Autoimmune biotech Kyverna snags longtime Amgen exec as CMO

James Chung (Kyverna Therapeutics)

James Chung, a longtime Amgen executive who led global clinical development for autoimmune drug Enbrel, has a new gig. He joins Kyverna Therapeutics as chief medical officer as the company sets its sights on the clinic.

Chung, who holds an M.D. and a Ph.D., arrives after more than 16 years at Amgen. He was most recently head of inflammation and neuroscience in Amgen’s global medical organization and global development leader for Enbrel, a drug approved for several autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, plaque psoriasis and ankylosing spondylitis.

At Kyverna, he joins CEO Dominic Borie, M.D., Ph.D., a fellow Amgen alum, and co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer Jeffrey Greve, Ph.D. The company is working on T-cell therapies for autoimmune diseases that could be safer and last longer than current options.

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It’s a hot area for biopharma, if Merck’s recent $1.9 billion buyout of Pandion Therapeutics is any indication. That deal came after Horizon Therapeutics agreed to acquire Viela Bio and its autoimmune and inflammatory disease pipeline for $3 billion, and Sanofi ponied up $1.1 billion for Kymab.

Autoimmune diseases arise when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs. Traditional treatments focus on dialing down that aberrant immune response throughout the body in an approach called systemic immunosuppression, which can make patients more vulnerable to infections and cancer.

Kyverna is developing treatments for autoimmune diseases that don’t have an approved treatment or need better treatments. The company has identified lupus nephritis, systemic sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease as potential disease targets. It raised a $25 million series A round from Vida Ventures, Westlake Village BioPartners and Gilead in January.

"James has introduced into the clinic and developed numerous novel treatments across a wide range of autoimmune diseases. This includes a therapeutic candidate for lupus nephritis, a disease with significant unmet medical need where our cell therapy approaches could be transformational,” Borie said in a statement.

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"James's leadership and extensive industry experience will be essential as we advance our programs into the clinic and achieve our mission to bring curative living medicines to life to free patients from the siege of autoimmune disease,” Borie added.

Chung’s experience spans the development spectrum; when he joined Amgen in 2004, he worked on inflammation programs in early development. He eventually moved into late-stage global development and then to Amgen’s global medical organization, where he was the therapeutic area head for inflammation, nephrology and neuroscience.