Chutes & Ladders—Astellas shakes up leadership with 2 new C-suite execs

 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.

Astellas taps replacements for 2 execs set to retire

Astellas Pharma

Astellas is shaking up its leadership team as two C-suite execs retire. Effective October 1, Tadaaki Taniguchi, M.D., Ph.D, will step up as the company's new chief medical officer, taking the reins from Bernhardt Zeiher, M.D., who will retire after 12 years with the company. Taniguchi, an oncology surgeon that joined on as Astellas’ executive advisor in July, comes from an oncology leadership role at AstraZeneca.

Beginning in October, Astellas' chief administrative officer and chief ethics & compliance officer will be renamed to chief people officer and chief ethics & compliance officer. Katsuyoshi Sugita, who joined Astellas as head of human resources in May 2021, will be filling the retitled role for current CAO and CECO Fumiaki Sakurai, who is set to retire at the end of September. Release  

Arvinas nabs Nektar’s John Northcott as CCO 


Arvinas CCO John Northcott

John Northcott departed Nektar Therapeutics a few months ago amid layoffs and failed phase 3 results. Now, a different biotech—Arvinas—is welcoming the leader with open arms into its newly created position of chief commercial officer.

Former Nektar CCO Northcott exited as the company restructured in April, along with former Chief Medical Officer Dimitry Nuyten, Ph.D. Nektar’s reorganization, which included a 70% staff cut, came on the heels of the biotech’s phase 3 failure for its most developed asset bempegaldesleukin with Bristol Myers Squibb's Opdivo. It was the last attempt for Nektar’s anti-cancer med to show its worth after already proving insufficient as a monotherapy.    

Before Nektar, where he spent nearly three years, Northcott served as CCO for AbbVie’s Pharmacyclics. He has also held commercial leadership positions at Roche’s Genentech, Pfizer and Merck, notably guiding the development and commercialization of cancer meds Avastin and Imbruvica.  

Northcott now brings that experience to Arvinas, a targeted protein degradation biotech with three investigational clinical-stage programs. Its most advanced candidates—bavdegalutamide for prostate cancer and Pfizer-partnered ARV-471 for breast cancer—are both currently being evaluated in phase 2 trials.   

“With Arvinas set to become a late-stage development company by the end of the year, I look forward to bringing my deep experience in pre-launch planning and post-approval commercialization to multiple programs in oncology and neuroscience,” Northcott said. Release

After 10-year run, CEO at Danish biotech Evaxion steps down

Evaxion Biotech

Evaxion CEO Norlen

After ten years at the helm of Evaxion, CEO Lars Staal Wegner, M.D., is resigning.

The Danish biotech, which specializes in AI-driven immunotherapy development, has tapped Per Norlén, M.D., PhD., to lead the company next. Norlén will take the reins from Wegner within the next six months.

Most recently, Norlén was CEO of Targinta AB, a preclinical oncology biotech, and chief medical officer at biomedical company Xintela AB. The leader will take over as Evaxion looks to pursue new projects and partnerships.  

Wegner led the biotech from its early days as a start-up through its initial public offering in February 2021.    

“As the company takes the next leap, it is time for others to take over,” the departing CEO said. Release

> Micah Mackinson has been tapped to be the new CEO of Vico Therapeutics. The company is working on a number of neurology programs stemming from its RNA modulation platform. Release

> Less than two weeks after a phase 3 failure, VBL Therapeutics shaved off 35% of its staff to save cash. In addition to the layoffs, three board members—Ron Cohen, Bennett Shapiro and Alison Finge—resigned effective immediately. Fierce Biotech

> George Daley, M.D., Ph.D., head of stem cell transplantation at Boston Children’s Hospital, is the scientific founder of a new company spun out of the hospital and ElevateBio. The company has yet to be named but Daley will be a collaborator moving forward as it works to develop novel “off-the-shelf” CAR-T therapies. Fierce Biotech

​> AnHeart has found an experienced new chief medical officer, tapping Shuanglian (Lian) Li, M.D., Ph.D. for the job. Li most recently was SVP of clinical development at Ansun Biopharma. Release

> Legend Biotech CEO Frank Zhang is adding a new title after being appointed chairman of the company’s board. It comes as he along with two others—Tomas Heyman and Li Mao—were appointed to the board. Release

> Big Pharma alum and former EXUMA Biotech CMO Wendy Li, M.D., is set to be the new CMO at Gracell Biotechnologies. She’ll be tasked with overseeing the clinical progress of the company's cell therapy pipeline, a similar role to the one at EXUMA. Release

> Rubedo Life Sciences is bolstering its leadership ranks, naming Ali Siam as Chief Business Officer and Ofir Moreno, Ph.D., as SVP of drug discovery. The company is working on a slate of anti-aging meds targeting senescent cells. Release

> Gene therapy-focused AviadoBio has found its new development czar, naming David Cooper, M.D., as chief medical officer. Cooper was most recently VP of clinical development at uniQure but has spent the majority of his career at Novo Nordisk. Release

> Armed with a lead asset to treat the inflammatory condition sarcoidosis, Xentria is retooling its ranks, naming Robert Baughman, M.D., as lead scientific advisor and Kirsten Anderson as chief operating officer. The hires come as the company continues to develop its monoclonal antibody treatment, XTMAB-16. Release

> Health care venture capital firm Illumina Ventures is shoring up its European wing, naming four new team members. Arnaud Autret, Ph.D., will head up operations in the region with William Byrne, Ph.D., joining as an associate. Ronan Byrne and Ivan Coulter, Ph.D., will also join as Venture Advisors. Release

> Biologics maker PharmaEssentia is naming Lih-Ling Lin, Ph.D., as chief scientific officer. Lin joins from Sanofi where she was head of checkpoint immunology cluster under the immunology and inflammation research area. Release