Two more big phar­ma vets at Roche, As­traZeneca make the leap to top biotech R&D jobs as the great mi­gra­tion con­tin­ues

A pair of promi­nent biotech poach­ers have claimed two more mar­quee names from the ranks of big phar­ma R&D.

Omar Khwa­ja

David Berman, who un­til re­cent­ly was head of I/O re­search at As­traZeneca, has been bumped up to the top job in R&D at Im­muno­core, the TCR biotech which re­cent­ly re­cruit­ed Med­Im­mune chief Bahi­ja Jal­lal as CEO. And Omar Khwa­ja has jumped from his post as glob­al head of Roche’s neu­ro­science trans­la­tion­al med­i­cine group as well as rare dis­eases to Voy­ager $VY­GR, where he’ll be CMO.

Berman is a well known play­er in on­col­o­gy R&D and comes with cre­den­tials that in­cludes a lengthy stint along­side his new CEO at Im­muno­core, which spe­cial­izes in TCR work. Berman ac­tu­al­ly joined Im­muno­core, which is look­ing to reestab­lish its rep as a leader in its field wor­thy of a hefty uni­corn val­u­a­tion, last Sep­tem­ber. He took over the lead role for the com­pa­ny’s top pro­gram for the late-stage ef­fort on IM­Cgp100.

Biotech ob­servers may re­call that Bris­tol-My­ers sued Berman back in 2015, try­ing to force him to the side­lines for a year rather than let him make the leap straight to As­traZeneca.

Im­muno­core has been un­der­go­ing a year-long tran­si­tion pe­ri­od af­ter CEO Eliot Forster left. Forster en­coun­tered some ma­jor head­winds when he tried to raise a new round of $300 mil­lion-plus for the biotech, and pret­ty much the en­tire top team ex­it­ed soon af­ter.

Berman left As­traZeneca ahead of a ma­jor re­vamp that al­so in­clud­ed the de­par­ture of com­pa­ny CMO Sean Bo­hen as ex-MSK star José Basel­ga was brought in to run the can­cer re­search ops at the phar­ma gi­ant un­der CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot. Mene Pan­ga­los land­ed the oth­er top R&D job at the com­pa­ny, no­tably af­ter his name sur­faced as a con­tender for the throne once So­ri­ot makes an ex­it.

Khwa­ja is a gene ther­a­py ex­pert. His work at Roche in­volved cre­at­ing new gene ther­a­py pro­grams for a list of rare dis­eases, in­clud­ing spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy as well as Hunt­ing­ton’s dis­ease. And he’ll put that ex­per­tise to work now for Voy­ager, which has been strug­gling with a lead pro­gram on Parkin­son’s.

The lat­est word from Voy­ager was that the FDA had cooled to the no­tion of us­ing their Phase II study as a piv­otal tri­al suf­fi­cient for an ap­proval, shift­ing to the view that it’s re­al­ly an ex­plorato­ry ef­fort. In re­sponse, the biotech not­ed a few days ago that it will add pa­tients to the Phase II and run a par­al­lel Phase III in or­der to give reg­u­la­tors da­ta from two well con­trolled stud­ies — the in­dus­try gold stan­dard on da­ta.

The mi­gra­tion from phar­ma gi­ant to lit­tle biotech has been trans­form­ing the field for a few years now. But why can’t phar­ma hold on to its top play­ers? As we’ve seen with the CEOs mak­ing the shift, these small­er com­pa­nies have a lot more lat­i­tude when it comes to com­pen­sa­tion pack­ages. You of­ten hear about these ex­ecs’ pref­er­ence to leave the big bu­reau­cra­cies be­hind. And a po­ten­tial score with a new big drug, along­side the ever present pos­si­bil­i­ty of a buy­out, has al­so con­spired to make biotech a more ex­cit­ing place to be — for now.


Im­age: David Berman at End­points News event, 2018. JEFF RU­MANS, END­POINTS NEWS

Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.


ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology


ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development


CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at help@endpointsnews.com with any issues.

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Bob Smith, Pfizer

Pfiz­er is mak­ing a $500M state­ment to­day: Here’s how you be­come a lead play­er in the boom­ing gene ther­a­py sec­tor

Three years ago, Pfizer anted up $150 million in cash to buy Bamboo Therapeutics in Chapel Hill, NC as it cautiously stuck a toe in the small gene therapy pool of research and development.

Company execs followed up a year later with a $100 million expansion of the manufacturing operations they picked up in that deal for the UNC spinout, which came with $495 million in milestones.

And now they’re really going for it.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca’s Imfinzi/treme com­bo strikes out — again — in lung can­cer. Is it time for last rites?

AstraZeneca bet big on the future of their PD-L1 Imfinzi combined with the experimental CTLA-4 drug tremelimumab. But once again it’s gone down to defeat in a major Phase III study — while adding damage to the theory involving targeting cancer with a high tumor mutational burden.

Early Wednesday the pharma giant announced that their NEPTUNE study had failed, with the combination unable to beat standard chemo at overall survival in high TMB cases of advanced non-small cell lung cancer. We won’t get hard data until later in the year, but the drumbeat of failures will call into question what — if any — future this combination can have left.

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SEC calls out lit­tle Ther­a­peu­tic­sMD for its in­sid­er con­tacts with an­a­lysts to boost share price, then halt rout

Back in May 2017, following an FDA rejection, TherapeuticsMD saw its share price plummet to the lowest levels in two years. The little Florida biotech eventually found its way back to the good side of regulators, scoring a curious OK a year later for its therapy preventing vaginal pain during sex. But the SEC is now accusing it of selectively disclosing nonpublic information in attempts to manipulate its stock.

In two instances in June and July of 2017, TherapeuticsMD allegedly violated the Regulation Fair Disclosure rule by sharing material information with certain sell-side analysts and not the public, resulting in a more favorable stock move than otherwise would be expected.

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Therapists Marcela Ot'alora and Bruce Poulter are trained to conduct MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. In this reenactment, they demonstrate how they help guide and watch over a patient who is revisiting traumatic memories while under the influence of MDMA. (Photo: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies)

MD­MA, now in Phase III, shows promise as a PTSD treat­ment

The first time Lori Tipton tried MDMA, she was skeptical it would make a difference.

“I really was, at the beginning, very nervous,” Tipton said.

MDMA is the main ingredient in the club drug known as ecstasy or molly. But Tipton wasn’t taking pills sold on the street to get high. She was trying to treat her post-traumatic stress disorder by participating in a clinical trial.

After taking a dose of pure MDMA, Tipton lay in a quiet room with two specially trained psychotherapists. They sat next to her as she recalled some of her deepest traumas, such as discovering her mother’s body after Tipton’s mother killed two people and then herself in a murder-suicide.

Ted Ashburn. Oncorus

Cowen, Per­cep­tive lead $79.5M Se­ries B for 's­tand­out' biotech shep­herd­ing on­colyt­ic virus to clin­ic

As several Big Pharma players secure biotech partners in the oncolytic virus space for new immuno-oncology combos, Cowen and Perceptive Advisors have come out with their own bet on a startup that promises to shine.

The marquee investors are joining MPM, Deerfield, Celgene, Astellas, Arkin Bio Ventures and UBS Oncology Impact Fund in backing the drug developer, Oncorus, which will now deploy the $79.5 million in Series B cash toward clinical development of its lead program. Other new investors include Surveyor Capital, Sphera Funds, IMM Investment, QUAD Investment Management, UTC Investment, SV Investment Corp and Shinhan Investment-Private Equity, the last five of which are Korean-based funds.

Fu­til­i­ty analy­sis au­gurs de­feat in piv­otal tri­al test­ing of Nu­Cana's lead drug in metasta­t­ic pan­cre­at­ic can­cer

Nearly two years after making its public debut, UK-based NuCana’s mission to make chemotherapies more potent and safer was dealt a blow, after a pivotal study testing its lead experimental drug halted enrollment in a hard-to-treat advanced form of cancer, following a futility analysis.

The drug, Acelarin, is being evaluated for use in metastatic pancreatic cancer patients who were not considered suitable for combination chemotherapy. In the late-stage ACELARATE study — which compared the experimental drug against the chemotherapy gemcitabine — 200 patients had been enrolled by the sponsor, Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, before an analysis from an independent safety and data monitoring panel suggested the study’s main goal would not be met.