Alder brings on Juno executive as CEO to prep for its migraine launch

Alder BioPharmaceuticals poached Juno Therapeutics’ chief commercial officer to serve as president and CEO, adding operational expertise as it looks to submit its lead migraine treatment for the company’s first FDA approval.

Robert Azelby is set to take the helm June 13, bringing his commercial experience from developing and implementing Juno’s CAR-T strategy as an executive VP, which culminated in the company’s $9 billion acquisition by Celgene in January. He will also serve on Alder’s board of directors.

Azelby takes over for Paul Cleveland, a board member who has been serving as Alder’s interim CEO since March, following the departure of Randall Schatzman, who led the biotech since co-founding it in 2002. In a statement, Schatzman had said the mutual decision came at the right time for the company’s “next generation of leadership.”

“We are thrilled to have Bob join Alder at this key stage in the company’s history,” Cleveland said in a statement. “He is a seasoned leader who brings significant operational experience and a strong track record in both large and small biopharmaceutical environments, and his skills will be of great value as we progress our CGRP inhibitor, eptinezumab, towards approval and commercialization for migraine prevention.”

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The Bothell, Washington-based Alder has been steadily building a case for its intravenous eptinezumab in episodic migraine, and presented updated results from the first of two phase 3 trials in April, showing a single dose reduced the number of monthly migraine days by as much as 75% over a three-month period compared to placebo. The second trial, as well as an open-label safety study, are ongoing.

The company plans to file before the end of the year, but it faces strong Big Pharma competition in the possible-blockbuster CGRP inhibitor market—including from Eli Lilly, Teva and a collaboration between Amgen and Novartis, which recently claimed the first-in-class title with the approval of Aimovig.

RELATED: Amgen's Aimovig won its first-in-class migraine nod. Will payers step up to the $6,900 price?

Meanwhile, Lilly’s galcanezumab is currently under FDA review, with a decision expected in the third quarter—and API manufacturing problems for Teva’s fremanezumab may delay its commercial launch to 2019.

To compete, Alder has put faith in Azelby’s 26 years of industry experience. Before joining Juno in 2015, he spent 15 years at Amgen, where he was eventually promoted to VP and general manager of the biotech’s $6.5 billion U.S. oncology portfolio.