Chutes & Ladders—Agios makes CEO change less than 6 months after latest FDA approval

 Chutes and LaddersWelcome to this week's Chutes & Ladders, our roundup of hirings, firings and retirings throughout the industry. Please send the good word—or the bad—from your shop to Max Bayer or Gabrielle Masson, and we will feature it here at the end of each week.

Agios replaces CEO less than six months after latest approval


Agios is making a top leadership change, replacing outgoing CEO Jackie Fouse, Ph.D., with Brian Goff, who most recently led commercial efforts at Alexion. Fouse will stay on at the company, however, transitioning to chair of the board. The move marks a continuation of a yearslong transition for Agios that’s included stepping away from oncology development and nabbing its first approval earlier this year. 

Jackie Fouse

The change of hands marks the end of Fouse’s more than three years at the helm, during which she oversaw the sale of the company’s oncology program to Servier for $1.8 billion. The strategy at the time was to instead direct resources toward Agios’ pyruvate kinase activator programs. And it appears that, so far, that’s panned out, after the company nabbed FDA approval in February for its hemolytic anemia treatment in adults with PK deficiency. 

In Goff, Agios is adding an executive with more than 30 years of experience in the biopharma industry. While at Alexion, he oversaw the company’s commercial and operations teams before the company’s sale to AstraZeneca in July 2021. Before that, Goff was the chief operating officer at Neurovance. Fierce Pharma

Vir loses CSO for Jeff Bezos-backed Altos Labs

Altos Labs

headshot of Herbert Virgin
(Vir Biotechnology)

After nabbing one of the largest single fundraising rounds in 2021, Jeff Bezos-backed Altos Labs is continuing to fortify its executive team, naming Herbert “Skip” Virgin, M.D., Ph.D., as chief medical officer. Virgin leaves behind his post as chief scientific officer at Vir Biotechnology for the new position at Altos, where he’ll be under the leadership of former GSK R&D leader Hal Barron, M.D. Additionally, Virgin will lead the Altos Institute of Medicine, a role the company describes as capturing "knowledge generated about cell health and programming" and using it to develop new medicines. 

Virgin spent nearly five years at Vir, leading a team of more than 150 scientists working on infectious disease therapies including a COVID-19 treatment that nabbed emergency use authorization in the U.S. Unfortunately for the company, that authorization has since been amended, rendering the therapy unusable due to the prevalence. Vir is also working on a hepatitis B treatment and a monoclonal antibody for the flu. 

Prior to joining Vir, Virgin was a professor and department chair of immunology and pathology at Washington University School of Medicine. He continues to be an adjunct professor there in addition to holding an adjunct position at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Release

Two top Emerald Health execs step down amid SEC probe

Emerald Health Pharmaceuticals

CBD-focused Emerald Health Pharmaceuticals is feeling anything but decompressed, losing two top executives, including its CEO, amid a new Securities and Exchange Commission probe. As a result, CEO and Director Jim DeMesa has resigned, along with CFO Lisa Sanford, although her resignation was not directly attributed to the investigation. The company said it had received “Wells notices” from the commission recommending enforcement actions tied to allegations of fraud. The company did not respond to Fierce Biotech when asked for additional comment. 

In response to the notice, the company has submitted a settlement proposal to the commission but said it “cannot predict with confidence or certainty” whether a settlement will be reached. Jim Happel, chairman of Emerald’s board, said the alleged violations “do not relate to the Company’s technology or intellectual property.” Happel also thanked both DeMesa and Sanford for their contributions.

Emerald’s lead asset, EHP-101, is a cannabidiol-containing oral treatment for systemic sclerosis and multiple sclerosis currently in phase 2 trials. The company’s runner-up asset, EHP-102, is indicated for both Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases and is in preclinical development. Fierce Biotech

> Kezar Life Sciences has nabbed Nick Mordwinkin, Ph.D., from Gilead Sciences to lead as the company’s chief business officer. Previously head of corporate development for Gilead’s inflammation and fibrosis unit, Mordwinkin will be responsible for shaping the clinical-stage biotech’s business development strategy as it enters a new growth stage. Release  

> Stephen Willard is NRx Pharmaceuticals’ new CEO, replacing interim CEO Robert Besthof, who will return to his roles as head of operations and chief commercial officer. Willard is also joining the clinical-stage company’s board of directors. Most recently, Willard served as CEO of Cellphire Therapeutics. Release

> French Biotech OSE Immunotherapeutics has appointed Alexis Vandier as its new CEO, taking the role from Dominique Costantini, M.D., interim CEO and chair. Vandier comes from Ipsen, where he served as vice president and global asset lead. Release

> Apertura Gene Therapy has tapped Joseph La Barge to lead as the biotech’s new CEO. Most recently, La Barge served as Spark Therapeutics’ chief business officer. La Barge succeeds Dave Greenwald, Ph.D., who served as acting CEO since Apertura was founded over a year ago. Release 

> Aurinia Pharmaceuticals's chief commercial officer Max Colao will depart from the company July 22 due to personal matters. UCB leader Scott Habig will take over the role upon his departure. Aurinia has also tapped Volker Knappertz, M.D., to serve as executive vice president of R&D, and DeDe Sheel as vice president of investor relations. Release

> Oncology company Revolution Medicines has appointed Lorence Kim, M.D., Moderna’s former chief financial officer, to its board of directors. Before his six-year run at Moderna, Kim worked at Goldman Sachs for 14 years. Release

> Telix Pharmaceuticals has named Kevin Richardson its CEO for the Americas. Richardson has more than 25 years experience, including his most recent role as chief operating officer at UroShape Medical. Release

> Centauri Therapeutics is shaking up senior leadership, with Jennifer Schneider, Ph.D., stepping into the role of CEO. Schneider was most recently executive officer for the nonprofit Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership in North America. Helen Bright, Ph.D., has also joined as vice president of R&D, coming from Medicines Discovery Catapult and past leadership experience at AstraZeneca, Pfizer and GSK. Release

> Clinical-stage biotech IN8bio has selected Kenneth LaMontagne, Ph.D., as its new senior vice president of business development. Before IN8bio, LaMontagne was vice president of business development at Artisan Bio. He also has previous leadership experience at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Legend Biotech and Novartis. Release

> Former FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D., has joined the board of clinical-stage Orcosa. Von Eschenbach, who served as FDA Commissioner from 2006-2009, will provide the life sciences company with strategic counsel. Release

> Lynette Herscha has joined Immunitas Therapeutics as chief operating officer. Prior to Immunitas, Herscha served as chief legal officer and corporate secretary at Senda Biosciences and has held past leadership roles at Solid Biosciences and Concert Pharmaceuticals. Release

> Brii Biosciences has tapped Susannah Cantrell, Ph.D., as its new chief business officer. Most recently, she served as chief operating officer and chief business officer at Second Genome, and has held leadership roles at Tricida, Gilead Sciences, GSK and Genentech/Roche. Release

> Sherlock Biosciences has chosen Julie Garlikov as its first chief commercial officer. Garlikov joins the biotech with more than 20 years of experience at organizations including Grail, Rodan + Fields, PepsiCo, Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble. Release

> Absci has made two new leadership appointments: Denise Dettore as chief people officer and Jack Gold as chief marketing officer. Dettore has worked previously at Genentech, Jazz Pharmaceuticals and BeiGene, while Gold comes from Zymergen, where he was chief marketing officer. Release

> Oncology biotech BeiGene has tapped Chan Lee to serve as general counsel, effective July 18. Lee comes from Sanofi, where he served as general counsel for North America and head of legal for its specialty care global business unit. Before Sanofi, Lee held roles of increasing responsibility at Pfizer. Release 

> InVivo Therapeutics has selected Heather Hamel to lead as its new chief legal officer and general counsel. Hamel previously served as the biotech’s vice president of legal affairs and business development. Release

 > Private biotech jCyte is expanding its leadership team with the appointment of Stewart Craig, Ph.D., as chief technology officer. Before jCyte, Craig served as chief technical officer for Erytech Pharma, and has held leadership positions at Orchard Therapeutics, Sangamo, Stemcells Inc., PCT Cell Therapy Services and Xcyte Therapies. Release

> Gilead Sciences will appoint Deborah Telman as executive vice president of corporate affairs and general counsel, following the retirement of Brett Pletcher, who has been with the company 17 years. Telman, who joins Gilead from Organon, will also become corporate secretary, stepping into her new roles Aug. 1. Release

> John Dillman has been selected as VBI Vaccines’ new chief commercial officer. Dillman has worked with the company for the last two years in his role as commercial lead for Syneos Health, VBI’s partner for U.S. commercialization of PreHevbrio, a hepatitis B vaccine. Before Syneos Health, Dillman spent 17 years with Sanofi. Release

> Cell and gene therapy company Ixaka has appointed Karen Miller as its new chief scientific officer. With more than 30 years of experience, Miller has held various leadership roles at Adaptimmune and GSK. Release

> SQZ Biotechnologies has promoted Micah Zajic to chief financial officer. Zajic has served as the company’s chief business officer since October 2020 and has almost 20 years of biotech and capital markets experience. Release

> Meissa Vaccines has tapped Frank Glavin to lead as the biotech’s CEO. The former Orphan Technologies CEO will succeed Martin Moore, Ph.D., Meissa’s co-founder who will now serve as the company's chief scientific officer. Release

> Astria has called on Chris Morabito, M.D., to be its next chief medical officer, plucking him from the same role at Fulcrum Therapeutics. Morabito comes equipped with more than 20 years of clinical development experience, including stops at Takeda, Sanofi and Merck. Release