Rgenix hires ex-Novartis cancer staffer to trial GSK castoff

Employment contract
Rgenix's new CMO Roger Waltzman spent 10 years at Novartis earlier in his career.

Rgenix has named Roger Waltzman, M.D., as its chief medical officer. The appointment gives an oncologist who spent a decade at Novartis responsibility for the second chapter in the clinical trial history of ex-GlaxoSmithKline drug RGX-104.

Waltzman joins Rgenix from Jaguar Animal Health, where he spent 10 months as CSO. The short stay at Jaguar followed a much longer stint at Novartis, during which he rose to the position of global program head for tropical medicines.

While that post was the last Waltzman held in his 10-year spell at Novartis, the work he carried out earlier in his career is more applicable to the task he faces at Rgenix. Those earlier positions gave Waltzman oversight of the development of four oncology compounds. Specifically, Waltzman was involved in the filing of supplemental NDAs that added chronic myeloid leukemia data to the labels of Gleevec and Tasigna; he also ran the development program that led to the approval of Jakafi.

Waltzman moved away from overseeing oncology trials in 2013, several years before the higher profile departures of Usman “Oz” Azam and Alessandro Riva from Novartis' cancer operation.

The Rgenix CMO position puts Waltzman back in charge of clinical development of cancer assets. Rgenix’s lead candidate—and the only one to enter the clinic—is RGX-104, a small molecule agonist of liver X receptor (LXR) beta. Companies including Bristol-Myers Squibb and GSK have researched the potential for LXR agonists to treat cardiovascular, lung and metabolic disorders. But programs have hit the skids once the side effect profile has started to emerge.

Rgenix has secured the services of Waltzman on the strength of research suggesting it may have found a path forward for LXR agonists. The Rockefeller University spinout sees the LXR agonist it picked up from GSK playing a role in cancer treatment, potentially in combination with checkpoint inhibitors such as Merck’s Keytruda and Bristol-Myers’ Opdivo. That idea is built on evidence the drug triggers a process that activates the innate immune system and depletes immunosuppressive myeloid-derived suppressor cells, enabling T cells to hit tumors more effectively.

The potential of the idea enabled Rgenix to put together a $33 million Series B last year. And it has now led to Waltzman becoming the latest person to swap Big Pharma for biotech, although, in stopping off at an animal health startup, he has taken a more circuitous route than his peers.