BioClin Therapeutics hires Gilead blood cancer R&D exec

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Abella leaves as Gilead gains Kite Pharma and its CAR-T work. (Getty/John Spannos)

Nearly a year after closing a second funding round, cancer biotech BioClin has nabbed Esteban (Steve) Abella, M.D., as its new chief medical officer.

The small startup poaches Dr. Abella from big biotech Gilead, where he was senior director leading its non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia efforts, as well as serving as a member of the oncology senior leadership team.

Gilead’s focus on that area changed last year when it paid around $12 billion to buy up Kite Pharma and its CAR-T blood cancer pipeline and drug, Yescarta (axicabtagene ciloleucel), which in the fall gained FDA approval for certain patients with relapsed or refractory large B-cell lymphoma.

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The deal for Kite, which would see its scientists move into the Gilead fold, completed in late August; Abella appears to have left the company shortly after, in September.

RELATED: Move over, Novartis: Kite and Gilead break into CAR-T market with early axi-cel nod

He’s also done stints at Amgen, and prior to joining the biopharma world spent 15 years in academic oncology, serving as Professor of Pediatric Oncology, and Medicine at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, focused on stem cell transplantation and oncology clinical trials.

Last March, the quiet startup raised $30 million in a series B round, taking its total to $59 million since its founding, as it aims to push on with clinical work on its bladder cancer candidate B-701 that includes a combo test with Roche’s new PD-L1 med.

The biotech, which has not been overly communicative (its last formal press release before its series B was back in 2015), is working on a first-in-class anti-FGFR3 (fibroblast growth factor receptor 3) mAb in a phase 1/2 study in patients with metastatic bladder cancer, or metastatic urothelial carcinoma (mUC), who have relapsed or are refractory to platinum therapy.

The biotech says that studies have shown that a number of patients with urothelial cell carcinoma overexpress FGFR3 on the tumor cell surface.

The drug is being used combo with an old chemo drug, docetaxel, and the company will also use the new funds to start a new trial of B-701 alongside Roche’s PD-L1 drug Tecentriq (atezolizumab), which is approved by the FDA for urothelial carcinoma, the most common type of bladder cancer.

And the combo tests don’t end there: B-701 is also being tested with Merck’s PD-1 Keytruda (pembrolizumab), also in in mUC patients.

Further back down the pathway, B-701 is in preclinical testing for achondroplasia, a common cause of dwarfism, for which the biotech says FGFR3 antagonism “may be beneficial.”

“I am excited to join this team of professionals who are scientifically driven to improve treatment options for patients,” said Abella. “I was impressed by the team’s expertise and energy, and I look forward to taking a leadership role in shaping BioClin’s clinical development strategy as we advance B-701 in the clinic.”