Biotech veteran Julian Adams takes top job at Gamida Cell

Adams is currently chair at Gamida and CSO at Clal Biotech.

Novartis-backed biotech Gamida Cell has named Julian Adams, Ph.D.—its current chair and chief scientific officer of Clal Biotech—as its new CEO.

Adams joins Jerusalem, Israel-based Gamida as the company is in the midst of a phase 3 trial of lead product NiCord, in development as a universal bone marrow transplant option for patients unable to find a suitable matched donor derived from umbilical cord blood, that it hopes to bring to market in 2020.

Adams is making the transition from chair at Gamida—a position he has held for a little over a year—to replace long-serving CEO Yael Margolin, Ph.D., who is staying on as president of the biotech as it tries to bring the lead program to market. To help that process, Adams will drive the expansion of the company into the U.S., with Margolin continuing to lead the firm’s Israeli operations.

The new CEO is a 30-year veteran of the biotech industry, most recently serving as president and chief scientific officer at Clal. He previously held positions at Millennium Pharmaceuticals, where he was a key figure in driving the development of myeloma blockbuster Velcade, as well as Infinity Pharma, Boehringer Ingelheim, LeukoSite and ProScript.

“Julian is one of the most respected leaders in the biotechnology industry and has successfully led the global development and registration of multiple clinical programs,” says Margolin. “This is a dynamic time at Gamida Cell and as we advance the pipeline including our lead candidate, NiCord, we are excited to have Julian join us and support our objectives of expanding Gamida Cell’s global presence in the U.S. market.”

The Israeli company has made no secret of its intention to get a bigger presence in the U.S., which it sees as the first market for its products, saying in the summer that it intended to make multiple senior hires and open an East Coast office. It will be hoping Adams can replicate earlier successes with Velcade and other projects such as Boehringer’s antiviral Viramune.

Gamida started enrolling patients into its pivotal trial of NiCord in the summer and has already picked up breakthrough and orphan drug designations for the therapy, which aims to make BMT more accessible as a treatment option for patients with high-risk blood cancers by doing away with the need to find a matched donor. That is thought to be a challenge for around 70% of the 70,000 patients around the world per year who could be helped by the procedure.

The company will present phase 2 results from its NiCord program at the American Society for Hematology in December, and according to Adams the treatment has “unprecedented potential to create curative cellular and immune therapeutics for a diverse population of patients in need.”

Gamida raised $40 million in June to help it progress the phase 3 trial and bring forward other candidates such as CordIn for diseases such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia.