With Aduhelm in tatters, the search is on for Michel Vounatsos' replacement at Biogen; David Liu, Roger Perlmutter join insitro's SAB
→ Because of the dearth of Alzheimer’s treatments, Biogen pushed aggressively to cross the regulatory goal line with aducanumab despite early trial wrap-ups and pervasive efficacy questions. The highly controversial approval of Aduhelm, and the calamitous rollout that followed, proved to be the undoing of CEO Michel Vounatsos, who was hired from within to replace George Scangos on Jan. 6, 2017. Discussions in the industry should be lively over who gets the job next at Biogen as Vounatsos will retain his position until the company finds a successor, which will be no later than Feb. 28, 2023.
Biogen found a friendly ally in Billy Dunn’s neuro group at the FDA, and the agency approved the Alzheimer’s drug in June 2021 despite a unanimous adcomm vote against the compound. Three members of the committee resigned once their deep reservations about the drug fell on deaf ears.
The die was cast for Aduhelm in January when CMS restricted coverage of the drug only to patients participating in clinical trials. Faced with layoffs and other cost-cutting measures, Biogen waved the white flag on Aduhelm’s commercial efforts, essentially shutting down all such operations, and it will be Vounatsos who will eventually take the fall.
How did we get here in the first place? Two Phase III studies of aducanumab were halted early in March 2019 due to futility, but Biogen did a 180 the following October and tried to restore hope for the drug in a new analysis that showed a potential efficacy signal in one of the studies, prompting the company to make the beeline to the FDA. As John Carroll wrote in October 2019: “The credibility of the executive crew in charge of Biogen is also on the line. Winning here will be a legacy victory for R&D chief Al Sandrock and CEO Michel Vounatsos. Losing, after this brouhaha, will trigger a definitive loss of faith.”
In the aftermath of Aduhelm, both will be gone.
→ David Liu and Roger Perlmutter headline the newly-formed scientific advisory board at Daphne Koller’s machine learning upstart insitro. Perlmutter, the ex-Merck R&D chief and current CEO of Eikon Therapeutics, is already on insitro’s board and is part of the therapeutic advisory group alongside Giovanna Mallucci and Mount Sinai’s Scott Friedman. Liu, the founder of such companies as Editas Medicine and Prime Medicine, joins Dana Pe’er, Oliver Stegle and Gene Yeo in the cellular engineering and disease modeling area. For statistical and translational genetics, insitro has summoned Sir John Bell, Daniel MacArthur and George Davey Smith to the SAB, while MIT’s Tommi Jaakkola is the lone appointee for molecular design and machine learning.
→ Touting new partnerships for its subsidiaries (VantAI with J&J’s Janssen and Boehringer Ingelheim, Proteovant with Blueprint Medicines), Roivant has selected Srini Ramanathan as chief development officer. Ramanathan was SVP of R&D sciences and site head of the South San Francisco office of Horizon Therapeutics before jumping to Roivant, now run by Matt Gline and exactly a year removed from announcing its SPAC deal with Jim Momtazee’s Montes Archimedes Acquisition Corp. After 13 years at Gilead, where he was head of clinical pharmacology, Ramanathan became senior project leader, immunology development at AbbVie.
→ David Mauro, who decamped from Prelude Therapeutics and was succeeded by former BeiGene hematology exec Jane Huang, has signed on to exosome-focused Codiak BioSciences as CMO. Mauro has also been CMO of Advaxis and Checkmate Pharmaceuticals, Art Krieg’s biotech that Regeneron just bought for a song a couple weeks ago. Mauro’s predecessor, Jennifer Wheler, spent just seven months as Codiak’s medical chief before founding Navigate BioConsulting, where she’s also a principal.
→ Partnering with Merck on a Keytruda–Tavo combo, OncoSec has found someone to fill the top spot. Robert Arch has taken over as president and CEO after Brian Leuthner bridged the gap as interim chief when Dan O’Connor stepped down. The state of flux in the leadership isn’t limited to Leuthner, who’s no longer with the company after initially coming on board as COO in February 2021. The departure of CSO Chris Twitty, the resignation of chair Margaret Dalesandro and the appointment of CFO George Chi all recently occurred within a five-month period, and now Arch takes center stage after being head of research at Elpiscience Biopharma from 2019-21. His Big Pharma background extends to Pfizer, GSK, Takeda (global head of liver disease research) and Novartis (head of the liver disease department at NIBR in China).
→ Roche, 5AM and Sofinnova Partners contributed to a $49 million Series A for GlycoEra, a Swiss glycobiology biotech, last November. This week GlycoEra has picked up Ganesh Kaundinya as president and CEO. Kaundinya helped found Momenta in 2001, and for the next 17 years he would take on the roles of CSO and COO for the company that J&J bought for $6.5 billion in August 2020.
→ Milan-based Enthera Pharmaceuticals is saddling up Aled Williams as CEO and member of its board. Aled makes his way over to the autoimmune disease biotech from Polyneuron, where he served as CBO. Prior to that, Williams was CCO of VectivBio and Therachon and has also held roles at Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis and Roche.
→ JSR Life Sciences is crowning Mark Womack CEO of not one, but two of its affiliate companies: KBI Biopharma and Selexis SA. Womack is familiar with manning the helm of the ship, having served as CEO and managing director of Stelis Biopharma prior to his new gig. Previously, Womack also served as CBO of AGC Biologics.
→ Coming from academia, Peter Hillmen has been named head of hematology engagement for Apellis, challenging Soliris with last year’s approval of paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria drug Empaveli last year and looking to break through with pegcetacoplan in geographic atrophy. Hillmen has served as professor of experimental hematology at Leeds Institute of Medical Research and led the Leeds National Commissioning Group Designated Centre for PNH.
→ We have another batch of appointments at Flagship’s epigenetics player Omega Therapeutics, where a $126 million Series C was raised last year to advance its lead candidate OTX-2002. Roger Sawhney will shift into the role of CBO, while Joshua Reed has been given the nod to replace Sawhney as CFO on May 23. Reed has been CFO of Aldeyra Therapeutics since July 2018 and he held various positions in more than 12 years at Bristol Myers, including VP and head of finance operations for the US and Puerto Rico. For the last year, he’s had a seat on a board at Scholar Rock that also features Arrakis’ Michael Gilman and ARCH’s Kristina Burow.
→ Zuranolone maker Sage inserted the appointment of Mark Pollack as SVP, medical affairs into its Q1 report this week. Pollack is a longtime professor of psychiatry at Harvard who had been CMO of the neuroscience business unit at Myriad Genetics. Sage CEO Barry Greene used the Q1 rundown to play up the early data for SAGE-718 in patients with Alzheimer’s that the biotech released a month ago. The drug is also being studied in Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease.
→ Replenishing the cash supply with a $140 million Series C led by the second SoftBank Vision Fund and RA Capital in February, Ventus Therapeutics has tapped Stuart Green as CMO. Green is a 21-year vet of Merck Research Laboratories, where he spent the last decade as VP, late stage development and played a crucial role in the approvals of such drugs as the ragweed allergy medicine Ragwitek and Sun Pharma-partnered Ilumya. This is another major exec moving on from Merck Research Laboratories following CMO Roy Baynes‘ decision to reunite with Roger Perlmutter at Eikon in July.
→ Back in September 2020, Peer Review told you about Stephen Mullennix going to CRO ProSciento as its finance chief. Fast forward to this week, and Mullennix has taken the CFO job at Percival Barreto-Ko’s protein degradation biotech Plexium, which struck a deal last week with AbbVie worth $35 million upfront after teaming up with Amgen in February. Mullennix has also been chief operating and financial officer for UroGen.
→ Afami-cel maker Adaptimmune has promoted Joanna Brewer to CSO, strutting to the C-suite after almost two and a half years as SVP, allogeneic research and 13 years overall with the team. Adaptimmune has been studying the aforementioned T cell therapy in patients with advanced synovial sarcoma or myxoid/round cell liposarcoma, and the Oxford-based biotech hopes to have a BLA submitted “in late 2022.”
→ Examining Claudin-1’s role in fibrotic diseases and hauling in a $67 million Series B to do so, Swiss-based Alentis Therapeutics has lined up Big Pharma vet Andrea Pellacani as CMO. After senior medical and R&D posts at Merck and GSK, Pellacani then jumped ship for Amgen in 2011 as executive medical director, global development. From 2015-21, Pellacani was in charge of R&D at Menarini Group.
→ And then there’s Maude: Jo Viney’s startup Seismic Therapeutic has appointed Maude Tessier as CBO, several weeks after Eric Larson and Heather Vital joined the team. In her previous gig as business chief of Ikena Oncology, the Bristol Myers partner once known as Kyn Therapeutics sprung onto the Nasdaq scene with a nine-figure IPO last spring. Before moving on to Ikena, Tessier was executive director, business development and licensing at Merck.
→ US-Austrian arenaviral immunotherapy biotech Hookipa Pharma has promoted Christine Baker to COO. After 14 years at Novartis Oncology, where she rose to VP, early commercial strategy, Baker had a brief stay as business chief of EpicentRx before taking the CBO job at Hookipa in the summer of 2019. Several weeks ago, she became a board member at Tyme Technologies, the slumping microcap that just named Douglas Michels as chairman.
→ Coming out of stealth, Dianthus Therapeutics launched with a $100 million Series A and announced the appointment of Simrat Randhawa as CMO. Randhawa jumpstarted his career in biotech at BioMarin before completing a 13-year stint at Novartis and a 5-year gig at Aurinia Pharmaceuticals.
Randhawa isn’t the only fresh face on the exec team, the company’s CEO and president, Marino Garcia, joined not too long ago himself back in November of last year — bringing expertise from his times at Zealand Pharma, Synergy, Pfizer and Eli Lilly, among others.
→ Copenhagen-based Adcendo, which further announced its presence in the ADC space with the largest financing round for a Swedish biotech at $62 million, has pegged Dominik Mumberg as CSO a year later. A man of many executive titles in his 15 years at Bayer, Mumberg would eventually vault to translational innovation lead within the oncology strategic business unit in March 2021.
→ Focused on dendritic cell biology, Swedish cancer biotech Immunicum has ushered in Leopold Bertea as chief technology officer. A Novartis and Sanofi vet, Bertea’s previous stop was at Cellectis as SVP, technical operations Europe. When Bertea helmed CellforCure, Novartis purchased the company to boost its CAR-T manufacturing capabilities, and he then slid into the role of general manager and site head in Les Ulis just southwest of Paris.
→ One of several biotechs seeking to unlock the potential of Tregs (along with GentiBio and Mozart Therapeutics, to name a couple), Boston-based Abata Therapeutics has brought in Sandy Lazzari as chief people officer. Lazzari owns HR leadership experience from Millipore, Quanterix, OvaScience, Kala Pharmaceuticals and Emulate Bio. At her most recent stop, she was PlateletBio’s VP of people and culture.
→ Geneva-based ObsEva will welcome Brandi Howard as chief clinical officer starting Monday as Elizabeth Garner, the CMO of the women’s health biotech since July 2019, steps down “to pursue a new opportunity.” Howard steered Phexxi toward approval as head of medical and clinical affairs with Evofem Biosciences, and took on multiple posts in an eight-year period at Teva, culminating in her time as head of US field medical affairs.
→ Peer Review is giving its rapt attention to three hires at South San Francisco’s RAPT Therapeutics: Gwen Carscadden (chief human resources officer) had been chief people officer at medtech Intersect ENT since 2016 and was an HR exec at CardioDx; Jim Farmer (VP of clinical operations) is a NantKwest and Coherus vet who comes to the cancer and inflammation biotech from Travere Therapeutics, where he was senior director of clinical development strategy and operations; and Shari Geffon (VP of program and alliance management) is the ex-COO of renegade.bio who has held project and program management posts at FibroGen, Alkahest, Aimmune and Satsuma Pharmaceuticals.
→ Destiny’s Chief: Yuri Martina has been named CMO of UK-based Destiny Pharma, whose lead candidate NTCD-M3 takes aim at C. difficile infection. Martina had served as SVP, development and deputy CMO at Grünenthal Group, and from 2014-17 he was VP, development and clinical operations for Shionogi Europe.
→ Tucked inside protein degradation biotech Kymera’s Q1 rundown is the appointment of Big Pharma alum Todd Cooper as SVP, corporate affairs. Cooper hails from Sanofi, a Kymera partner, where he was VP, global head of science communications. Earlier, he was senior director, worldwide R&D communications for Pfizer and led global brand and science communications at Biogen.
→ The Wellcome Sanger Institute’s genomics spinout Congenica has installed Tom Barber as CSO. During nearly eight years with Eli Lilly, Barber was group leader and principal research scientist, cancer genetics and next-generation sequencing (NGS). He’s spent the last five years as chief scientist for Indianapolis software company LifeOmic.
→ Anji Pharma is expanding its leadership team with the appointments of Julianne Averill as CFO and Kristen Richardson as chief people and performance officer. Averill hails from Danforth Advisors, where she was senior director and has also held roles at Alveo Technologies, BlackThorn Therapeutics, Manifest MedEx and Deloitte. Meanwhile, Richardson brings expertise from stints at Kaleido, MicroMedicine and Genzyme.
→ Xcell Biosciences is pulling out the welcome wagon for Shannon Eaker as chief technology officer. Eaker formerly served an 11-year stint at Cytiva Cell and Gene Therapy and is a member of the International Society for Cell Therapy Process Development and Manufacturing.
→ Microcap biotech VistaGen Therapeutics, which plunged into penny stock territory back in 2019 after disheartening Phase II results for its depression drug, has brought on Reid Adler as chief legal officer. Adler was part of law firm Capital Technology Law Group prior to his appointment and has also served at Morrison & Foerster, Morgan Lewis, J. Craig Venter Institute for genomics and was founding director of the NIH office of technology transfer.
→ As Parisian Quantom Genomics is gearing to submit an NDA for its lead drug firibastat — for the treatment of hypertension and heart failure — it’s bringing along some extra help to help make the push to the FDA with the appointment of Sarah Merlen-Boulenger as head of regulatory affairs. Merlen-Boulenger makes her way to Quantom Genomics after a nearly decade long stint at Ethypharm. Prior to that, Merlen-Boulenger spent some time at Sanofi as global regulatory affairs, Europe.
→ At the same time as nabbing $16.7 million from a seed financing round co-led by Pureos Bioventures and Novo Holdings, Engimmune Therapeutics is also bagging TCR pioneer Brent Jakobsen as chairman of its board. Jakobsen has a star-studded résumé: former chief scientist and co-founder of Immunocore, former CSO of Adaptimune and founder and CEO of Accession Therapeutics, to name a few. Additionally, Jakobsen will be joined on the board by Dominik Escher (managing partner at BB Pureos Bioventures) and Jørgen Søberg Petersen (partner at Novo Holdings), and Ximing Ding (associate at Pureos Bioventures) and João Ribas (senior associate at Novo Holdings) as observers.
→ Paris-based Egle Therapautics is installing Pierre Legault as chairman of its board of directors. In recent years, Legault has served as director of Syndax Pharmaceuticals and chairman of the boards of Artios Pharma, Bicycle Therapeutics and Sitryx Therapeutics. Not only has he been chairman of a few boards, Legault has sat as a board member at such companies as Amolyt Pharma, Urovant Sciences and Prosidion. Earlier in his career, Legault was president, CEO and CFO at legacy companies of the Sanofi-Aventis group.
→ Drug discovery company Totus Medicines is bringing aboard several seasoned faces with the appointment of Tom Hughes (CEO of Navitor Pharmaceuticals and former CEO of Zafgen) as chairman of the board and the recruitment of: Kevan Shokat (co-founder of eFFECTOR Therapeutics, Erasca and Kura Oncology); Chris Bowden (former CMO of Agios); Steve Crossan (product team lead at DeepMind); and Stephen Hale (former SVP, global head of R&D at Dewpoint Therapeutics and CSO of Ensemble Therapeutics) to form its scientific advisory board.
→ One of many companies caught in the bear market maelstrom, Spectrum Pharamaceuticals, has reserved a seat for Neurelis CFO Brittany Bradrick on the board of directors. Bradrick also spent a year as COO and CFO of ViaCyte. Spectrum trimmed its workforce by 30% to start 2022 after the FDA handed down a CRL for its neutropenia drug last August, and CFO Kurt Gustafson walked out the door in February.
→ Former Esperion CEO Tim Mayleben penned a candid Endpoints News guest column recently that detailed where things went wrong with its cholesterol drug, bempedoic acid. This past week Esperion added Stephen Rocamboli to the board of directors. Rocamboli, the CEO of Perla Therapeutics, also sits on the board of TFF Pharmaceuticals.
→ SaaS analytics platform Sumo Logic is pulling out a chair for AveXis co-founder and former executive chairman of the board of John Harkey on its board of directors. This is far from Harkey’s first rodeo sitting on a board, serving at Durvet, Dialectic Therapeutics, Cessation Therapeutics, MD Anderson Cancer Center and Baylor Healthcare Foundation.
→ Junshi’s toripalimab partner Coherus BioSciences has made room for Charlie Newton on the board of directors. Newton, the CFO of Lyell, cut his teeth in investment banking as a managing director with BofA Securities, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley.
→ Muna Bhanji has tacked on another board appointment at genome editing titan Intellia, which shelled out $45 million in February for Rewrite Therapeutics. Bhanji, who called it a career at Merck in 2021 after 35 years at the Big Pharma, is a board member at Cytokinetics, Ardelyx and Veracyte.
→ Victoria Vakiener has punched her ticket to the board of directors at Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals, which has established Visirna Therapeutics with Vivo Capital to expand its reach into China. Vakiener, a board member at Chimerix, is a J&J alum who was chief commercial officer at Epizyme from 2018-21.
→ Making her way to the west coast, Kathie Bishop — current SVP, CSO and head of rare disease at Acadia Pharmaceuticals — is hopping onto the board of directors of San Diego-based DTx Pharma. Bishop also brings expertise with her from her roles as CSO at LocanaBio, Otonomy and Tioga Pharmaceuticals and she held leadership roles at Ionis and Ceregene.
→ London T cell biotech Achilles Therapeutics has elected Bernhard Ehmer to the board of directors. The ex-CEO of Biotest and Fresenius Biotech was also president of ImClone Systems.
→ Aussie-based Servatus is bringing in some extra firepower to its board of directors with the appointment of Boehringer Ingelheim vet Uwe Buecheler as non-executive director. Buecheler currently serves as senior advisor at Boehringer and has previously served in a variety of roles for the company, such as site head and lead for BI’s global operations network in Europe, the US and China.