Aslan hires Kobayashi to add IL-13 clinical trial expertise 

Aslan CMO Kenneth Kobayashi (Aslan)

Aslan Pharmaceuticals has named Kenneth Kobayashi as its chief medical officer. The appointment sees Kobayashi switch from developing Dermira’s anti-IL-13 drug to advancing Aslan’s would-be rival.

Kobayashi joined Dermira one year ago to work on a phase 3 program for lebrikizumab, an anti-IL-13 that emerged from phase 2 looking like a potential challenger to Sanofi and Regeneron’s blockbuster Dupixent. However, the phase 2 data attracted Lilly, which closed its $1.1 billion takeover of Dermira earlier this year.

With Lilly taking lebrikizumab forward, Kobayashi has looked elsewhere for employment and landed on a project well suited to his background. Like lebrikizumab, Aslan’s lead candidate ASLAN004 is an anti-IL-13 antibody.

Aslan is one of the little guys in the race to bring rivals to Dupixent to market. Aslan joined the race in 2014 when it struck a deal with CSL to put ASLAN004 through an Asian-centered R&D program. Last year, Aslan revised the deal to claim the full global rights to ASLAN004.

A phase 1 trial of ASLAN004 in patients with moderate-severe atopic dermatitis got underway last year, only for the pandemic to force Aslan to pause enrollment. Despite the setback, Aslan expects to move ASLAN004 into a global phase 2b program next year. The program will go some way to showing whether Aslan has a chance at developing a drug to rival Dupixent and lebrikizumab.

In Kobayashi, Aslan has hired a researcher with experience designing late-phase trials of anti-IL-13 antibodies in atopic dermatitis. In the short period between appointing Kobayashi and selling up to Lilly, Dermira started four phase 3 atopic dermatitis trials. A fifth phase 3 trial in the indication got up and running after Lilly closed the takeover in February.

Kobayashi landed a position working on the lebrikizumab phase 3 program on the strength of a long career in dermatology. Leo Pharma, another company with an anti-IL-13 drug in its pipeline, gave Kobayashi his first role in industry in 2008. In 2015, Kobayashi joined Novartis, where he spent several years working on drugs against targets including IL-17C.