Cerevel to change up CEO as 7 data readouts near showdown

Four years after taking the helm of Cerevel Therapeutics, Tony Coles, M.D., is stepping down, handing the reins over to Ron Renaud as the neuroscience biotech waits on seven data readouts. 

Tony Coles, M.D.
Tony Coles, M.D. (Cerevel Therapeutics)

Bain Capital Partner Renaud has “great experience and a terrific track record,” Coles told Fierce Biotech, adding that Renaud will be able to “build on the foundation of the company and take it to the next level.” 

Ron Renaud
Ron Renaud (Cerevel Therapeutics)

Starting June 12, Renaud will become the neurological-disease-focused biotech’s new president, CEO and board member. Coles will return to his role of chair of the board, a position he held back in 2018.

Coles, who led Onyx Pharmaceuticals to its $10 billion takeover by Amgen in 2013, took on the CEO role of Pfizer spinout Cerevel to “build a business,” the leader said. Under his direction, Cerevel went public in 2020 and has raised more than $1.5 billion total since its 2018 launch, including an initial $350 million from Bain Capital. 

Now, Coles hands the baton to longtime friend Renaud.

“I've known Tony for over 10 years—I've been a CEO for over 10 years,” Renaud said in an interview. “So, this is ... I think, a really nice transition point for me.”

Renaud helmed mRNA-based Translate Bio for seven years until late 2021, when the company was officially acquired by Sanofi for $3.2 billion. Before that, he served as president and CEO of Idenix Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired by Merck & Co. for $3.85 billion in 2014. The executive has also served as chair of several biotechs, such as Atara Biotherapeutics, Ikena Oncology and Axial Biotherapeutics, among others. Most recently, he served as a partner at Bain, the global private investment firm that backs Cerevel and other biotechs like Areteia Therapeutics and Emalex Biosciences—companies that landed the No. 2 and No. 6 spots on Fierce Biotech’s list of top money raisers for 2022, respectively.   

“We were looking for someone who had strong operating experience as a previous CEO,” Coles explained about his successor. “In this case, we get two prior CEO stats, so we consider that a double bonus.”

The change-up comes at a “critical inflection point,” according to Coles. The biotech—which is focused on neurological diseases including Parkinson’s, epilepsy and schizophrenia—had a balance sheet of $863 million as of March 31, money anticipated to carry the company into 2025 and through seven data readouts.

Renaud said he couldn’t predict what his main priorities will be when he takes charge but that he’ll be laser-focused on executing the data readouts.

One of those readouts is for emraclidine, a muscarinic M4 selective positive allosteric modulator currently being evaluated in a phase 2 trial in patients with schizophrenia who experience psychosis. Safety data from a phase 1b study showed that the drug doesn’t raise blood pressure—a concern for patients who may require chronic dosing—and the company is now focused on an efficacy readout set for the first half of 2024. The biotech is hoping to position the therapy as a new standard of care that sheds debilitating side effects associated with blocking dopamine receptors.

Renaud said Cerevel isn’t just hoping for a commercial launch for emraclidine but planning on it. The biotech is also studying the asset among patients with Alzheimer’s disease psychosis in a phase 1 trial, an indication the drug snagged an FDA fast-track designation for. The pressure is on, as Cerevel faces stiff competition from Karuna Therapeutics, a biotech that is also going after psychosis tied to schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s with its asset KarXT. 

Other expected readouts for Cerevel include a phase 2 data for darigabat in epilepsy; phase 3 results for D1/D5 partial agonist tavapadon for Parkinson’s; and a phase 2a study of a D1/D5 partial agonist CVL-871 for treating dementia-related apathy.

The opportunity to flip over seven cards in the next 12 to 18 months positions Cerevel nicely, Renaud said.

“He'll be able to turn those cards over as those trials read out and really lead the company in what will be an explosive phase of growth,” Coles added on.

When asked about future plans, Coles said his main focus is on Cerevel’s chair role but he’d “never say never” to other potential biotech opportunities. However, the leader said he has lots of passions that extend beyond the life sciences space, including his work as a board member and co-founder of the Black Economic Alliance, an organization that looks at solutions to address the wealth and income gaps for Black Americans.    

“I have spent a lot of my time on social, social justice and economic equity issues for Black Americans,” Cole said. “I suspect I'll be spending a lot more time for those kinds of things.”