Calico brings on Amgen’s translational R&D head to lead early drug development

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In the newly created role, Khakoo will help lead Calico's early-stage candidate selection and studies through phase 2 development, at which point they may be handed off to AbbVie under their multibillion-dollar collaboration. (Getty/Chris Ryan)

Amgen’s head of translational medicine, Aarif Khakoo, M.D., is making the jump to Calico Life Sciences to head up drug development at Alphabet’s aging-focused life sciences venture.

As VP of global development at the big biotech, he led a team of about 100 people in early clinical development just across the street from Calico’s labs, at Amgen’s site in South San Francisco, California.

“Aarif has spent much of his career in one of the most critical areas of drug development—as a bridge between basic research and early clinical development where critical decisions are made about the viability of potential therapeutics,” Arthur Levinson, CEO and founder of Calico, said in a statement.

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In the newly created role at Calico, Khakoo will help lead early-stage candidate selection and preclinical studies of potential molecules, and help carry them up through phase 2 development.

“The company has built an impressive portfolio of early- and late-stage research candidates from their aging discovery and age-related disease efforts, and I’m looking forward to working with the team and our external collaborators to move the lead therapeutic candidates into clinical studies in the future,” Khakoo said.

RELATED: AbbVie and Calico renew their aging research collaboration with an extra $1B

His group at Amgen was responsible for first-in-human and proof-of-concept studies of more than 25 candidates—across cardiometabolic, inflammation, neuroscience and oncology disease areas—in addition to work developing clinical biomarkers, in vitro diagnostics and digital health tools.

Before joining Amgen, Khakoo helped build out a cardiovascular research laboratory at MD Anderson Cancer Center, examining potential cardiac toxicities from cancer therapies. Khakoo also maintains a post as an adjunct clinical associate professor at Stanford University.

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In June 2018, Calico reupped its multibillion-dollar research collaboration with AbbVie for another three years, with the two companies putting up $500 million apiece for the effort.

AbbVie will help support the companies’ early R&D efforts in cancer and neurodegenerative disorders, while Calico advances projects to the clinic. Following phase 2a trials, AbbVie will have the option to take over late-stage development.

The current plan is to advance a number of therapeutics into early-phase clinical trials through 2027, with Calico being responsible for R&D until 2022.

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