Cerevance gains a new drug discovery chief as another AstraZeneca executive jumps ship

Roland Bürli, Ph.D., who headed up neuroscience medicinal chemistry at AstraZeneca, has left the British drugmaker for greener pastures. He joins Cerevance as vice president of drug discovery as the CNS-focused biotech looks to advance a suite of treatments for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Bürli’s exit follows a mass of AstraZeneca departures, including those of David Berman, who led its immuno-oncology unit, Sean Bohen, M.D., Ph.D., the company’s former chief medical officer and EVP of global medicines development, former MedImmune President Bahija Jallal and Mark Mallon, who oversaw global product and portfolio strategy. All four announced their exits in January, with Jallal taking the CEO job at Immunocore and Berman joining her as head of R&D. Mallon became CEO at Ironwood Pharmaceuticals and Bohen has kept quiet where he might land next, but will not leave AstraZeneca until a successor is found. 

In addition to neuroscience expertise, Bürli also brings development experience to Cerevance, including target validation, lead generation and optimization. 

“Roland’s addition to our executive team is a critical step as we continue expanding our pipeline,” said Mark Carlton, chief scientific officer at Cerevance. “His drug discovery experience from leading inter-disciplinary project teams in the pharma, biotech and CRO sectors will be invaluable as we advance CNS therapeutics acting on selectively expressed targets identified by our NETSseq platform.” 

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Cerevance came to life in 2016 with $36 million in series A funding and a 25-person neuroscience research team from its site in Cambridge, U.K. Takeda and the VC firm Lightstone contributed $21.5 million to the pot. 

“When we announced the closure of our research site in Cambridge, U.K., our goal was to find an innovative externalization home for our most promising CNS programs and scientists in an entrepreneurial setting. Cerevance is a great example of our new R&D strategy,” said Andrew Plump, Takeda’s chief medical and scientific officer, at the time. 

Cerevance, which operates in Cambridge and Boston, will bring its lead asset, a Parkinson’s treatment, into phase 2a later this year. It also has a clutch of preclinical programs tackling conditions associated with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, including levodopa-induced dyskinesia—involuntary and uncontrolled movements associated with the Parkinson’s treatment levodopa—and neuroinflammation in Alzheimer’s.