Howard Liang, Tessera CFO

Tessera Ther­a­peu­tics taps for­mer BeiGene CFO Howard Liang to join race to CRISPR 3.0

A day af­ter Prime Med­i­cines emerged from se­mi-stealth with new CRISPR tech that made even ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist Bob Nelsen say “holy crap,” a Cam­bridge, MA-based com­pa­ny with sim­i­lar am­bi­tions in the works is beef­ing up its ex­ec­u­tive suite — start­ing with for­mer BeiGene CFO Howard Liang.

Tessera Ther­a­peu­tics has tapped Liang as its first CFO, in ad­di­tion to sev­er­al oth­er new hires in­clud­ing Mana Ther­a­peu­tics vet Mad­husu­dan Pesh­wa as CTO for cell ther­a­py; Avro­bio alum Bill Querbes as se­nior VP of ther­a­peu­tic dis­cov­ery and trans­la­tion­al sci­ences; and in­sitro’s for­mer head of func­tion­al ge­nomics Ce­cil­ia Cot­ta-Ra­musi­no as se­nior VP of plat­form de­vel­op­ment.

“This is an area in ge­net­ic med­i­cine which ob­vi­ous­ly is very, very ex­cit­ing,” Liang told End­points News. “There are many, many things that can be done that are not en­abled by the cur­rent tools with CRISPR.”

Like Prime, Tessera CEO Ge­of­frey von Maltzahn claims Tessera’s gene writ­ing tech­nol­o­gy can make sub­sti­tu­tions, ad­di­tions and dele­tions to DNA — es­sen­tial­ly turn­ing the hu­man genome in­to a word proces­sor.

Ge­of­frey von Maltzahn

“In par­tic­u­lar, we have been fo­cused on en­gi­neer­ing retro­trans­posons, which write DNA in­to the genome via a process called tar­get primed re­verse tran­scrip­tion,” von Maltzahn said via email.  “This tech­nol­o­gy in­volves RNA-on­ly de­liv­ery and en­ables Tessera to both add new func­tions to the genome and fix dis­ease-caus­ing mu­ta­tions.”

This ap­proach is much dif­fer­ent from CRISPR 1.0, which the CEO com­pared to scis­sors that de­stroy in­va­sive DNA.

Af­ter spend­ing six years at BeiGene, Liang said he was ready for some­thing dif­fer­ent. The CFO got his start as a se­nior sci­en­tist at Ab­bott Lab­o­ra­to­ries, then spent a good por­tion of his ca­reer on Wall Street be­fore jump­ing back in­to the in­dus­try. Now he want­ed to do some­thing on the “cut­ting edge of sci­ence.” And he knew the Flag­ship team very well — af­ter all, they are just two floors away from his old of­fice at BeiGene.

“I would say that the team is one of the most im­por­tant at­trac­tions at Tessera,” he said. “This is not just a hot idea, but re­al­ly a lot of great work has been done.”

The team hasn’t yet an­nounced a time­line to the clin­ic (Prime says it’s still years away). But even so, it was able to se­cure a mas­sive $230 mil­lion Se­ries B round back in Jan­u­ary.

When asked if an IPO could be next, Liang re­spond­ed: “We’re for­mu­lat­ing a fi­nanc­ing plan for the com­pa­ny, but  I think we as a com­pa­ny are quite am­bi­tious, so I’m sure we’ll work with part­ners on the cap­i­tal mar­ket,” and added that he’s open to “oth­er means to help fi­nance the com­pa­ny.”

“This is an amaz­ing time for the field of ge­net­ic med­i­cine,” von Maltzahn said. “All of the work be­ing done by Tessera and across the field will re­sult in bet­ter health out­comes for pa­tients around the world.”

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis' gene ther­a­py group? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Vicente Anido (University of West Virginia via YouTube)

Aerie fires CEO af­ter lead pro­gram flop, com­ments about pri­ma­ry end­points be­ing 'not re­quired'

Aerie Pharmaceuticals CEO Vicente Anido has left the company less than a week after trying to chart a Phase III study in the wake of a serious Phase IIb flop.

Anido’s last day at Aerie was Friday, the biotech announced in a news release Tuesday morning, and Benjamin McGraw is taking his place in an interim role. The now former CEO was terminated without cause, according to an SEC filing.

The board has started looking for a full-time chief to take his place.

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When ef­fi­ca­cy is bor­der­line: FDA needs to get more con­sis­tent on close-call drug ap­provals, agency-fund­ed re­search finds

In the exceedingly rare instances in which clinical efficacy is the only barrier to a new drug’s approval, new FDA-funded research from FDA and Stanford found that the agency does not have a consistent standard for defining “substantial evidence” when flexible criteria are used for an approval.

The research comes as the FDA is at a crossroads with its expedited-review pathways. The accelerated approval pathway is under fire as the agency recently signed off on a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug, with little precedent to explain its decision. Meanwhile, top officials like Rick Pazdur have called for a major push to simplify and clarify all of the various expedited pathways, which have grown to be must-haves for sponsors of nearly every newly approved drug.

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Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a specific market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Next week is shaping up to be a busy one, as our editor-in-chief John Carroll and managing editor Kyle Blankenship lead back-to-back discussions with a great group of experts to discuss the weekend news and trends. John will be spending 30 minutes with Jake Van Naarden, the CEO of Lilly Oncology, and Kyle has a brilliant panel lined up: Harvard’s Cigall Kadoch, Susan Galbraith, the new head of cancer R&D at AstraZeneca, Roy Baynes at Merck, and James Christensen at Mirati. Don’t miss out on the action — sign up here.

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