“I fully recognize that cell therapy is still all about the cells.”
In moving over to his second CSO job, Gary Lee says he hopes to grasp a “really critical” missing piece of the puzzle in cell therapy: T cell biology, something he hadn’t gotten a lot of exposure to. At Lyell Immunopharma, he will have an abundance of scientific knowledge and technologies at his disposal to figure out how to make the best cells possible.
If Lyell starts to ring a bell, think Rick Klausner. The former director of the National Cancer Institute and the mind behind new biotech behemoth Altos Labs — the biotech with $3 billion in investor money that will be helmed by GlaxoSmithKline‘s Hal Barron — is the chair of Lyell’s board. Lyell CMO Tina Albertson was one of our honorees for Women in Biopharma R&D two months ago.
For Lee, he first became interested in the world of biotech as a graduate student after going to college for chemical engineering — getting his bachelor’s and PhD in the process from Caltech and UC Berkeley, respectively — when he was looking for things to get excited about.
“As it turns out, gene delivery, and gene and cell therapy, a lot of the academic research came from engineering and chemical engineering,” Lee told Endpoints News. “And back in the late ’90s, early 2000s, when I was a young graduate student looking for things that are exciting to me, the idea of being able to modify a virus or cell and use them to treat diseases was really speaking to me and really exciting. And I was fortunate enough to join a lab that do that kind of research.”
And since then, he’s going on 20 years in cell therapy.
Lee’s first job post-grad was at Cell Genesys, where he worked as a research scientist. After just over a year there, he went to Sangamo, where he stayed for the next 13 years and left the company as VP, cell therapy after working on genome editing. He then went to Senti Bio in 2018 — the Tim Lu outfit that struck up a partnership with Roche subsidiary Spark Therapeutics and leaped to Nasdaq via a SPAC merger last year — as their CSO, where he was tasked with moving Senti’s synthetic biology tech platform into the clinic.
The more Lee has been involved in the industry, the biggest lesson he has learned is that, in his words, it “takes a village” to build a potential therapeutic candidate. And that’s only the first piece of the puzzle. Lee added.
“Once you get in the clinic, you have cross-functional work among different teams to make it hopefully, at one point, broadly applicable and distributed to patients and needs. And I think realization that drug development is challenging, difficult, and it requires people with all different sets of expertise to push it forward,” Lee said.
So, what’s next for Lee and Lyell? The company actually filed 2 INDs right before Lee joined, and the FDA has already approved one of them for a Phase I trial on a TCR receptor for a specific type of small tumors: New York esophageal squamous cell carcinoma 1 (NY-ESO-1). Lyell has been developing the TCR receptor in a collaboration with GSK.
— Paul Schloesser
→ With about as much frequency as the Raiders hire head coaches, there’s another CEO transition ahead at Orphazyme. Christophe Bourdon has resigned to become chief executive at Leo Pharma on April 1, paving the way for CFO Anders Vadsholt to assume the top spot. This will be the fourth CEO in a three-year period at the Danish neuro biotech, which dismissed two-thirds of its staff in June not long after its “pipeline-in-a-product,” arimoclomol, whiffed badly in ALS. Kim Stratton replaced Anders Hinsby in 2019, and Bourdon succeeded Stratton in early 2021. This doesn’t even include Vadsholt’s interim CEO stint in between the Stratton and Bourdon eras as troubles with arimoclomol really started to percolate in Phase III.
The CEO seat had been vacant at Leo Pharma since Catherine Mazzacco’s resignation in November, a move that Henrik Braband at life science recruitment firm Albright Partners saw coming: “Catherine Mazzacco has clearly not been considered to be the right person to take LEO Pharma to the next level, not least with an IPO on the cards within the next 3-5 years,” Braband told Medwatch. “She had essentially no experience as the person driving an IPO. Although the chairman of the board and other board members would also play a central and active role in an IPO process, the CEO is a particularly important piece of this puzzle.”
Meanwhile, Stratton has taken over permanently as CEO of US-German rare disease biotech Centogene after taking the helm on an interim basis. On Dec. 21, Andrin Oswald stepped aside for a medical leave of absence that was originally supposed to last at least four weeks, but he has opted to resign. “While Dr. Oswald is on a path to recovery, this will take some additional time,” the press release reads.
→ When the FDA dropped a full clinical hold last week on the Alzheimer’s drug atuzaginstat, citing concerns about liver toxicity, it forced Cortexyme to change direction toward its next-gen molecule COR588. But you had to wonder about more fallout, and there was plenty of it this week as CEO Casey Lynch leaves the company she co-founded and chaired. CFO and COO Christopher Lowe has succeeded Lynch as interim chief, while David Lamond — who’s been on Cortexyme’s board since 2015 — becomes chairman. Additionally, CSO Steve Dominy has also decided to bail. Our Jason Mast has more perspective on the state of affairs at Cortexyme.
→ Shedding its skin after a spectacular Alzheimer’s bust, Axovant reinvented itself as Sio Gene Therapies in November 2020. But this rebrand isn’t exactly rocking and rolling either, with Sio running away from its lead gene therapy program in Parkinson’s and focusing instead on two gangliosidosis candidates. They’ll do so without CEO Pavan Cheruvu, opening it up for CFO and general counsel David Nassif to take over as interim chief. Sio hopes this shakeup in the portfolio will give it enough cash to last through the second half of next year.
→ In dueling Big Pharma press releases, Pfizer has poached William Pao from Roche and he’ll officially begin as chief development officer on March 18. Concurrently, University of Utrecht professor Hans Clevers — a board member at Roche since 2019 — will dive in as head of pRED, moves that were precipitated by the retirement of Pao’s predecessor Rod MacKenzie, who had devoted 35 years to the pharma giant. Pao will be sitting pretty at a stacked R&D engine made even more formidable by the success of the Covid-19 vaccine developed with BioNTech. The open seat on the board will be filled “at a later date,” according to Roche’s release.
→ First the execs start to leave, and now it’s the board members’ turn at Biogen: Against the backdrop of Aduhelm’s rocky rollout, Nancy Leaming and Brian Posner are set to retire from the board of directors when stockholders convene for their annual meeting. The departures of Leaming and Posner, who both joined the board in 2008, continue the trend of a leadership revamp at Biogen that reverberated throughout the industry when R&D chief Al Sandrock handed the reins to Priya Singhal. And just last week, Alzheimer’s global commercial lead Johanna Rossell packed up for Enzyvant to take the CCO job.
Coincidentally, Sandrock did reveal what he’s up to next this week, joining the board of directors and the executive committee of Voyager Therapeutics — no stranger to turbulent circumstances themselves — starting Monday. Elsewhere at Voyager, longtime Sanofi Genzyme alum Robin Swartz has been promoted to COO within a year of her appointment as SVP, portfolio management and patient engagement.
→ Earning the FDA’s seal of approval with Genmab for its cervical cancer ADC named Tivdak, Seagen has tapped Lee Heeson as EVP, commercial international. Heeson previously served as president, international at Vifor Pharma, which was acquired by CSL in December for the princely sum of $11.7 billion. Earlier, at another place tied to a big buyout, Heeson was president, worldwide markets, inflammation & immunology to close out more than six years at Celgene.
→ Mesoblast has dipped into its board of directors to appoint famed heart surgeon Eric Rose as CMO. Rose, a board member at Mesoblast since 2013, was one of the doctors who performed the first successful pediatric heart transplant on June 9, 1984, at Columbia University Medical Center. Rose walks into an uphill battle after Novartis cut bait on its remestemcel-L pact with Mesoblast in December; the Covid-19 candidate flopped in Phase III the year before and the trial was terminated early. Silviu Itescu’s crew also grappled with a CRL for remestemcel-L in another indication, acute graft-versus-host disease, in October 2020.
→ Sean Bohen-led Olema Oncology, which has seen its stock slide precipitously after an IPO that exceeded $200 million in the tidal wave of 2020, has welcomed Naseem Zojwalla as CMO. From 2015-20, Zojwalla was VP of clinical development at Peloton, which Merck bought for $2.2 billion in 2019, and she had held the same post at Turning Point Therapeutics since July 2020. Olema is hovering near penny stock territory, plunging 88% since its auspicious Nasdaq debut after what they asserted was a phony leaked image of its Phase I data.
→ Henning Stennicke has taken up the mantle for the CSO gig at Freeline Therapeutics, taking over for interim predecessor (and co-founder) Amit Nathwani. The CSO job was left open in September after then-CSO Romuald Corbau made a quick exit to GenEdit after just recently being promoted to the role in late June. Stennicke, a Novo Nordisk vet, held a variety of roles at the diabetes-focused company, but most recently served as corporate VP and senior principal scientist.
→ We’ve told you that Mimi Huizinga was one of the execs involved in the extensive reshuffling at Rafael Holdings that included CEO Ameet Mallik after the implosion of pancreatic cancer drug devimistat. Huizinga, the CMO who added the head of R&D job when Mallik stepped aside, got out of Dodge just four months into her time at Rafael and she’s now turned up at ADC-focused ImmunoGen as SVP and head of medical affairs. The ex-head of US oncology medical for Novartis hits the reset button here at a biotech with high hopes for an accelerated approval in Q1 with its ovarian cancer drug mirvetuximab soravtansine.
→ As the study continues on its Covid-19 booster candidate SCB-2019, China’s Clover Biopharmaceuticals has appointed Nicholas Jackson as president of global R&D. Jackson had been head of vaccine programs and technology for R&D with CEPI and was also managing director of CEPI’s Shanghai office. His Big Pharma credentials include stops at Sanofi Pasteur (head of global research) and Pfizer (senior director, vaccine research). Construction is underway in Shanghai at Clover’s new R&D center, located in Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park.
→ Marc Grasso, the CFO and CBO at Kura Oncology since August 2018, waved goodbye yesterday “to pursue opportunities closer to his family.” VP of finance Tom Doyle has been promoted to SVP, finance and accounting, and he now holds the additional title of principal accounting officer after Grasso’s departure.
There are other promotions to discuss at Troy Wilson’s Kura, which let out a sigh of relief two weeks ago when the FDA lifted a hold on its acute myeloid leukemia program KO-539: First, Mollie Leoni has been elevated to SVP, clinical development, and Pete De Spain gets bumped up to SVP, investor relations and corporate communications. Leoni joined Kura as VP of clinical development in February 2020 from Kyowa Kirin, while De Spain is a MEI Pharma alum who started at Kura as VP in October 2017.
→ Elizabeth Olek has been named SVP of clinical development at cancer startup Kronos Bio. CEO Norbert Bischofberger plucks Olek from Loxo Oncology at Lilly, where she was an executive medical director, and she’s also worked on the breast cancer drug Nerlynx (neratinib) as a senior medical director with Puma Biotechnology. The ex-Achillion CMO will guide development of entospletinib and lanraplenib, two drugs that Kronos Bio picked up from Gilead in the summer of 2020, as well as CDK9 inhibitor KB-0742.
→ The Sosei Group Corporation’s executive team is going through a whirlwind of changes. Front and center is Chris Cargill’s (currently Sosei’s executive officer and CFO) nomination for appointment as new representative executive officer, president and CEO — taking over duties for Shinichi Tamura, who will be transitioning to the role of chairman of the board.
Next up, Hironoshin Nomura (SVP, IR & corporate strategy department) will be taking over the role of CFO from Cargill, while Kieran Johnson (SVP, group finance controller) has been appointed to the role of chief accounting officer. Alongside Nomura and Johnson, Matt Barnes (SVP, drug discovery, head of R&D portfolio management) will be named executive officer, president of Heptares Therapeutics.
Coming up next is the appointment of Tadayoshi Yasui as executive officer, representative director and president, Sosei Co. Along with Yasui comes a slew of external director appointments: Tomohiro Tohyama, Kuniaki Kaga, David Roblin, Noriaki Nagai, Rolf Soderstrom and Miwa Seki.
Lastly, Sosei Group Corporation is also losing two executive officers, Malcolm Weir and Tim Tasker, who are retiring and transitioning to company consultants.
→ Megaround in hand, Shankar Ramaswamy is building out his company further by appointing Ma’an Muhsin president and CMO of Kriya Therapeutics’ oncology therapeutic area division, aptly named Kriya Oncology. Muhsin rolls into the gene therapy player from Medicenna Therapeutics, where he held the same title for less than nine months. He’s also been Nektar’s medical lead, oncology clinical development and the senior medical director, oncology clinical development for Halozyme.
→ While we have Halozyme in mind, Nicole LaBrosse has stepped up to the plate to replace Elaine Sun as CFO of the San Diego biotech that signed a $40 million deal upfront with ViiV Healthcare to use its platform tech called ENHANZE on four HIV targets. LaBrosse has worked at Halozyme since 2015 and was most recently VP, finance and accounting.
→ Paul Peter Tak’s oncolytic virus biotech Candel Therapeutics has promoted Francesca Barone to CMO. Barone leaped to Candel as head of research in November 2020 after plying her trade with Flagship as head of experimental medicine at another place where Tak was chief executive, Kintai Therapeutics, which merged with Senda Biosciences in July 2020.
→ Israeli immuno-oncology startup NeoTX Therapeutics has promoted founding CMO and longtime Bristol Myers Squibb vet Marcel Rozencweig to president and has brought on Scott Fields from Bayer to replace him as medical chief. Fields was the German pharma’s global head of development for oncology, and earlier he spent four years as a VP at Vertex. NeoTX, whose last financing round occurred two years ago, is targeting advanced solid tumors with naptumomab estafenatox (NAP), currently in Phase I/II trials.
→ Covis Pharma, the maker of the preterm birth drug Makena, has made a pair of moves with Michelle Lock as COO and the promotion of Sandy Loreaux to president, US business. Lock devoted nearly 25 years to Bristol Myers in a lengthy set of capacities — notably general management posts in Europe — and she’s also been SVP and head of international for both Sage and Acceleron. A 16-year Sanofi alum, Loreaux had only been SVP, US market access, pricing, & reimbursement at Covis since November after three years at Mallinckrodt. In related news, Lock has also been given a seat on the board of directors at Relief Therapeutics.
→ Deprioritizing its Fabry disease program to kick off 2022 amid growing competition with Sanofi’s Fabrazyme, gene therapy player Avrobio has locked in Sean O’Bryan as chief regulatory officer. O’Bryan, who had been global head of regulatory affairs at Freeline Therapeutics since November 2020, also brings regulatory experience from bluebird bio, Lysogene and Sio Gene Therapies in its Axovant days.
→ California degenerative disease biotech Design Therapeutics, which broke through on Nasdaq in March 2021 under CEO João Siffert, has named Jae Kim as CMO. Kim left the same position at Avidity Biosciences on Aug. 30, 2021, shortly before the FDA gave fast track designation to its myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1) candidate AOC 1001. The Amgen and Myokardia vet was also clinical research head, VP of clinical development for Alnylam.
→ Former Genentech and Vertex medical director José Trevejo has landed at Tarsus Pharmaceuticals as CMO. Trevejo, the ex-CEO of Sorrento sub SmartPharm, comes to the Irvine, CA-based biotech from Rocket Pharmaceuticals, where he was chief development officer. Tarsus has finished up enrollment in its Phase III trial, dubbed Saturn-2, for its Demodex blepharitis program TP-03.
→ Hep B biotech Bluejay Therapeutics — located in San Mateo, CA, not Toronto — has appointed Nancy Shulman as CMO. Shulman, who has been a medical director at Roche/Genentech and AbbVie, served as VP of translational medicine at Ambys Medicines before making the jump to Bluejay.
→ Toronto-based AI drug discovery shop Cyclica has recruited Michael Palovich as CSO. Palovich had a long career at GSK that started in 1997 when it was SmithKline Beecham, directing the team that discovered the muscarinic antagonist umeclidinium for respiratory diseases. He was also head of the pharma giant’s Neuronal Targets unit, among several other roles.
→ Keros Therapeutics, which brushed off the start of the pandemic with an upsized IPO in April 2020, has brought on Christopher Rovaldi as COO. Since May 2019, Rovaldi has served as president of the biotech consulting firm NS Biopharma Consulting. Prior to that, Rovaldi spent a decade climbing the ranks at Acceleron, where he eventually became SVP, program management and operations.
→ Swiss women’s health biotech ObsEva has been filling a number of posts, particularly in the C-suite with a chief commercial officer, chief transformation officer and CFO all in their first year at the company. Add Katja Buhrer to the list as she takes on the role of chief strategy officer. A former financial journalist and a Citigroup alum, Buhrer was previously in the animal health business as VP, corporate development, investor relations, and chief of staff at Kindred Biosciences.
→ Oxford, UK-based “dark antigen” biotech (and Boehringer Ingelheim partner) Enara Bio has appointed Sophie Papa as CMO. Most recently, Papa served as clinical reader in immuno-oncology and consultant medical oncologist at King’s College London and Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.
→ Cancer-focused Alligator Bioscience has wrangled Sumeet Ambarkhane as CMO. Ambarkhane will take charge of development for the Swedish biotech’s lead candidate mitazalimab, a CD40 agonist, after leading clinical development for CD19 drug tafasitamab (marketed as Monjuvi upon its 2020 approval) as senior global program medical director of MorphoSys. He also spent nearly seven years in drug development at UCB.
→ Speaking of folks who worked on tafasitamab, iOmx Therapeutics has pulled in Murray Yule as CMO. Before Yule was on the tafasitamab team at MorphoSys, he played a role at Eisai in the successful development of eribulin for the treatment of advanced breast cancer and liposarcoma.
→ Morgan Brown has signed on to be CFO of Salt Lake City-based Clene, succeeding Ted Jeong. Since 2013, Brown was CFO of Lipocine, another company in the Salt Lake City area, and he’s also been a finance exec at NPS Pharmaceuticals and Innovus Pharmaceuticals. Clene’s sub, neuro outfit Clene Nanomedicine, shared disappointing Phase II data for its gold nanocrystal-based ALS drug in November, with neither the primary nor the secondary endpoint achieving statistical significance.
→ We noted last week that US-UK CDMO Abzena brought on Immucor vet Jim Kennamer as SVP and site head of North Carolina. This week, Kevin Lundquist joins the squad as CFO. Lundquist, who had been VP of finance at Revance Therapeutics, started his career at Abbott and served as senior director and head of global finance, biologics operations for Genentech.
→ Princeton, NJ cancer biotech Teclison has selected Wang Lung Eng as CFO. Eng had been finance chief at SpectralMD before taking on the same title at Teclison, which is in Phase II trials for its lead program TEC-001 in liver, colorectal and lung cancer, with the latter two being studied in collaboration with Merck in a Keytruda combo.
→ Finnish cancer biotech Faron has bumped up Juho Jalkanen to COO. You can say that Jalkanen, the chief development officer at Faron since 2018, has been a jack of all trades lately, taking on the role of interim CMO until Marie-Louise Fjällskog came along from Sensei Biotherapeutics several weeks ago.
→ Alice Feng has been named CFO of Swiss spatial biology company Lunaphore, established in 2014. Feng, who joined Scripps Research in 2017 as senior director of corporate development and finance, was promoted to CFO in 2020. She’s also been senior director of corporate development at Scripps Health and Aetna.
→ Drug discovery player Nimbus Therapeutics has waved in Daniel Price as its first executive director, head of computational chemistry. Price had logged almost 16 years at GSK and was the pharma giant’s director of computational chemistry.
→ Jim Wilson’s gene editing biotech iECURE, which debuted with a $50 million Series A back in September and is helmed by ex-Achillion chief Joseph Truitt, has lined up Mark Semanick as VP and head of technical operations and Brad Dickerson as VP of project management & patient advocacy. Semanick, the former head of bioreactor operations at Shire and the ex-director of manufacturing at WuXi AppTec’s Advanced Therapies unit in Philadelphia, leaves his general manager post at Legend’s CAR-T facility. Dickerson’s latest gig was with Palvella Therapeutics as its chief commercial officer and he’s also been general manager, Americas and global commercial lead at Aurinia Pharmaceuticals.
→ DiaMedica, focused on developing treatments for neurological disorders and kidney diseases, has reeled in Dominic Cundari as CCO. Cundari has spent over two decades at Genentech, most recently serving as senior director of the company’s vascular franchise — where he managed the existing thrombolytic business and helped launch Lucentis. Prior to that role, Cundari was senior director of Genentech’s cardiovascular franchise and director of cardiovascular sales.
→ Oakland-based Fabric Genomics has named Jyoti Palaniappan as CCO. Palaniappan hails from Adaptive Biotechnologies, where he served as SVP, diagnostics. Prior to that, he was CCO at Bigfoot Biomedical, had an 11-year stint at Abbott, and served at Thermo Fisher Scientific.
→ After bagging a cool pool of $430 million from Pfizer, Merck and Amgen, Saama Technologies — a company that collects patient data and offers analytic solutions to help speed along the drug development process — has welcomed Scott Rogers aboard as CFO. Rogers most recently served as SVP of clinical finance at PPD.
→ IsoPlexis, which dubs itself as the “Superhuman Cell Company,” has opened its first office in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region and along with it appointed Jason Ou as president/general manager, APAC region. Ou comes to the Branford, CT-based company from Tecan, where he most recently served as head of market unit commercial operations, Asia-Pacific.
→ Jeremiah Degenhardt has joined antibody upstart ImmuneID as SVP, computational biology. Most recently, Degenhardt was VP of translational oncology & bioinformatics at Maverick Therapeutics, the T cell engager company that Takeda bought last year. Degenhardt has also held positions at Genentech, Onyx Pharmaceuticals and Gilead.
→ German CDMO Rentschler Biopharma, which laid out plans to build its UK footprint with a five-year investment in cell and gene therapies last February, has made some new additions to its exec team with the appointments of Günter Stempfer (head of global strategic development); Christiane Bardroff (SVP client program management); and Elke Ottenschläger (SVP clinical and commercial manufacturing). Stempfer joins the company with experience from his times at Sandoz, Polpharma Biologics and Novartis. Meanwhile, Bardroff comes aboard from Teva and Roche Penzberg. Finally, Ottenschläger hails from Lonza, where she was head global technical functions and head global tech transfer.
→ Danforth Advisors has called upon Mike Palladino to be managing director of its strategic and operational HR consulting practice. Palladino, who has moved on from his COO gig at BlueRock Therapeutics, worked his way up to global head of human resources when he was with Vertex from 2009-17.
→ Finishing 2021 with a flourish by inking a TIGIT deal with Novartis, BeiGene has welcomed Margaret Dugan and Gilead vet Alessandro Riva to the board of directors. Dugan is a Novartis Oncology vet and the current CMO of Dracen Pharmaceuticals, while Riva just started his first year as CEO of Intima Bioscience.
→ Art Krieg’s Checkmate Pharmaceuticals, whose CEO hit the exit last October as the company’s crew struggled to warm investors to TLR9 strategy, has appointed Jon Wigginton to its board of directors. Wigginton currently serves as senior advisor and chairman of the SAB at Cullinan Oncology. Wigginton formerly served as Cullinan’s CMO and was also CMO at MacroGenics. Additionally, Wigginton has held roles at Bristol Myers and Merck Research Laboratories.
→ Under the leadership of Mark Litton after the Leen Kawas imbroglio, Athira Pharma has elected Vaxcyte co-founder and CEO Grant Pickering to the board of directors. Pickering is the seventh board member at the Seattle metro Alzheimer’s player, joining the likes of Kronos Bio COO Barbara Kosacz and Perceptive’s Joseph Edelman.
→ Deerfield-backed Nuvalent, which jumped onto Nasdaq with a nine-figure IPO last summer, has added Federation Bio CEO Emily Drabant Conley to the board of directors. Conley was previously VP of business development in a decade-long run at 23andMe.
→ While he prunes the workforce by about 10%, Julian Adams gains two members of the board of directors at Gamida Cell. Compugen president & CEO Anat Cohen-Dayag and former Kaltura CFO Naama Halevi-Davidov join a board that is chaired by Cytokinetics chief Robert Blum.
→ Houston-based Kiromic BioPharma has made room for Frank Tirelli and Karen Reeves on the board of directors. Tirelli, the ex-chairman and CEO of Deloitte Italy and former chairman of Deloitte US, is chairman of professional services at alliantgroup. Reeves has been president and CMO of AZTherapies since 2017 following non-consecutive tenures at Pfizer.
→ Radiopharm Theranostics has brought on Hester Larkin to its board of directors as a non-executive director. Hester comes with experience from her time as EMEA general manager BMS medical imaging at Bristol Myers and a 19-year stint with DuPont Pharmaceuticals.
Derek Graf also contributed to this edition.nps therapeutics biopharmaceuticals therapy fda research