Childhood cancer-focused Day One snags Gilead alum Bender for CEO

Day One Biopharmaceuticals emerged in May to develop new drugs specifically for children with cancer. Now, as it ramps up its work, the company is making a flurry of new hires and new board appointments, including a new CEO: Jeremy Bender, Ph.D., who previously led corporate development at Gilead Sciences.

At Gilead, Bender oversaw the company’s acquisitions, partnerships and investments, working on more than 40 transactions totaling more than $10 billion in upfront value. Before that, he held similar roles at smaller biotechs, including Tizona Therapeutics, Sutro Biopharma and Allos Therapeutics.

It’s a skill set that will be important to Day One, which aims to build its pipeline by acquiring or partnering on assets. Its lead asset, a RAF inhibitor dubbed DAY101, was licensed from Sunesis Pharmaceuticals, which previously licensed it to Takeda. Day One is developing it as a treatment for children with brain cancer, but it could be useful in treating adults with other cancer types, too.

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“I’m excited to put to use the decades of experience I now have in the transactional space. It’s going to be very important to realizing our mission,” Bender said. “That comes in two forms: first, completing what we are doing with DAY101, and second, being able to find partners for programs for when we reach the stage where it makes sense to establish that kind of partnership.”

Bender made the leap to Day One because of the “unique opportunity” it presented; a stellar team, the chance to work in pediatric oncology and the urgency with which the company planned to execute its mission was too compelling a combination to pass up.

“As sappy as it may sound, it was really a conversation I had with Sam early on in the process, where I felt that the way he and the company think about development and the commitment to pediatric oncology patients in particular, that resonated with me deeply,” he said, referring to Samuel Blackman, M.D., co-founder and chief medical officer of Day One.

Bender takes over from Julie Grant, the general partner at Canaan Partners who co-founded Day One and has served as its interim CEO since its birth. Grant will become chair of Day One’s board, where she is joined by Bender and John Josey, Ph.D., former CEO of Peloton Therapeutics, the cancer biotech Merck snapped up for $1.1 billion upfront in May 2019.

In addition to Bender, Day One is appointing Genentech veteran Lisa Hamman Bowers as chief commercial officer; Jeannie Hou, M.D., as senior vice president of clinical development; Lazar Dimitrov, Ph.D., as vice president of business development; and Vai Lee as clinical trial specialist.

“The decision by these leaders, particularly Jeremy as CEO, to join Day One is strong validation of our strategy to prioritize children with cancer and the promise of our portfolio, including DAY101,” Grant said in a statement. “It has been a privilege to lead Day One as acting-CEO since inception, and I look forward to partnering with Jeremy as Chair of the Board. He brings decades of biotechnology company building as well as a track record of large sell- and buy-side business development transactions, most recently at Gilead.”