Bluebird bio alums bolster leadership team at B-cell-focused Be Biopharma

Joanne Smith-Farrell, Ph.D.
(Business Wire)

A pair of former bluebird bio executives are reuniting at Be Biopharma, a biotech developing B-cell therapies that launched last October. Joanne Smith-Farrell, Ph.D., is Be Bio’s new CEO, while Rick Morgan, Ph.D., takes the post of chief scientific officer.

An alum of Pfizer and Merck, Smith-Farrell most recently served as bluebird’s chief operating officer and head of its oncology business unit. 

RELATED: 2019's Fiercest Women in Life Sciences | Joanne Smith-Farrell—bluebird bio 

“For over 25 years, Dr. Smith-Farrell has been leading teams that are committed to conquering cancer and rare diseases, most recently at bluebird bio where she built a 400 person oncology cell therapy business unit,” said David Steinberg, Be Bio’s outgoing CEO, in a statement Tuesday. Steinberg is also a general partner at Longwood Fund, one of Be Bio's backers.  

“We are very fortunate to have her joining alongside Dr. Morgan, an internationally recognized trailblazer in cell and gene therapy and a member of an elite group of scientists who have successfully developed these groundbreaking medicines," Steinberg said.

Morgan led the preclinical work for bluebird’s Bristol Myers Squibb-partnered anti-BCMA CAR-T therapy, idecabtagene vicleucel (ide-cel), as its vice president of immunotherapy. He moved onto Editas Medicine, where he was senior vice president of immunogenetics, before arriving at Be Bio. 

With four FDA-approved CAR-T treatments, T cell-based treatments are probably the best-known type of cell therapy. Many companies are working to improve T-cell treatments by making them from donor cells rather than a patient’s own cells and/or trying to boost their efficacy in solid tumors. Others, including Sanofi, Nkarta Therapeutics and Catamaran Bio, are engineering natural killer cells, while Be Bio is betting on protein-producing B cells. 

“Be Bio’s ability to engineer B cells is a true paradigm shift in gene therapy that creates major opportunities to treat diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, infectious disease, and protein deficiencies,” Morgan said in the statement. 

RELATED: Be Biopharma debuts with $52M to advance engineered B-cell therapies 

Rick Morgan, Ph.D.
(Business Wire)

The company debuted in October 2020 with Steinberg at the helm and $52 million from Atlas Venture, Alta Partners, RA Capital Management, Longwood Fund and Takeda Ventures. It’s using B cells thanks to a “unique mix of functionalities,” including their ability to produce large amounts of proteins and target specific tissues.

“It has been a great privilege to participate in the birth of the first generation of cell therapies to come to market, and to witness, first-hand, cell therapy’s power to transform the lives of patients with devastating diseases,” Smith-Farrell said in the statement. “Be Bio’s aspiration, fueled by the broad utility of engineered B cell medicines to offer previously impossible solutions across a wide array of therapeutic areas, takes the potential of cell therapy to an entirely new level.”