whose die was cast last month when multiple myeloma drug Pepaxto was yanked from the US market, decimating the stock. Duvall — formerly CEO of Tocagen, the brain cancer biotech that merged with Forte Biosciences — had only been chief executive at Oncopeptides since July 1, 2020, at which point Lindberg slid into the CSO post.
→ When aducanumab was approved in June — cause for celebration under normal circumstances — the groundswell of controversy kicked in almost immediately. From industry analysts to FDA adcomm members resigning in protest, the big biotech has faced strong headwinds from the get-go. Now coupled with a rocky rollout, marked by a steep price tag and major insurers telling Biogen they may not even cover the drug, Al Sandrock has decided to retire as R&D chief beginning Dec. 31. Timing is everything, so the saying goes, and the timing of this surprise move only adds to the shadow Aduhelm has cast.
Sandrock, a 23-year Biogen vet who had led R&D since October 2019 and was CMO from 2012-20, hands the baton to Priya Singhal — Biogen’s head of global safety and regulatory sciences — on an interim basis. And the pushback doesn’t appear it will slow down any time soon: On Wednesday, two days after the Sandrock announcement, an EMA panel handed Biogen a “negative trend vote” on its marketing application in the region.
→ Pfizer’s C-suite continues to be in a state of flux with the retirement of CFO Frank D’Amelio after 14 years on the job. D’Amelio is leaving Pfizer in exceptionally strong shape, as the pharma giant and BioNTech expect a $36 billion windfall from the Covid-19 vaccine and sales for its antiviral pill, Paxlovid, are projected to reach somewhere between $15 billion and $25 billion.
D’Amelio, who’s also been EVP of global supply, will be replaced in this capacity by Mike McDermott, whose title will be tweaked to chief global supply officer starting Jan. 1. McDermott, Pfizer’s president of global supply since 2019, began his Pfizer career in 2003 as the head of Wyeth’s biotech manufacturing operations in Pearl River, NY. D’Amelio joins CMO Mace Rothenberg, CBO John Young and chief development officer Rod MacKenzie as major execs who have left or are preparing to leave Pfizer.
→ While on the hunt to prove the next big I/O target, Immunitas’ chief dealmaker Amanda Wagner has taken over the reins from former Akcea COO Jeffrey Goldberg as CEO. Wagner’s promotion from her CBO post comes on the heels of the company’s recent close of a $58 million round. Wagner’s start to her biopharma career began at Concert Pharmaceuticals, where she spent a decade as VP, business development & product strategy. From there, Wagner moved to Altas Venture as VP, corporate & business development and later consulted for the Longwood Fund in 2019.
→ It’s good to be Heidi Hagen this week: Not only has she signed on to Jeff Bluestone’s cell therapy play Sonoma Biotherapeutics as chief technical officer, she’s also taken a seat on the board of directors at Obsidian Therapeutics. Hagen, who held the interim CEO role at Ziopharm Oncology after the sturm und drang of the activist attack, co-founded and was chief strategy officer for Vineti until she replaced Laurence Cooper in February. She’s also spent 10 years at Dendreon and served as the Provenge maker’s SVP of operations.
→ With ex-Ra Pharmaceuticals CEO Doug Treco at the controls, Alchemab Therapeutics has picked up Young Kwon as chief financial and operating officer. After five years at Biogen, Kwon joined Momenta in 2011, rising to CBO and later chief financial and business officer in early 2020. Then, J&J purchased Momenta last summer, with Kwon playing a crucial role in the negotiations. In our Amber Tong’s play-by-play of the $6.5 billion buyout, Kwon and Momenta CEO Craig Wheeler “had been trying cautiously to snatch a better deal from J&J. The offer price from the initial proposal, they said, was insufficient — and ‘limited high-priority diligence’ might help them prove the case.” You can refresh your memory on the sale here.
→ Darrin Miles is decamping from Agios “to pursue a chief executive officer role at a private biotechnology company,” and on Dec. 6, Jackie Fouse’s crew has lined up Richa Poddar to replace Miles as chief commercial officer. An eight-year Roche/Genentech vet, Poddar has filled numerous positions at Agios in the last five years, and in August she was promoted to SVP, head of corporate strategy and business development. Back in December 2020, Agios completely reversed course from cancer to focus on mitapivat, a pyruvate kinase R (PKR) activator for hemolytic anemias that secured a Feb. 17, 2022 PDUFA date.
→ One of Agios’ co-founders is future Dana-Farber faculty member Lewis Cantley, who also co-founded Volastra, the New York cancer biotech that added some extra punch by announcing a partnership with Microsoft alongside a Series A in April. This week Volastra has a huge batch of appointments as Scott Drutman (head of translational science) and Rachel Zolot Schwartz (head of business development and commercial) get things rolling. Drutman hails from Regeneron, where he was a director in oncology clinical development, while Schwartz spent six years at Pfizer in various capacities — as a senior director of business development in oncology, she was a key cog in Pfizer’s 2019 acquisition of Array BioPharma.
Elsewhere at Volastra, the roster of scientific execs under CSO Michael Su has been finalized: Sarah Bettigole, VP, immunology; Derek Cogan, VP, chemistry; Christina Eng, VP, biology; Al Swiston, VP, head of data science; and Rumin Zhang, VP, head of biochemistry.
→ Frequent Peer Review dweller AavantiBio has selected Jenny Marlowe to be CSO as bluebird bio loses another exec following a split into two companies that officially took effect this month. Marlowe was bluebird’s beta thalassemia program lead and VP, preclinical & translational development after a decade in investigative toxicology and preclinical safety with Novartis. AavantiBio CEO Bo Cumbo has methodically filled positions at the gene therapy upstart that we’ve covered since its October 2020 launch, naming a CFO, CMO, COO and several others over the last eight months.
→ Teri Loxam will juggle the dual roles of CFO and COO at immune-mediated disease biotech Kira Pharmaceuticals, which debuted last November and is led by ex-Sienna Biopharmaceuticals CEO Frederick Beddingfield. After working in investor relations with Bristol Myers Squibb and Merck, Loxam took the CFO job at SQZ Biotechnologies and had been there since 2019. Loxam was also on our radar in September when VaxCyte added her to the board of directors.
→ Rescuing an old Amgen drug out of mothballs to target muscle aging, Bay Area anti-aging upstart BioAge Labs has nabbed Dov Goldstein as CFO and Ann Neale as chief development officer. We had Goldstein in this space last year when he became chief financial and business officer at Indapta Therapeutics — the former Loxo Oncology CFO also resides on the board of directors at Gain Therapeutics, Neubase Therapeutics and Coya Therapeutics. Neale comes to BioAge after a three-year stay at Principia, where she was SVP of development operations after a lightning-fast turn as Science 37’s SVP, clinical operations and patient affairs.
→ Co-founded by George Church and developing protein therapeutics from non-standard amino acids (NSAAs), GRO Biosciences scored a Series A earlier this month with an assist from Leaps by Bayer and this week has named Tad Stewart CBO. During more than 15 years at Merrimack, Stewart was SVP of business development and head of commercial, and since 2019 he had served as CBO of Ribon Therapeutics.
→ As mentioned alongside a $60 million Series A round, Recludix Pharma has snagged Seagen vet Nancy Whiting as CEO. Whiting, a 15-year vet of Seagen, most recently served as EVP of corporate strategy. Prior to that, Whiting was Seagen’s EVP of late-stage development, SVP of clinical development and medical affairs and head of experimental medicine. During her time at Seagen, Whiting was instrumental in the development of Adcetris for lymphoma, Padcev for bladder cancer, Tukysa for breast cancer and Tivdak for cervical cancer. Whiting currently sits on the board of Caribou Sciences.
→ Penrose TherapeuTx has bagged David Sherris as president and CEO. Sherris brings with him experience from his roles at Serono, Centocor, Unilever Research and Mateon Therapeutics. Prior to his newest C-suite role, Sherris was CEO of GenAdam Therapeutics, Paloma Pharmaceuticals and VasculoMedics.
→ South San Francisco-based Frontier Medicines, trying to nudge into the KRAS sweepstakes after Amgen’s milestone approval of Lumakras, has $88.5 million in Series B cash in the bank and a new CBO in Marguerite Hutchinson. She began her time at Plexxikon as senior director, business development in 2013, rising to COO and general counsel this summer before making the switch to Frontier, which signed a protein degradation deal in December 2020 with AbbVie for $55 million upfront.
→ Backed by Frazier Healthcare Partners and taking aim at IL-11, San Diego-based Lassen Therapeutics has welcomed Puneet Arora as CMO. After nearly eight years at Genentech, Arora jumped to Principia in 2019, and when Sanofi forked over $3.7 billion for the company last summer, he became the French pharma’s head of clinical, inflammation and immunology. A month ago, Lassen made room for Magenta CSO and head of research Lisa Olson on the board of directors.
→ Kristen Harrington-Smith is on board as chief commercial officer at ADC player ImmunoGen, seeking redemption with IMGN632 in relapsed or refractory blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm after the FDA’s smackdown of mirvetuximab soravtansine in Phase III. Harrington-Smith concludes a 21-year run at Novartis that saw her take on an assortment of roles — since March 2020 she had been the pharma giant’s US commercial head of hematology. More from ImmunoGen: Ex-Sanofi Genzyme head of legal and current Blueprint Medicines chief legal and compliance officer Tracey McCain has joined the board of directors.
→ University of Texas spinout Dolormics has named Chris Flores as president and chief research and development officer. Flores joins after a 19-year stint at J&J, where he served in a number of positions, including VP of neuroscience, La Jolla R&D site head and global external innovation head of discovery sciences at Janssen Research & Development, to name a few.
→ Trishna Goswami has taken on the role of CMO at IN8bio, the NY-based gamma delta T cell biotech that went public in July. Most recently, Goswami was VP, clinical development at Immunomedics and continued as an exec at Gilead after the buyout. She has also served as senior medical director at Stemline and as medical director at AstraZeneca/MedImmune.
→ Lynx Biosciences (LynxBio) has brought on former J&J exec Sylvaine Cases to the team as the company’s first-ever CBO. During her career at J&J, Cases served as VP of oncology strategic partnering. Prior to that, Cases served at Sanofi, Arete Therapeutics (as head of pharmacology) and Cytokinetics (as senior group leader).
→ Sanjay Aggarwal has been named CMO of Apollo Therapeutics, a UK translational medicine biotech that reached for the stars with a $145 million raise in June. Aggarwal, who will be based out of Apollo’s Cambridge, MA facility, spent the last year as the medical chief for Angiocrine Bioscience and oversaw the Phase II and III programs for Rezurock as Kadmon’s SVP of clinical development. Apollo is the product of a joint venture with University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, University College London and three Big Pharmas: GSK, J&J and AstraZeneca.
→ With a new name and $39 million worth of new cash announced this summer, French gene therapy biotech Coave Therapeutics — the erstwhile Horama — has installed Thomas Blaettler as CMO and Patricia Françon as COO. Before spending the last five years as CMO of Orphazyme, Blaettler was with the clinical neuroscience divisions at Bristol Myers and then Roche. Françon leaves her post at Skinosive as chief operating/technology officer and has jumped around in clinical development with companies like Sanofi and Cellectis.
→ Houston-based Memgen has lassoed up Kevin Coveney as CFO. Coveney makes his way to the company after a stint as CFO of Q-State Biosciences. Earlier in his career, Coveney was SVP of finance, human resources and information technology at Vedanta Biosciences.
→ Respiratory and chronic disease-focused Aerami Therapeutics has tapped Barry Deutsch as CFO. Deutsch joins the Durham, NC-based company from Xeris Pharmaceuticals, where he was CFO and previously VP of business development. Prior to his time at Xeris, Deutsch was with Baxter BioScience, Baxalta Incorporated and Ovation Pharmaceuticals among others.
→ Rebeca Sanchez Sarmiento is joining both Insightful Science and Dotmatics as CFO. Sanchez Sarmiento brings with her experience from her times as CFO at InvestCloud and ATTOM Data Solutions. Additionally, Sanchez Sarmiento was a sell-side equity research analyst at Deutsche Bank and Citigroup.
→ Flagship Pioneering has brought on Justine Levin-Allerhand as senior partner, corporate development. Levin-Allerhand had been with the Broad Institute for the last eight years, and in April she began the new role of EVP, development, business and external relations. Flagship’s latest startup, the tRNA-focused Alltrna, made its debut last week and is helmed by Pfizer and AstraZeneca alum Lovisa Afzelius.
→ One of the latest companies to do a SPAC dance, South San Francisco’s Blade Therapeutics has recruited Bassem Elmankabadi as SVP of clinical development. Elmankabadi says goodbye to FibroGen, where he was executive medical director and therapeutic area lead for fibrosis and oncology, and before that he was a senior medical director, global clinical safety officer with Amgen. With ex-Purdue Pharma CEO Mark Timney as chairman, Blade reverse merged this month with Biotech Acquisition Company in a $254.3 million SPAC, and its idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis drug cudetaxestat is slated for a Phase II trial next year.
→ Whenever I call you Friend: To Australia we go, where John Friend has joined Sydney cancer biotech Kazia Therapeutics as CMO. Friend served as SVP of medical and scientific affairs at the end of his seven-year tenure at Helsinn and CMO at NJ-based Cellectar Biosciences.
→ Cedilla and CEO Sandra Glucksmann have plugged in two new execs with VP of biology Joshua Murtie and VP of finance Chris Lindblom. Murtie was just a senior director ever so briefly at Servier after seven years at Agios, ascending to senior director and head of cancer biology. Meanwhile, Lindblom has held the same post at IFM Therapeutics, Cogen Immune Medicine (which merged with Torque and is now Repertoire Immune Medicines) and Warp Drive Bio. Last month Cedilla, focused on small molecules that take aim at cancer, topped off its latest round of funding with $25 million, giving them a new Series B total of $82.6 million.
→ Moya Daniels has moved on from Histogen after Richard Pascoe’s departure as CEO to become SVP of regulatory affairs and quality assurance at Aruvant, a gene therapy “vant” from the Roivant stable of companies. We had Daniels in Peer Review in October 2020 when she was named head of regulatory, quality and clinical operations at Histogen after a short tenure in quality assurance at SanBio. After 12 years at Osiris Therapeutics, Daniels was a regulatory exec at Fate Therapeutics and Orchard Therapeutics. Aruvant’s lentiviral gene therapy for sickle cell disease, ARU-1801, is in a Phase I/II trial.
→ After experiencing a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows in the first half of 2021, Provention Bio has now ushered in Jan Hillson as SVP of clinical development. Hillson comes to the NJ-based company from Alpine Immune Sciences, where she served as SVP, clinical development. Prior to that, Hillson was with ChemoCentryx, Momenta, ZymoGenetics, Bristol Myers and Xcyte Therapies.
→ Oxford, UK-based VLP vaccine player and Serum Institute of India partner SpyBiotech has turned to Simon Jones to be VP, finance and operations after Vien Phan’s stint as interim finance director. Before heading to Sumi Biswas’ team, Jones was CFO during his eight years with another British biotech, Karus Therapeutics.
→ Nestled into Theseus Pharmaceuticals’ Q3 report are the appointments of two execs. Merck vet Nachu Narasimhan takes on the role of SVP, drug metabolism and preclinical safety for Tim Clackson’s squad after his time with Verastem as VP of drug metabolism and clinical pharmacology, while Len Rozamus has turned up at Theseus as SVP, technical operations. Before getting into the consulting game in 2017, Rozamus logged 21 years at Ariad Pharmaceuticals and was senior director of manufacturing operations.
→ Cambridge, MA CAR-NK player Catamaran Bio floats back into Peer Review by naming Tara Place VP, human resources and organizational effectiveness. Place, who comes to Catamaran after leading human resources at Chiasma, spent seven years in talent acquisition with Vertex and Biogen. Catamaran launched almost exactly one year ago with a $42 million Series A.
→ Life science tools company Lumicks has made two new additions to its management team with the appointments of Jos Maas (general manager, dynamic single molecule (DSM) business) and Geerte Hesen (general counsel). Maas joins the Amsterdam-based company with experience from his time at Thermo Fisher Scientific, Nearfield Instruments, Phenom-World and ASML. Meanwhile, Hesen hops aboard from ASML and Philips Personal Health business.
→ Gritstone CEO Andrew Allen has resigned from the board of directors at Epizyme after seven years, while the door opens for Roy Beveridge and Carol Stuckley. Beveridge, the ex-CMO of Humana, is currently with Avalere Health as a consultant. Stuckley had a 22-year career with Pfizer that ended in 2007 and sits on the board at Centessa.
→ Nektar has given its board of directors a boost with the arrival of Diana Brainard. Now the CEO of AlloVir, Brainard is best known for her 10 years at Gilead where, as virology chief, she helped lead the effort to clinch an emergency use authorization for remdesivir to treat Covid-19.
→ Now chaired by former Strongbridge Biopharma CEO John Johnson, obe-cel developer Autolus has named Bill Young to the board of directors. Now a senior advisor at Blackstone, Young put an exclamation point on 19 years at Genentech by serving as its COO from 1997-99.
→ After shelling out $29.5 million upfront to license five antibody-drug conjugate programs from LegoChem Biosciences earlier this week, Czech biotech Sotio has enlisted Alise Reicin (CEO of Tectonic Therapeutic), Josep Tabernero (head of medical oncology department at Vall d’Hebron University Hospital) and Anthony Tolcher (CEO and founder of NEXT Oncology) to its strategic advisory board.
→ Austin, TX-based Aeglea BioTherapeutics has a seat for Rhythm Pharmaceuticals CFO Hunter Smith on the board of directors. The interim CEO until David Meeker came along at Rhythm, Smith has also been VP of finance and CFO of Celgene’s inflammation and immunology business unit.
→ San Francisco’s Sutro Biopharma, which was granted fast track designation in August for its ovarian cancer drug STRO-002, has added Cardinal Health president Heidi Hunter to the board of directors. The former Boehringer Ingelheim exec was previously SVP of the global immunology business unit at UCB.
→ Adicet Bio has space reserved for Michael Kauffman on its board of directors. Kauffman, who co-founded and was the CEO of Karyopharm, is also a board member for Verastem and Kezar Life Sciences in addition to Karyopharm.
→ San Jose-based Rani Therapeutics has appointed Lyn Baranowski to its board of directors. Baranowski, the current COO at Altavant, has also served as SVP, corporate development and strategy at Melinta Therapeutics.
→ Ed Baracchini is adding yet another board seat to his résumé with his latest appointment at Durham, NC-based CoImmune. Baracchini formerly served as CBO of Imago Biosciences and Xencor. Additionally, he has held stints at Elitra Pharmaceuticals, Ionis and Agouron Pharmaceuticals, among others. Baracchini currently sits on the boards of INmune Bio and 4D Pharma.
→ Michelle McMurry-Heath-led BIO has recruited Carine Boustany to its board of directors. Boustany serves as Boehringer Ingelheim’s global head, development science and head, development site US. Boustany joined Boehringer in 2011 and previously served in the company’s discovery research team.
→ Nora Brennan is now a member of the board of directors at Novartis DNA repair partner Artios, which hit a $153 million jackpot on its Series C in July. This spring, Brennan was appointed CFO of Philadelphia oncology biotech Fore Biotherapeutics.
→ Cellares has appointed Ezekiel Emanuel to its board of advisors. Emanuel currently serves as vice provost for global initiatives, the Diane v.S. Levy and Robert M. Levy University professor, and co-director of the Healthcare Transformation Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. Additionally, Emanuel was one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act and advised the Biden administration on Covid-19 response.
Derek Graf also contributed to this edition.