Genentech oncology head jumps ship to Bellicum as CEO

Rick Fair helped Roche launch its checkpoint inhibitor Tecentriq.

In the last few weeks, David Epstein has moved from Novartis’ cancer unit to VC Flagship and Alessandro Riva also left the Swiss major for an exec role at Gilead. Now Rick Fair has become the latest to leave a Big Pharma as he exits as head of oncology at Roche/Genentech to become the new CEO and president of Texas biotech Bellicum.

Fair, who played a key role in the launch of five SMEs at the company, including Roche’s new I-O med Tecentriq, joins Bellicum as it prepares its global regulatory and commercial strategy for its leading phase 1/2 med BPX-501 in blood cancers, as well as advancing its pipeline of controlled CAR-T and TCR product candidates.

Fair succeeds Tom Farrell, who will serve as an adviser to the company “during the transition,” according to a statement from Bellicum.

The biotech banked $140 million in an upsized, above-its-range IPO back in 2014. Perhaps not as well-known as the likes of Kite Pharma and Juno as well as Novartis, Bellicum believes its approach to immunotherapy makes it a standout in the fast-crowding space, which could see the first-ever approved CAR-T this year.  

Each of the biotech’s CAR-T candidates uses technology derived from BPX-501, a T-cell therapy designed to ward off graft-versus-host disease in patients undergoing stem cell transplants.

The company's platform comes with a so-called safety switch which it says can mute unwanted transplant reactions like cytokine release syndrome, a common response to CAR-T therapy that had occasionally proven fatal in early studies.

“We are delighted to welcome Rick to Bellicum,” said James Brown, chair of the biotech.

“Rick’s depth and breadth of experience in oncology, clinical development strategy and commercialization, both in the U.S. and internationally, will be of great value as we prepare for commercialization of our lead product candidate BPX-501, accelerate our pipeline of CAR T and TCR product candidates, and solidify our leadership in the development of controllable cell therapies.”

“I am both honored and thrilled to join Bellicum at this exciting time,” added Fair, who also spent a number of years at Johnson & Johnson’s pharma unit.

“Cellular immunotherapies have shown great promise in treating cancers and blood disorders. Bellicum is the leader in molecular switch technologies, has advanced multiple novel and highly differentiated therapies into the clinic, and is preparing to bring its first product to market.”