Chutes & Ladders—Biogen CEO Vounatsos steps down amid company overhaul following Aduhelm blunder

 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, and we will feature it here at the end of each week.

Biogen CEO Vounatsos departs after a tumultuous year, Aduhelm blunder


Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos

Biogen's CEO is stepping down from his post after more than five years amid a company overhaul that includes $1 billion in recent cost-saving measures. His decision comes after a tumultuous and ultimately disappointing year for the company that included, most notably, the bungled launch of the company's Alzheimer's med Aduhelm. 

Michel Vounatsos' departure was announced on the company's first-quarter earnings call, during which he described his tenure, which began in 2017, as a "good term." Evidently, the company agreed, showering him with almost $18 million last year, saying he "excelled" in leading the company towards its BD goals. However, Biogen also experienced pitfalls outside of Aduhelm, including two clinical flops from assets co-developed between Biogen and Ionis for ALS. 

At the end of the day, money rules all, and the company's share price has fallen almost 50% in the last 11 months from nearly $400 per share to $200.47. According to an RBC Capital Markets survey, nearly 40% of Biogen investors say they want a new CEO with a successful track record in business development. Fierce Pharma

Pfizer's top vaccine scientist slated to retire later this year


Pfizer vaccine R&D head Kathrin Jansen

After overseeing the development of Pfizer's COVID vaccine, one of the most successful drugs ever, Kathrin Jansen, Ph.D., Pfizer's head of vaccine R&D, is departing the company later this year. Undoubtedly a symptom of the last two years, it seems as though Jansen's entire career is a mere blip compared to her contributions building Comirnaty. But the reality is that her departure comes after 28 years of experience in vaccine R&D.

Before joining Pfizer, Jansen was a senior vice president at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and served on the company's R&D executive committee. Wyeth was bought by Pfizer in 2009. Before that, she spent 12 years at Merck Research Laboratories contributing R&D efforts there, including the development of the company's cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil. In a LinkedIn post, Pfizer CSO Mikael Dolsten, M.D., Ph.D., said "there are few who have made as deep and wide a contribution to human health" as Jansen. The company has yet to specify when exactly she'll depart. Fierce Pharma

Merck's R&D unit keeps leaking staff, as Green departs to be Ventus CMO

Ventus Therapeutics

Ventus CMO Stuart Green
(Ventus Therapeutics)

The trail of outgoing top Merck brass continues to grow, particularly in its R&D unit, after Stuart Green, M.D., was named chief medical officer of Ventus Therapeutics. Green most recently served at Merck Research Laboratories, overseeing late-stage clinical development of respiratory and immunology programs. 

It's at least the third high-profile departure from Merck Research Laboratories in the last year and a half after Roger Perlmutter, M.D., Ph.D., and Roy Baynes, Ph.D., both departed for upstart Eikon Therapeutics. Merck has also had to fill former CEO Ken Frazier's place and, most recently, bid farewell to Chief Marketing Officer Arpa Garay. 

In his new role, Green will be tasked with building out the company's early-stage pipeline that currently has no clinical assets. Ventus' furthest program, VENT-01, is an NLRP3 inhibitor that has the potential to reduce liver and kidney inflammation. That asset is currently being prepped to launch into the clinic. Release

> The FDA's revolving door keeps spinning as Philip Morris taps former FDA associate director Keagan Leniham to run its D.C. office. Lenihan most recently served as VP of operations for medical device company Altoida but was the FDA's chief of staff from 2019 to 2021. Fierce Pharma

> Apellis is bringing aboard Peter Hillmen, M.B., Ph.D., to head up the company's hematology engagement. Hillmen joins after years of researching paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria and will be leaving his post as professor of experimental hematology at the Leeds Institute of Medical Research. Release

> Enthera Pharmaceuticals has found its new leader, tapping Aled Williams as CEO. Williams has bounced around executive positions at biotechs after stints at Shire and Bristol Myers Squibb. Release

> Krisztina Nemenyi, Ph.D., is joining Cyteir Therapeutics at SVP of regulatory affairs and quality as the company pursues novel cancer treatments. She's moving over from Takeda where she was the global oncology head. Release

> Christine Baker is getting promoted from one C-suite position to another, shedding her title as HOOKIPA's chief business officer to become chief commercial. Prior to joining HOOKIPA, Baker was CBO at EpicentRx, a position she took after 14 years at Novartis. Release

> Evidently, nabbing a chief medical officer position was Yuri Martina, M.D.'s destiny, as he's been tapped for the role at Destiny Pharma. It's an elevation from his most recent role as deputy CMO and SVP of development at the Grünenthal Group. Release

> JSR Life Science is bringing aboard Mark Womack as CEO of its two affiliate companies, KBI Biopharma and Selexis SA. Womack jumps from CDMO Stelis Biopharma where he was also the top executive. Release

> Adcendo has brought on Dominik Mumberg, Ph.D., as its new chief scientific officer to build out its antibody-drug conjugate platform. The company is looking to flap its wings after raising more than $53 million in a series A round in 2021. Release

> Hendrik-Tobias Arkenau is jumping from one of the world's largest private health providers to biopharma, joining Ellipses Pharma as its new global head of development and chief medical officer. Prior to that, he spent 12 years as the executive medical director at the Sarah Cannon Research Institute UK, part of HCA Healthcare. Release (PDF)

> Prominent genome editing company Intellia Therapeutics is appointing Muna Bhanji to its board. Bhanji is equipped with years of commercialization experience and laid the foundation of her career at Merck & Co. Release

> Fibrosis-focused Alentis Therapeutics is hiring Andrea Pellacani, M.D., Ph.D., to further develop the company's distinct monoclonal antibodies. Pellacani has been a journeyman in the pharmaceutical industry, with stints at Amgen, Merck, GSK and Abbott. Release

> Swiss biotech GlycoEra AG is bringing Ganesh V. Kaundinya, Ph.D., from the company's board to the C-suite, tapping him as CEO and president. He's been a member of the board since the company's launch in 2020, helping it close its nearly $50 million series A. Release

> Sandy Lazzari will be the new chief people officer of Abata Therapeutics, moving over from PlateletBio where she was VP of people and culture. Release

> Anji Pharma is growing its C-suite, tapping Julianne Averill as CFO and Kristen Richardson as chief people and performance officer. Averill is joining from CFO advisory firm Danforth Advisors, while Richardson comes aboard after HR stints at a variety of biotechs. Release

> Genetic testing company Fulgent Genetics has a new president, naming COO James Xie for the role. Xie has been a member of the executive team since the company's founding and will maintain both positions. Release

> Custom protein producer Tierra Biosciences Release has enlisted Michael Nemzek as its new CEO. Biology production is not unfamiliar territory for Nemzek, who comes aboard from Synthego Corporation where he was CCO. Release