Ziopharm finds new CEO after six-month search; CFO transition at Lonza to take place in December
Less than a year removed from a successful activist attack, Ziopharm Oncology appointed a new CEO this week. Taking the reins will be Kevin Boyle, who comes over after leading Kuur Therapeutics to a $185 million buyout back in May.
It’s been a tough few years for Ziopharm, which in addition to taking on the withering activist attack saw significant turnover at the C-suite level, culminating in longtime CEO Laurence Cooper hitting the exit in February. That kicked off a nearly half-year search that has now found Boyle set to take charge.
“I understand the challenges ahead and I look forward to working diligently with our dedicated and talented team to unlock our incredible potential as an innovative, world-class oncology company,” Boyle said in a statement. “My priorities will be to deliver shareholder value and to ensure the success of the organization by driving the TCR-T program forward, while seeking and executing validating partnerships across our entire portfolio of scientific assets.”
Boyle began his journey at Carnegie Mellon, earning a bachelor’s in industrial management & economics before getting a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He kicked off his career in investment banking and has taken on several CFO roles, including at FloWorks International, Sigma3, RecoverCare, and SPT.
In 2018, Boyle joined Kuur — then known as Cell Medica — as its CFO, helping lead the company through a major restructuring in early 2020. Earlier this year, Kuur revealed its first results for its CAR-NKT cell therapies developed with Baylor University, looking at patients with neuroblastoma.
Out of 10 evaluable patients dosed in the Phase I with the lead candidate, an autologous GD2-targeting CAR-NKT therapy, researchers noted one complete response, one partial response, and three patients with stable disease. A few months later, the biotech was acquired by Athenex.
It remains to be seen what Boyle’s strategy will be at Ziopharm, but he has the endorsement of the activists who succeeded in their attack late last year. Robert Postma, CEO of WaterMill Asset Management Corp, served on Ziopharm’s chief executive search committee.
Postma led the charge against Ziopharm starting last November, aiming to replace three board members and the Ziopharm chairman in an ugly affair that stretched out for more than a month. The sides fought through the constant issuing of press releases, including over Thanksgiving, and Postma ultimately succeeded in replacing two of the board members and pressuring the chairman to step down.
Though Postma himself was up for a board seat in the vote, he did not join the board when the attack concluded in mid-December. He has since taken a board seat, however.
Ziopharm did manage to receive IND clearance around the time Cooper left — news it described at the time as “fantastic” — but investors have not been impressed much since. Following that announcement on Feb. 25, Ziopharm stock $ZIOP has sunk nearly 67% as of Thursday’s closing bell, dropping from $5.33 per share to $1.77.
— Max Gelman
→ Elsewhere at Boston-based Ziopharm, Raffaele Baffa and Adam Levy have both earned promotions — Baffa to head of R&D and Levy to EVP, corporate development and investor relations. Baffa, the ex-CMO at Servier and a Pfizer and Sanofi vet, retains the CMO title that he’s held since November. And Levy originally joined Ziopharm around the same time as Baffa, getting the bump from his previous duties as EVP of investor relations and corporate communications.
→ Philippe Deecke will take over as CFO at Lonza on Dec. 1, replacing Rodolfo Savitzky, who shuffles off after five years in the position “for a new opportunity on 31 December 2021,” according to a release. After more than six years at McKinsey, Deecke pivoted to Novartis in 2005, rising through the ranks to eventually lead management reporting and corporate planning for the Novartis Group, become head of finance in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) for Alcon, and most recently step into the role of CFO at Novartis Oncology.
→ In one of those CEO developments you could probably see coming after a tumultuous year, Onno van de Stolpe unsurprisingly is stepping down from Galapagos as soon as a successor can be found. Gilead’s $5 billion alliance with Galapagos started to buckle in August 2020 with the FDA’s rejection of filgotinib, and then the whole thing collapsed in February with a Phase III fail for ziritaxestat, prompting them to scrap the program. More bad readouts of other drugs in the pipeline seemed to kick the partnership while it was down in July. CSO Piet Wigerinck was the first executive domino to fall at Galapagos when he split the scene in June.
→ Just last year, we featured Kristen Buck at the top of Peer Review when she became CMO at Icon, and during her tenure the Dublin-based CRO plunked down a smooth $12 billion for PRA Health Sciences in a major deal. But life moves pretty fast, and if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss another career move: Buck has left Icon to take the same position at New Jersey cell therapy player Caladrius Biosciences. The ex-chief of clinical development at Optum, Buck was a global safety physician and global study physician in her six years at AstraZeneca. Douglas Losordo resigned as Caladrius CMO in November 2020 with Robert Honigberg pinch-hitting on an interim basis before Buck’s appointment.
→ Three weeks ago in this space, we outlined the exits of CSO Christopher Roberts and CMO Rachel Humphrey at Black Diamond, and we know Roberts’ next landing spot — he takes the helm at Deerfield-backed Civetta Therapeutics, which made its debut in late 2019 and takes aim at beta-propeller proteins to treat cancer. During Roberts’ stay at GlaxoSmithKline, the first-time chief executive was senior director of HCV medicinal chemistry and later led the host defense discovery performance unit. After GSK, Roberts moved on to Syros Pharmaceuticals as their VP of chemistry and early development, then spent two years as an entrepreneur in residence for SR One.
→ David Meeker-led Rhythm Pharmaceuticals, the maker of obesity drug Imcivree, will change CMOs on Sept. 10 as Murray Stewart passes the baton to Linda Shapiro Manning. It’s a fast ascent for Shapiro Manning, who showed up on Peer Review’s radar in July when Rhythm appointed her as SVP, clinical. In her six-year stay at Novo Nordisk, she was head of medical science and international medical director for the Danish pharma’s GLP-1 and obesity global development programs. Stewart will still be part of the Rhythm team as a senior medical advisor.
→ With the unconventional approach of using red blood cells to develop gene therapies for cancer and autoimmune diseases, Rubius Therapeutics has been mining for Big Pharma gold with its leadership — as do most Flagship companies — and its latest move is bringing in Jim Jogerst as CBO. Jogerst had been with Janssen since 2018 and was senior director of business development for the infectious diseases and vaccines portfolio, and he was head of business development, licensing and M&A during a nine-year stay with Alcon. Rubius CEO Pablo Cagnoni gave Endpoints News an inside look at the early data for its cancer drug RTX-240 that sent the stock climbing to its highest level of the year.
→ Jennifer Chow has been promoted to CEO and managing director of Australian CAR-T player Chimeric Therapeutics after taking the COO job in November 2020. At one time the global commercial CAR-T lead at Celgene, Chow then moved on to Kite, where she led global marketing, analytics and commercial operations. CMO Syed Rizvi, VP of business and corporate development Eliot Bourk and VP of technical operations Li Ren are also Celgene vets who are with Chimeric, which has an ongoing Phase I trial at City of Hope for its chlorotoxin cell therapy to treat glioblastoma.
→ Backed by Peter Thiel and chaired by Stephen Squinto, Israeli fibrosis biotech Chemomab Therapeutics has filled its CEO slot with Dale Pfost, succeeding co-founder Adi Mor, who’s continuing her CSO duties and keeping her board seat. Pfost helmed Lodo Therapeutics from 2019 until its purchase in May by Zymergen, a rapidly falling star in the synbio field. Chemomab, which merged with Anchiano Therapeutics this year, has a monoclonal antibody in Phase II trials for those with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) and liver fibrosis.
→ San Diego-based Cidara — which paired with Janssen in April to develop and commercialize an antiviral to treat influenza — has retooled its leadership a bit by recruiting Preetam Shah (CFO and CBO) and Shane Ward (chief legal officer and corporate secretary). Shah tackles these dual roles at Cidara after his tenure as BrainStorm’s EVP, CFO and treasurer, and as for Ward, the Gilead vet makes the switch here after three years as chief legal and strategy officer at battered Bellicum.
→ Convergent Therapeutics, a radiopharmaceutical biotech targeting prostate cancer with its lead candidate CONV 01-α, has tapped Alexander Brown as COO. Lending some Big Pharma heft by with a recent stint at Sanofi as head of new product planning, global oncology, Brown has also been senior director of global commercial oncology in charge of Bavencio at EMD Serono. On July 1, Convergent handed the CEO reins to co-founder Philip Kantoff, the ex-chairman of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s School of Medicine.
→ Several Big Pharma names contributed to what’s been labeled as a $65 million Series B1 round in July, and it’s all systems go for Ribon Therapeutics with its two lead PARP inhibitors as we now learn that Ribon has promoted Heike Keilhack to CSO and Kevin Kuntz to chief drug development officer. Keilhack is a five-year Ribon vet who was SVP of biological sciences before jumping to the C-suite, while Kuntz has been a Ribon exec since 2015 and was previously SVP of molecular discovery. They also share an Epizyme connection: Keilhack held the senior director of biology post there at the same time Kuntz was head of chemistry.
→ Pyxis Oncology continues to expand with its addition of Pamela Yanchik Connealy as CFO. Connealy, who brings over two decades of financial and business operations experience, served as CFO for Immunovant and COO at Kiva. In June, chief technical officer Steve Monks and COO Ritu Shah made their way to Pyxis, which launched in 2019 and collected $152 million in Series B funding earlier this year to advance a trio of ADCs into the clinic.
→ Taking flight with its $125 million Series C haul in May and sizing up the possibility of an IPO, precision oncology biotech Hummingbird Bioscience has pegged Josh House as CFO. After three years at Atara Biotherapeutics, House jumped ship in September 2020 to become VP of business development for Consonance-HFW Acquisition Corp, which merged with Surrozen in April in a $212 million SPAC deal.
→ Dutch VC Forbion has named Nanna Lüneborg as a general partner assigned to the €360 million Forbion Growth Opportunities Fund. Lüneborg had spent nearly a decade at Novo Ventures and sits on the board of directors at such biotechs as Lava Therapeutics and NodThera.
→ Absorbing the Nasdaq atmosphere thanks to a modest IPO this summer, Dermata Therapeutics — focused on freshwater sponge treatments for skin conditions like acne and rosacea — has welcomed Kyri Van Hoose as CFO, succeeding Thomas Insley. Van Hoose just completed a year as CFO at Tega Therapeutics, and during her 11 years at Acadia Pharmaceuticals, she was senior director of finance and corporate controller. Insley will stay on at Dermata as a financial consultant.
→ Melbourne-based Telix Pharmaceuticals — aiming to fight a variety of cancers with molecularly-targeted radiation (MTR) therapies — has tapped Michael Didocha as CFO, Americas. Didocha walks away from Roche after a 16-year run that began as a manufacturing engineer in diabetes care, eventually climbing to director of finance in 2017. Just last week, Telix named Samantha McSherry director of commercial operations for Australia and New Zealand.
→ Jeff Knight steps into the newly created COO position at Crinetics Pharmaceuticals. Before joining Crinetics, Knight was a member of the executive leadership team at Poseida, which earlier this week offered Endpoints an early snapshot of proof of efficacy for a next-gen solid tumor CAR-T. Prior to that, he spent six years climbing the ranks at Amgen, Onyx, and Halozyme. Crinetics’ lead product candidate, paltusotine, revealed positive data in Phase II and forges ahead in its Phase III program for treatment of acromegaly.
→ After making headlines in the spring by bringing in former HUD Secretary Ben Carson as a special advisor, Georgia-based NASH outfit Galectin Therapeutics is breaking out the director’s chairs for four new staffers. Dakshina Reddy (executive director, regulatory affairs) pivots to Galectin after 10 years at Novartis, the last five of those as global program regulatory director. Ezra Lowe (executive director, clinical and preclinical pharmacology) was most recently senior director of clinical pharmacology in global R&D at Bausch Health. Marla Mills-Wilson (executive director, clinical operations) started her career as a clinical scientist at GSK in the GlaxoWellcome days and brings managerial experience in clinical operations from Parexel and Novella Clinical. Finally, Jessica Kopaczewski (associate director, clinical operations) is a former clinical operations manager at Intercept and CymaBay.
→ Richard Murray joins clinical-stage medical device company Avisa Diagnostics as CMO. Murray has spent most of his career at Merck, where he started as regional medical director in the mid 1990s. From there, he climbed up the ladder to become VP and deputy chief patient officer in 2016. Avisa hopes that Murray’s experience with pulmonology can help get their pivotal trials in post-Covid-19 bronchiectasis and ventilator-associated pneumonia across the finish line.
→ Boulder, CO-based Brickell Biotech, which snapped up exclusive rights this week from South Korea’s Voronoi to develop drugs from a DYRK1A inhibitor platform, has brought on Monica Luchi as CMO. Luchi, a Novartis and Incyte alum who decamps from her interim CMO post with the Bracken Group, is the former SVP, clinical R&D for Celularity and Sorrento. She’s also been the therapeutic area head for immunology at Mesoblast.
→ Avacta Group has reeled in Fiona McLaughlin as CSO of its therapeutics division. McLaughlin jumpstarted her career at GSK before heading to Antisoma as VP, translational research, and Algeta (acquired by Bayer) as VP of new opportunities.
→ Swiss-based ImmunOs Therapeutics has nabbed Jeffrey Abbey as COO. Abbey comes aboard from Argos Therapeutics, where he served as CEO and previously as VP, business development and CBO. After his time at Argos, Abbey was CEO of Novadip Biosciences, Belgium.
In addition to his appointment, ImmunOs has created a clinical advisory board with the additions of Andrew Scott (director, department of molecular imaging and therapy, Austin Health); Dmitriy Zamarin (medical oncologist and translational research director in the gynecologic medical oncology service at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center); Dirk Jäger (managing director of the National Center for Tumor Diseases); and Jeffrey Bockman (leader of the oncology and virology practices at Cello Health BioConsulting).
→ Science 37, which hit unicorn status in May through its merger with LifeSci Acquisition II, has tapped Christine Pellizzari as chief legal officer. Pellizzari comes to the LA-based company from Insmed, where she most recently served as chief legal officer. In addition to her new role, Pellizzari sits on the boards of Celsion and Tempest Therapeutics.
→ As Mark Rothera readies himself for year two at siRNA (short interfering RNA) biotech Silence Therapeutics, John Strafford has been promoted to SVP, business development, alliance management and new product development. Strafford has led business development since 2019 and originally joined London-based Silence in 2018 as business development director. Since Rothera took the helm in September 2020, Silence’s other leadership additions include CFO Craig Tooman and head of molecular design Marie Wikström Lindholm.
→ Earlier this month, PepGen racked up nearly $113 million in a Series B in an effort to gain traction in the Duchenne muscular dystrophy field, and the James McArthur-led Oxford spinout had been making its share of hires this summer in between financing rounds. But it’s a promotion PepGen is highlighting: Jane Larkindale joined the biotech in April as senior director of clinical science after six years at the Critical Path Institute, and she’s been elevated to VP. PepGen is also directing attention to its board of directors by ushering in Paredes Biosciences CFO Heidi Henson, the former CFO at Kura Oncology among other stops.
→ Hot off the grill at Oncternal Therapeutics, Steven Hamburger is now overseeing regulatory affairs and quality assurance. Before embarking upon this SVP gig at the San Diego cancer biotech, Hamburger was a member of Art Krieg and Barry Labinger’s squad at Checkmate as VP and head of regulatory affairs. And in a career that’s spanned more than 35 years, he’s also been a regulatory exec with Tarveda Therapeutics, Castle Creek Pharmaceuticals, Baxalta and Immunomedics.
→ George Samuel has signed on to Carlsbad, CA-based Lineage Cell Therapeutics as general counsel. In his previous biotech foray, Samuel spent three years as VP, general counsel and corporate secretary at Cardiff Oncology, then known as Trovagene. Earlier this summer, Kevin Cook replaced Brandi Roberts as CFO of the allogeneic cell therapy player.
→ Boundless Bio made a splash earlier this year by raising $105 million to reimagine targeted cancer therapy — specifically by going after ecDNA. This week, the San Diego biotech announced that Jessica Oien will join their team as general counsel and corporate secretary. Oien held the same position at Cidara and has a number of other legal roles to her credit, including with Elan Pharmaceuticals and Otonomy. Boundless Bio hopes to bring its ecDNA research to the clinic by 2023.
→ CM Life Sciences II and SomaLogic have appointed Todd Johnson as EVP of business development and strategy and Ruben Gutierrez as general counsel. Johnson previously served as SVP for care transformation at AVIA and CEO of HealthLoop. Meanwhile, Gutierrez formerly served as VP, legal and corporate affairs for Natera and general counsel of Human Longevity.
→ San Diego-based Medvantx has brought on Nabil Badr as chief technology officer and Darlene Mitchell as chief compliance officer. Badr hails from City National Bank, where he served as VP of digital transformation; while Mitchell was formerly with Advantia Health and lead compliance officer for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
→ Yi Xia has been named SVP of statistics and data science at Chinese bioconjugate developer GeneQuantum Healthcare, tacking on another appointment after CMO Kaida Wu joined the company a couple weeks ago. Xia has worked in biostatistics at Eisai and Daiichi Sankyo, and just had a very short tenure as VP, head of biostatistics and data management at Alphamab Oncology.
→ A couple weeks ago, William Fairey scored a board appointment at Mirum Pharmaceuticals after Tiba Aynechi’s resignation, and now comes word that he’s been added to the board of directors at Austin, TX-based Lung Therapeutics. The longtime Actelion vet is the ex-EVP and CCO at MyoKardia.
→ Seeking to treat neurodegenerative diseases by zeroing in on toxic oligomers, Toronto-based ProMIS Neurosciences has chosen Josh Mandel-Brehm to be on the board of directors. Mandel-Brehm spent four years at Biogen in BD and M&A before his appointment as president and CEO of Camp4 in 2017.
→ Hoping to rival EpiPen, anaphylaxis startup Bryn Pharma out of the Research Triangle has elected Anne Whitaker to the board of directors. The longtime GSK exec chairs the board at Aerami Therapeutics, where she was once CEO.
→ Sequana Medical has plucked up Jackie Fielding to join the company as non-executive director, replacing Jason Hannon who is stepping down. Fielding spent the last 28 years with Medtronic, most recently serving as VP UK/Ireland.
→ New York-based Seelos Therapeutics has pulled in Margaret Dalesandro as part of its board of directors. Most recently, Dalesandro served as VP of project, portfolio and alliance management at ImClone Systems. Earlier in her career, Dalesandro served as director of cardiovascular/oncology project/portfolio/alliance management at GSK.