Chutes & Ladders—Celgene poaches top Merck R&D exec Plenge

Ex-Merck R&D exec Robert Plenge jumps ship to Celgene.

Chutes and Ladders

Welcome to this week's Chutes and Ladders, our roundup of hirings, firings and retirings throughout the industry. Please send the good word—or the bad—from your shop to Eric Sagonowsky (email) or Angus Liu (email) and we will feature it here at the end of each week.

Merck’s head of translational medicine Plenge jumps ship to Celgene

Robert Plenge

Robert Plenge will lead immunology R&D.

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Robert Plenge added a disclaimer under his recent blog post: “I am an employee of Merck, although will soon transition to a new role at Celgene.” And it was picked up by bio-Twitter. Bruce Booth, a partner at Atlas Venture, and David Shaywitz at Forbes helped break the news that Plenge is leaving his current position as Merck & Co.’s head of translational medicine to run Celgene’s immunology R&D, a core focus area for the biotech. The company is looking for approval of ozanimod, a blockbuster potential in multiple sclerosis, while also testing it for GI disorders including Crohn’s disease. In January, Celgene spent $300 million upfront with $475 million in milestones for Delinia, boosting its inflammation and immunology pipeline with the upstart’s lead program, DEL106. FierceBiotech

Sarepta CEO Kaye to step down

Sarepta logo
Ed Kaye

Edward Kaye will leave as CEO.

When former Sarepta CEO Chris Garabedian abruptly resigned in 2015, CMO Ed Kaye stepped in as interim CEO and later became a permanent one. He carried the company through a tumultuous time with a controversial FDA approval of its Duchenne drug Exondys 51. He has recently handed his CMO title over to former Regeneron exec Catherine Stehman-Breen, M.D., and now he has also decided not to seek more years at the helm of the company when his current tenure ends in September. Word on the street is that Kaye’s departure is probably a hint of possible M&A. The company posted $16.3 million in revenue for the first quarter, higher than analysts’ previous estimates. FierceBiotech

Genentech’s pediatric oncology head Rousseau leaves for startup Gritstone

Raphael Rousseau

Gritstone Oncology
Raphaël Rousseau became CMO.

Raphaël Rousseau, M.D., Ph.D., who created and led Genentech’s pediatric oncology drug development section, has become the new CMO for Gritstone Oncology. Rousseau spent eight years at Genentech, overseeing a 60-person team, which worked on projects including the iMATRIX master trial, a multitumor, multitherapeutic study that looked at drugs including Tecentriq in pediatric patients. Gritstone debuted in 2015 with a $102 million Series A and has since then used the money to advance research in personalized neoantigen immunotherapies. Roman Yelensky, Ph.D., company founder and CEO Andrew Allen’s first appointment at the company, was promoted to chief technology officer. FierceBiotech

> Bayer hired Bhavesh Ashar, former VP and general manager of U.S. oncology at Sanofi, to lead its U.S. oncology business. Release

> Chan Zuckerberg Biohub brought on co-founder and former CEO of Fluidigm, Gajus Worthington, as its COO. Release

> After a failed Alzheimer’s test, Accera hopes a new CMO in the form of neuroscience veteran Judith Walker, M.D., formerly with QuintilesIMS, could bring the drug to life. FierceBiotech

> Astellas made three senior-level promotions within its Development organization: Joseph Fleishaker, Ph.D., became SVP and head of clinical pharmacology and exploratory development; Susanne Gronen was promoted to SVP and head of data sciences; and Andrew Krivoshik, M.D., Ph.D., was promoted to VP of medical science of oncology. Release

> CureVac, which works on mRNA therapeutics, appointed Daniel Menichella as CEO of its U.S. subsidiary. FierceBiotech

> TapImmune COO and President John Bonfiglio resigned to pursue other opportunities. Release

> H3 Biomedicine, which focuses on precision medicines for oncology, promoted Lihua Yu, Ph.D., to chief data sciences officer. Release

> Ion channel specialist Metrion Biosciences promoted Andrew Southan to COO and appointed James Beaumont as head of business development. Release (PDF)

> After tapping a new CEO in January, Human Longevity just made several senior management appointments: Travis Lacey as chief corporate development officer; Dale Gordon as chief commercial officer; and Gary G. Altman, Ph.D., as COO. Release

> Zeev Weiss handed in his notice as CEO of Israeli biopharma company Intec Pharma, and Giora Carni, the company’s CEO from 2006 to 2014, is serving as interim chief while the company searches for a permanent one. Release

> Harpoon Therapeutics hired Che-Leung Law, Ph.D., previously with Seattle Genetics, as VP of translational medicine. Release

> Mohamed Genead, M.D., who was recently VP and global therapeutic head for ophthalmology/retina gene therapy at Biogen, came on board with GenSight Biologics as CMO. Release (PDF)

> Rigontec tapped Eugen Leo, M.D., Ph.D., as its CMO to lead the trial of its lead compound, RIG-I agonist RGT100. Release

> Anavex Life Sciences appointed former FDA CDER officer Emmanuel Fadiran, Ph.D., as SVP of regulatory affairs. Release

> Immunotherapy-focused British biotech GammaDelta Therapeutics named Paolo Paoletti, M.D., as CEO and Natalie Mount, Ph.D., as CSO. Release