Connect with us


Exclusive: Affini-T taps Sanofi alum to lead hunt for partnerships; Alkermes locks in CEO for oncology spinout

Thaminda Ramanayake
Affini-T is looking for a partner as its KRAS-targeting T cell receptor therapies near the clinic — and it’s bringing on a Sanofi…



Thaminda Ramanayake

Affini-T is looking for a partner as its KRAS-targeting T cell receptor therapies near the clinic — and it’s bringing on a Sanofi veteran to lead the way.

The company on Friday announced its appointment of Thaminda Ramanayake as chief business officer, who previously served as VP and global head of business development, oncology at Sanofi. Affini-T is anticipating IND filings by the end of this year for the KRAS G12V programs AFNT-111 and AFNT-211, and as Ramanayake said, “There is no better time to think about partnerships.”

KRAS is a protein regulating how cells grow and divide, and mutations can cause the protein to get stuck in the “on” position, triggering uncontrolled malignant cell growth. The first generation of KRAS inhibitors, including Amgen’s Lumakras (sotorasib) and Mirati’s Krazati (adagrasib), target a mutation called G12C to lock the protein in “off” mode.

“We think there’s an opportunity here to expand beyond G12C,” Affini-T CEO Jak Knowles said on Thursday. Affini-T was featured in last year’s Endpoints 11 list of top private biotechs.

Ramanayake helped shape the oncology business strategy at Sanofi, and before that served as senior director of BD and strategy at BioMarin and global transactions lead at Amgen. He called his path a “windy road,” adding that at one point he considered a career in research, but decided against it because it was “too far from the patient.” BD, he added, is the right spot “if you’re passionate about innovation, if you’re passionate about patient care.”

“The old way of drug discovery and development is not going to be successful when it comes to oncology,” Ramanayake said. “You have to partner, you have to work together.”

Nicole DeFeudis

Caroline Loew

→ When Alkermes splits its cancer business into a separate company, Caroline Loew will be leading the charge as Mural Oncology’s CEO-designate. Before her most recent CEO gig at Glympse Bio from 2018-22, Loew was Bristol Myers Squibb’s head of R&D strategy and planning, and spent eight years with Merck. Back in November, Alkermes said the Inflation Reduction Act provided the impetus for spinning off its oncology pipeline.

Simon Jose

Idorsia chief commercial officer Simon Jose is calling it quits to “pursue other opportunities” while Otto Schwarz, who worked with CEO Jean-Paul Clozel at Actelion, will provide support with commercial operations on July 1. Under Jose’s leadership, Idorsia picked up Jennifer Aniston, Taye Diggs and skier Lindsey Vonn as celebrity endorsers for its insomnia med Quviviq. In February, Idorsia characterized its Phase III fail with clazosentan as an “unexpected result.”

Harry Raftopoulos

Eikon Therapeutics has even more news to accompany the first tranche of its $106 million Series C and a trio of deals to bolster the pipeline. CEO Roger Perlmutter and CMO Roy Baynes unveiled their new clinical development team as well: Mei Ling Chang-Lok (VP, regulatory) held the same post at Ventyx; Suba Krishnan (VP, early development lead) previously led clinical development at Mereo BioPharma; Kevin O’Brien (SVP, clinical development operations) spent 13 years with Gilead, where he was elevated to head of development business operations; Harry Raftopoulos (SVP, clinical research oncology) was Bayer’s head of late-stage oncology clinical development; and Sam Rebello (VP, clinical pharmacology) is a longtime Novartis vet who served as head of development sciences at Axcella. More than a dozen other clinical development staffers at Eikon’s offices in New York City and California are also listed in the release.

→ Heart disease biotech Aerami Therapeutics has found an interim CEO and made some new appointments to its leadership team. Aerami has named Joshua Ziel as COO and interim CEO, Gary Burgess as CMO and Sarah Fritchley as SVP, clinical development and operations. Ziel joined Aerami in 2022 as VP for program development and was previously with Syneos Health. Meanwhile, Burgess joins from Conatus, where he also served as CMO, and Fritchley comes aboard from Exvastat, where she served as chief development officer. The hirings come a month after the company mourned the loss of CEO Lisa Yañez.

Nallakkan Arvindan

Julie Kim has been promoted to CBO at B cell biotech Walking Fish Therapeutics, while Nallakkan Arvindan jumps on board as chief technology officer. A Roche and Genentech alum, Kim initially signed on as SVP, corporate strategy & business development at Walking Fish in January 2022. Arvindan and CEO Rusty Williams know each other well from their days at Five Prime, where Arvindan was VP of strategic technology operations and later became SVP.

→ Developing hydroxyl dendrimer-based (HD) therapies for conditions in ophthalmology, neurology and inflammation, Ashvattha Therapeutics has tapped Paul Cayer as CFO. This is a fresh start for Cayer, who spent more than 14 years with Otonomy as chief financial and business officer. The hearing loss biotech has folded its tent after a Phase II flop, a wholesale firing of employees and a search for strategic alternatives that came up empty. In other Ashvattha news, Omega Therapeutics president and CEO Mahesh Karande has become the sixth member of the company’s board.

Robert Doebele

→ It’s been a flood of bad news at Rain Oncology, starting with last week’s Phase III failure with milademetan for patients with dedifferentiated liposarcoma that crippled its stock, and flowing into this week’s decision to halt enrollment for its mid-stage basket study. Rain will also dismiss 65% of its staff as CMO Richard Bryce steps back into an advisory role. Co-founder, president and CSO Robert Doebele will replace Bryce, and there are no indications that it’s on an interim basis. Rain also wanted to test milademetan as a combo treatment with Roche’s Tecentriq, but the California biotech isn’t moving forward with the trial, dubbed MANTRA-4.

AstraZeneca India has named Bhavana Agrawal as CFO, who will officially take the role on Oct. 1, 2023. Agrawal is taking over the reins from Rajesh Marwaha, who is retiring. Prior to joining the team at AstraZeneca, Agrawal was CFO of GE Healthcare for the Middle East, Africa and Russia.

Yang Yang

Bausch + Lomb CEO Brent Saunders has moved three senior execs up to the executive management team: Luc Bonnefoy (SVP, surgical), John Ferris (SVP, consumer) and Yang Yang (SVP, vision care). The president of these three business units, Joseph Gordon, will consequently shift to the role of strategic advisor for Saunders. One more note from the eye care giant: Chief quality officer Louis Yu will retire “later this summer.”

→ Saunders-chaired eye disease player OcuTerra has welcomed Bill Steinkrauss as CFO. Steinkrauss earned a promotion to CFO and chief administrative officer at Curis, and he was senior manager, technical accounting for Cubist Pharmaceuticals before it was sold to Merck for $9.5 billion. OcuTerra’s last round of financing was a $35 million Series B in November 2021.

Ekaterina Malievskaia

→ Ekaterina Malievskaia’s days as chief innovation officer of psilocybin drug developer Compass Pathways will draw to a close June 16. Malievskaia, who co-founded London-based Compass with George Goldsmith and Lars Wilde six years ago, will retain her seat on the board of directors. Compass revealed positive Phase II results with its psilocybin med COMP360 for treatment-resistant major depression last November, and a Phase III is currently underway.

Brett Whalen

Exelixis hasn’t been the only biotech entangled in a proxy battle: AstraZeneca’s cell therapy partner Sernova has acquiesced to the demand of “concerned shareholders” for fresh representation on the board of directors. Their favored candidates, Steven Sangha and Bertram von Plettenberg, have won seats on the board, which has installed Brett Whalen as chairman. Additionally, board members Deborah Brown and Mohammad Azab have retired. In the release, Sernova emphasized that president and CEO Philip Toleikis’ job is safe.

Abilita Bio has changed its name to Abilita Therapeutics. Along with that change, the San Diego-based company has recruited Joel Edwards as CBO. Edwards formerly served in the same role at Biosion USA and has a 13-year track record with Ionis. Earlier in his career, Edwards was with Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Lexicon Pharmaceuticals.

Rita Laeufle

→ The last Peer Review heard from San Diego-based Phanes Therapeutics was January 2022, with Paul Chu’s appointment as SVP of business development. Now the company has brought Rita Laeufle aboard as CMO. This isn’t Laeufle’s first time as medical chief; she’s previously served in the role for Imugene Biotech and Oncolytics. Prior to those stints, Laeufle was with Genentech, SFJ Pharmaceuticals and Novartis.

→ Protein degradation biotech Pinetree Therapeutics has appointed John Majercak as chief technology officer. Majercak worked for such heavyweights as Merck, J&J, Boehringer Ingelheim and Bristol Myers before pushing Big Pharma aside as head of antibody discovery at Molecular Templates. Bristol Myers, Bayer and Regeneron oncology vet Pamela Trail will also help Pinetree as a member of its scientific advisory board.

Juha Punnonen

Led by Barry Selick, the former vice chancellor for business development, innovation and partnerships at UCSF, antibody developer Hinge Bio has selected Juha Punnonen as chief development officer. After three years with Merck as executive director, oncology discovery research, Punnonen was Ascendis Pharma’s head of oncology from 2018-22.

Shionogi’s US subsidiary has picked up Christopher Klein as general counsel. Klein held this position for nearly a decade at New Jersey-based RVL Pharmaceuticals before joining Shionogi Inc, and he’s also been senior counsel, biotechnology patents and transactions at Bristol Myers.

→ Danish outfit IO Biotech, which secured an oversubscribed Series B worth $154.5 million in 2021, has brought on Christine Richter as SVP, commercial and program lead. Richter’s résumé includes roles at Amgen, Takeda Oncology and Leo Pharma.

Daniel Brennan

→ Roche-backed NMD Pharma, a muscular disorder biotech that secured a $40 million (€35 million) cash infusion in February 2022, has enlisted Alentia Therapeutics president Daniel Brennan as SVP, corporate and commercial strategy. Brennan, a 10-year Eli Lilly vet who managed the neurology business unit at Lundbeck, spent two years as chief commercial officer with Catalyst Pharmaceuticals.

Tamar Thompson

→ Speaking of Catalyst, the rare disease biotech has elected Tamar Thompson to the board of directors. Thompson leads global corporate affairs for AstraZeneca’s rare disease unit, Alexion, and has a seat on the board at Avidity Biosciences.

Jeff Kindler

→ Former Pfizer chairman and CEO Jeff Kindler has been given a seat on the board of directors at CRISPR player Excision BioTherapeutics. Kindler has reached the 10-year mark as CEO of Centrexion Therapeutics.

Robert Booth has won a spot on the board of directors at little-known neuro player Acurex Biosciences as its Series A fundraising process continues. Booth, an SVP during his 13-year career at Roche, was a board member at Pharmacyclics and rejoined Bob Duggan at Summit Therapeutics in the same capacity last year.

Alka Batycky

Landos Biopharma, which handed its LANCL portfolio back to founder Josep Bassaganya-Riera at his latest bet NImmune Biopharma, has made room for Alka Batycky on the board of directors. Batycky had been chief development officer at Finch Therapeutics, the biotech that whittled itself down to two C-suite execs after discarding its Phase III trial in Clostridioides difficile and laying off 95% of its staff.

→ Minneapolis-based DiaMedica Therapeutics has named former Medtronic exec Rick Kuntz to the board of directors. He started out at Medtronic as SVP and president of Medtronic neuromodulation, then became chief clinical and regulatory officer in 2009. Kuntz was CMO and CSO when he reached the company’s “mandatory executive officer retirement age” of 65, handing the keys to Laura Mauri in April after nearly 17 years overall.

Read More