Cellectis lures ex-Servier cancer R&D chief back to industry

Cellectis is giving Depil responsibility for taking its candidates up to clinical development.

Cellectis has named Stéphane Depil, M.D., Ph.D., as its CMO and senior vice president of R&D. The appointment sees the former director of oncology R&D at Servier return to the industry after a spell directing the cancer immunotherapy program at a cancer center in Lyon.

Depil will remain involved in academic and research activities at the Léon Bérard Cancer Center in Lyon as an adjunct professor. But Cellectis will also get the chance to benefit from his talents as it seeks to move its off-the-shelf CAR-T assets smoothly into the clinic after a rocky start in which one of the first patients to receive a therapy died.

Cellectis is giving Depil responsibility for taking its candidates up to clinical development, plus a starring role in the strategic and operational management of all its therapeutic activities.

Depil landed the important position on the strength of a career that took him from French pharma major Servier to academia, via a stint as CEO of an oncology startup. At Servier, Depil oversaw 20 oncology programs, five of which were in the clinic. The other 15 programs within Depil’s purview were split fairly evenly between late and early preclinical.

That breakdown is representative of what Depil will encounter at Cellectis, although the number of programs is smaller. Cellectis moved lead in-house drug UCART123 into human testing earlier this year. Beyond that, the French gene editing specialist has three candidates that are at different points along the path from the start of preclinical studies to IND filings.

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Depil also has experience working at biotechs from his time as CEO of Netris Pharma, a cancer startup that moved a monoclonal antibody targeting Netrin-1 into human testing earlier this year.

Cellectis CEO André Choulika pointed to this breadth of experience in explaining his motivations for bringing Depil on board. 

“Stéphane Depil’s deep medical, academic and clinical regulatory oncology experience ... will be invaluable as he leads Cellectis’ strategy,” Choulika said in a statement, “His strategic alliance-building, collaboration skills, understanding of the global environment with oncological clinical research and firsthand experience running a pharma company all add a great degree of ability and depth to our leadership team.”