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Flagship’s Montai Health hires first CMO; Finance leader to retire at J&J partner Xencor

Christian Antoni
Montai Health has kept most of its business under wraps since emerging from stealth last December. But this week the startup hired its…



Christian Antoni

Montai Health has kept most of its business under wraps since emerging from stealth last December. But this week the startup hired its first chief medical officer, suggesting progress is being made behind the scenes.

The Flagship-founded biotech announced Tuesday it installed Christian Antoni as CMO, joining from EQRx, where he served as chief development officer. A rheumatologist by training, Antoni also spent time at Novartis, Sanofi and Leo Pharma, working with the teams that helped develop some big-selling medicines such as Dupixent, Cosentyx and Kevzara.

Antoni, who is from Germany, spoke with Endpoints News about the differences between pushing a potential blockbuster forward at a Big Pharma company and building from the ground up at a biotech. He said while the resources and tools might be different, the process of getting drugs approved is largely similar.

“In Germany, we say everyone cooks with water,” Antoni said. “The process of drug development stays the same, the regulatory scrutiny is the same, but the scale and the machinery behind it is different.”

Like all Flagship companies, Montai is promising substantial advances in medicine, and has significant financial wherewithal to get things started when it launched with $50 million. The focus is a hunt for new chronic disease drugs, with an emphasis on small molecules developed out of a machine learning platform.

Montai is not the only Flagship company with an AI approach, but Antoni said they all “have a different angle.” Details of specific programs and disease targets remain under wraps, but Antoni said a big part of his early tenure will be spent mapping out how to advance drugs into the clinic.

“I really don’t want to speculate here on times, you know. I’m one week into the job,” Antoni said. “What you can guess with having someone like me joining a company, it’s not in the distant future, like years or so. But it’s also not just a few months from now that we’re getting closer to the clinic.”

Though Flagship added Montai to its venerable suite of companies last December, the firm is primarily known for helping launch Moderna, which became a household name during the Covid-19 pandemic thanks to its mRNA vaccines. The shots likely prevented thousands of deaths and helped CEO Stéphane Bancel become a billionaire.

But Flagship’s track record since Moderna has been inconsistent. Some of the firm’s companies put together large funding rounds in recent months, such as Generate:Biomedicines$273 million Series C. Last year, however, the firm combined a pair of its internal companies into Sonata Therapeutics.

It did so again earlier this month after a Boston Globe/STAT News investigation found integrity issues with preclinical data that Laronde used to raise money for a $440 million Series B. Rubius Therapeutics also dissolved earlier this year after multiple clinical trial failures.

The inconsistency hasn’t stopped the flow of talent to Flagship, however, as Antoni joins a CEO, Margo Georgiadis, who used to run Google‘s Americas division and Mattel, and who sold for $5 billion. — Max Gelman

John Kuch

Xencor CFO John Kuch will retire in March, and the search is on for his replacement. Kuch has been finance chief at J&J’s bispecific partner since 2018 and has spent 23 years with the company. “In October 2000, Xencor was a small startup designing protein sequences, and John joined us then as a finance director, leading all financial functions,” president and CEO Bassil Dahiyat said in a statement. “John notably kept us solvent through the global financial crisis and almost single-handedly completed all financial and accounting aspects for our challenging but ultimately successful IPO in 2013.”

Saul Fink

→ Better call Saul: Atlas-backed Q32 Bio has enlisted Saul Fink as chief technology officer. Fink closed out his 26-year career at Bristol Myers Squibb as head of translational medicines, discovery and pharmaceutical development strategy & operations from 2016-18. He then became VP of pharmaceutical development and interim lead, nonclinical development for Goldfinch Bio, and he just finished up a brief run as SVP, pharmaceutical and nonclinical development with Lieping Chen’s Normunity. Q32’s IL-7Rα antagonist bempikibart (ADX-914) is in Phase II trials for atopic dermatitis and alopecia areata.

Ian Somaiya

→ Heart disease biotech NewAmsterdam Pharma has tapped Ian Somaiya as CFO after hiring commercial chief BJ Jones in August. Somaiya had been chief financial & business officer for Elucida Oncology, helping lead the company to a $30 million financing round in June and telling Kyle LaHucik that they were hoping to raise another $10 million to $20 million down the road. Ramzi Benamar took over as Elucida’s CFO on Sept. 1.

Eliezer Katz

Eliezer Katz is on the move again, jumping to Eledon Pharmaceuticals as CMO. We featured Katz in Peer Review last year when he joined xenotransplantation specialist eGenesis in the same capacity, and he led clinical development at Viela Bio/Horizon. Like Sanofi’s multiple sclerosis therapy frexalimab, Eledon’s lead candidate is an anti-CD40L antibody, and the California biotech is testing tegoprubart in kidney allograft transplantation, xenotransplantation and ALS.

→ And what about Katz’s predecessor? Jeffrey Bornstein has settled in at Mediar Therapeutics, a fibrosis biotech with ex-Imara CEO Rahul Ballal at the controls. The new medical chief is a Biogen and Gilead alum who was VP, head of clinical sciences, gastroenterology for Takeda. Pfizer, Novartis and other big-name backers contributed to Mediar’s $85 million Series A, and the company has raised a total of $105 million.

Mary-Rose Hughes

Compass Pathways CFO Mike Falvey will be leaving on Nov. 3, while Mary-Rose Hughes steps in as the psilocybin-based drugmaker’s interim CFO. Hughes joined Compass in May 2020 and was promoted to VP of finance in October 2022. Falvey is a Millennium vet who spent two years as Karyopharm’s finance chief.

Todd Chappell has been promoted to COO of Korro Bio, and Carrick Therapeutics CEO Tim Pearson is poised to be a board member once the Atlas-backed upstart completes its merger with Frequency Therapeutics. Chappell came to Korro in March 2021 as SVP, strategy and portfolio planning, and he’s the ex-CEO of Rasio Therapeutics. Atlas, Surveyor Capital, Cormorant Asset Management and an ensemble cast of investors pitched in for Korro’s $117 million financing that ran alongside the merger news in July.

Panteli Theocharous

→ Blood stem cell therapy developer Garuda Therapeutics, which hauled in $62 million for its Series B in February, has introduced Panteli Theocharous as chief therapeutics officer. Theocharous is a Janssen vet who was global head, cell and gene therapy strategy lead for PPD, the CRO that was sold to Thermo Fisher for $17.4 billion in 2021.

→ Pennsylvania cancer biotech Onconova has appointed Victor Moyo as CMO and Meena Arora as VP, global medical affairs and R&D. Moyo, the consulting medical chief at Onconova since August, is the ex-VP of clinical investigations at Merrimack, while Arora is a longtime Celgene vet who ran global medical affairs for Amryt Pharma’s epidermolysis bullosa programs.

Michael King

Michael King will take over as CFO at SAB Biotherapeutics on Oct. 30. He’ll succeed Russell Beyer, the former senior director of finance at Teva who had been SAB’s finance chief for two years. When King talks, people listen: He served as co-head of healthcare research for EF Hutton Group, a familiar name that was revived in 2021 when Kingswood Capital Markets rebranded. SAB secured a $130 million private placement earlier this month.

Christopher Weidenmaier

→ Munich-based mbiomics makes its Peer Review debut by recruiting Christopher Weidenmaier as CSO. Weidenmaier gets started at the microbiome biotech after a stint as director of research and head of host cell biology/immunology at Finch Therapeutics.

→ Chaired by Summit Therapeutics co-CEO Bob Duggan, Pulse Biosciences has named thoracic surgeon Niv Ad as CSO, cardiac surgery. Duggan pumped $65 million of his own money into Pulse, a one-time cosmetics company that’s now focused on atrial fibrillation with an eye toward oncology. In September 2022, Kevin Danahy replaced current chief technology officer Darrin Uecker as CEO, and Pulse reduced its headcount from 122 staffers to 66.

Piet Wigerinck

Fibrocor Therapeutics has recruited William Newsome as president and CEO and ex-Galapagos CSO Piet Wigerinck as chief scientific advisor. Newsome formerly served as SVP of alliance management at Evotec and had gigs at Pfizer and Eurofinns/DiscoverRx earlier in his career. Meanwhile, Wigerinck also sits on the boards of Ipsen, miDiagnostics and Atriva Therapeutics.

Bryan Irving

3T Biosciences is rolling out the welcome mat for Bryan Irving as CSO and Estelle Marrer-Berger as chief development officer. Irving also held the role of CSO at Amunix Pharmaceuticals and Five Prime Therapeutics, and his other stints include working as senior advisor at Frazier Life Sciences and as VP, cancer immunology at CytomX. Irving also spent 12 years with Genentech earlier in his career. Meanwhile, Marrer-Berger has 20 years of experience from Novartis and Roche.

→ After raking in $25.5 million in a Series A extension earlier this month, Actym Therapeutics has now named Pfizer and Wyeth alum Steven Vicik as chief technical officer. Vicik joins the Berkeley, CA-based team from Xalud Therapeutics, where he also served as CTO.

Brian Cunningham

Elevar Therapeutics, which is awaiting an FDA decision on its China-approved liver cancer combo, has enlisted Brian Cunningham as VP of sales and Kenneth Rankin as VP of market access. Cunningham joins the team after a gig as national sales and operations lead for Novocure’s central nervous system cancers franchise. Prior to that, he was with Array Biopharma and had a 14-year run with Pfizer. Rankin comes to Elevar from CTI Biopharma, where he was VP of market access, distribution and reimbursement. Before CTI, Rankin was with Incyte, Dohmen Life Services and Eisai.

Blueprint Medicines chairman and ex-CEO Jeff Albers is helping out Scorpion Therapeutics as a strategic advisor. Led by GSK oncology vet Axel Hoos, Scorpion teamed up with AstraZeneca last year and inked a deal in April with Pierre Fabre to co-develop STX-721 and STX-241, a pair of EGFR inhibitors.

John Maraganore

→ We’re seeing another uptick in appointments for ex-Alnylam chief John Maraganore: A spokesperson tells Peer Review that he’s now on the advisory board of nucleic acid manufacturer Hongene with Scripps Research Institute’s Phil Baran and Masad Damha from McGill University. Additionally, CureDuchenne has reserved space for Maraganore, Chris Finazzo, Diane Kemple and Nick Prytherch on the board of directors. The Duchenne nonprofit has also named Laura Hameed as executive director and Kristen Morris as VP of medical affairs and community engagement.

Nancy Davidson

Nancy Davidson has been nominated for a spot on the board of directors at Zymeworks. Davidson, the EVP of clinical affairs at Fred Hutch, would be the third new board member at Zymeworks this year after the appointments of ex-Aro Biotherapeutics CBO Derek Miller and former CytomX CFO Carlos Campoy.

X4 Pharmaceuticals has elected former argenx COO Keith Woods to the board of directors. Woods came to argenx in 2018 from Alexion, where he was SVP of North American operations. Karen Massey took over for Woods as operations chief on March 13.

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