After gene therapy pivot, Axovant bolsters its executive ranks

Axovant CEO Pavan Cheruvu
In a bid to turn its fortunes around, the neuro-focused biotech shifted gears in June, when it licensed a gene therapy for Parkinson’s disease from Oxford Biomedica. (Axovant)

After switching its focus midyear from Alzheimer’s disease to gene therapy, Axovant is appointing a slew of new executives, including a pair of Novartis alums and several biotech veterans, to posts ranging from clinical development to commercial operations. 

“I am very pleased to announce the addition of several accomplished leaders in gene therapy to the Axovant team,” said Pavan Cheruvu, M.D., who took the helm at Axovant after its previous CEO, David Hung, M.D., resigned in January. “Together, they bring decades of experience in gene and cell therapies, which will further strengthen our ability to quickly and effectively deliver on our potentially best-in-class gene therapy pipeline.” 

Axovant didn't have the most auspicious start to 2018; it announced in January that its lead Alzheimer’s drug had flopped in phase 3 and then had to admit in its J.P. Morgan presentation that it had bungled the data reveal. A little over a month later, Hung made his exit. 

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In a bid to turn its fortunes around, the neuro-focused biotech shifted gears in June, when it licensed a gene therapy for Parkinson’s disease from Oxford Biomedica. At the time, Axovant also hired on Fraser Wright, Ph.D., as its new chief technology officer; Wright co-founded the gene therapy biotech Spark Therapeutics and also served as its CTO. 

RELATED: Axovant pivots with new gene therapy, Spark co-founder as CTO 

Now, the company is boosting its ranks with five new appointments, including another Spark alum, Parag Meswani, who will join as the company’s new senior vice president of commercial strategy and operations. At Spark, he headed up U.S. marketing and diagnostics, leading brand strategy for the gene therapy Luxturna. Axovant also signed on Greg MacMichael, Ph.D., as its SVP of technical operations. MacMichael most recently oversaw development and manufacturing at NantKwest and Rocket Pharma. Like Meswani, he has put in some time at Novartis. 

Axovant is also picking up a new SVP of clinical development in Paul Korner, M.D., and an SVP of vector deliver and optimization in Greg Stewart, Ph.D. Korner used to lead medical strategy and clinical development at Sarepta, which dived into gene therapy last year, and Stewart was the vice president of drug delivery at Voyager Therapeutics. And Sean O’Bryan, previously the VP of regulatory affairs at Lysogene, will reprise that role at Axovant. 

Under its deal with Oxford Biomedica, Axovant picked up the lentiviral vector-based Parkinson’s gene therapy known as AXO-Lenti-PD, as well as its predecessor product ProSavin. It forked over $30 million upfront but could be on the hook for up to $812 million in biobucks. In August, it licensed a “silence-and-replace" gene therapy program for oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy from Benitec Biopharma for $10 million upfront. The agreement included a research partnership for five more gene therapies for neurological disorders.

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