Aurinia poaches CEO Peter Greenleaf from Cerecor

Aurinia Pharmaceuticals has recruited a new CEO to take the helm when its current captain, Dr. Richard Glickman, retires at the end of the month. Peter Greenleaf joins from Cerecor, where he served as CEO for just over a year.  

Cerecor is just one of the biopharma companies that Greenleaf has led. Before Cerecor, he headed up the regenerative medicine player Histogenics and Sucampo, which it led through its $1.2 billion acquisition by Mallinckrodt. He also put in time at AstraZeneca, presiding over MedImmune and MedImmune Ventures, where he oversaw investment in biopharmaceutical, medical device, and diagnostic companies. 

Greenleaf arrives at Victoria, Canada-based Aurinia as it moves its lead program through phase 3. The drug, voclosporin, is a calcineurin inhibitor in phase 3 for lupus nephritis—kidney inflammation related to lupus—and phase 2 for focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a rare disease with no approved treatments that affects the kidney’s filtering units, called glomeruli.  

RELATED: Aurinia posts mixed midphase data on would-be Restasis rival 

“I am very excited to lead the Company at this pivotal time and through several critical datapoints over the next year including Phase 3 trial results by the end of 2019, followed by the planned regulatory submission and preparations for the potential commercialization of voclosporin during 2020,” Greenleaf said in a statement. 

Aurinia is also working on a version of the drug for dry eye disease that could potentially compete with Allergan’s Restasis. Allergan managed to make a blockbuster of Restasis even though some patients suffered from eye irritation that leads them to stop using the drug. Because Aurinia’s drug, known as VOS—voclosporin ophthalmic solution—doesn’t include the oil that causes this problem in patients taking Restasis, Aurinia hoped that its candidate would be more tolerable. However, the latest data for the program didn’t support that theory. 

Data from a 100-patient phase 2 study pitting the two drugs found that scores on a discomfort scale were similar across the VOS and Restasis arms. However, VOS did perform better than Restasis on a handful of secondary endpoints. Patients on VOS produced more than double the tears in their worst eyes than Restasis patients did compared to baseline. A higher proportion of VOS patients made a significant improvement on the Schirmer test, which determines if the eye makes enough tears to stay moist. Finally, VOS beat Restasis in another measure that indicates the integrity of the corneal epithelium, the tissue that covers the front of the cornea. All three measures are hard endpoints that are accepted by the FDA.