Chutes & Ladders—Amgen vet to be CMO at KRAS-driven Affini-T

 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.

Amgen vet to be CMO of biotech spun out of Fred Hutch


Headshot of Affini-T CMO

The former leader of Amgen’s early development work is headed for a biotech that’s own growth is, well, early. Dirk Nagorsen, M.D., former VP of early development at Amgen, will be joining Affini-T Therapeutics as chief medical officer. Nagorsen also was the therapeutic head of early development for oncology and hematology. 

But what’s specifically notable about Nagorsen is his experience at Amgen developing the KRAS-targeting therapy Lumakras, an area where Affini-T hopes to be competitive. The company broke onto the scene earlier this year with $175 million to build its pipeline of KRAS-targeting therapies. Affini-T CEO Jak Knowles, M.D., said at the time a mutation of the gene is a reliable indicator of cancer and that cells become “addicted” to the mutation. 

Nagorsen’s work, however, does not start and stop with Lumakras. Over more than 10 years at the company, he oversaw development of more than 30 oncology programs He was also the global development leader of Blincyto and helped Amgen nabbed breakthrough designation and accelerated approval for the drug. He joined the Southern California pharma after it acquired Micromet in in 2012, where Nagorsen was senior medical director. Release

T1D-focused vTv Therapeutics finds a new leader

vTv Therapeutics

vTv CEO Paul Sekhri

Has the dust finally settled atop vTv Therapeutics? Only time will tell, but the company at the very least has found a new leader, naming Paul Sekhri as president and CEO. The move comes four months after Deepa Prasad left the top post, only months after he himself was named CEO. Rich Nelson—who’s served as interim CEO since Prasad’s departure—will return to his post as EVP of corporate development. 

Sekhri joins after holding other top leadership positions at eGenesis, Lycera Corp. and Cerimon Pharmaceuticals. He’s also held business development and strategy roles at a few top pharmas including Sanofi, Teva and Novartis. And it’s a a critical time for vTv as it gears up for a phase 3 trial of its oral adjunctive therapy for Type 1 diabetes, which nabbed breakthrough designation from the FDA in April 2021. 

In June, the company received a $25 million investment from G42 investments and signed onto a licensure and collaboration agreement with an affiliate organization, G42 Healthcare, which will help fund phase 3 plans. Nonetheless, the pressure is on, as vTv is trading below $1 per share on Wall Street, a perilous position that risks them getting kicked off the Nasdaq. Release

Flare hopes new CEO Rakhit can spark success

Flare Therapeutics

CEO of Flare Therapeutics Amit Rakhit

Flare Therapeutics, a byproduct of Third Rock Ventures, has named Amit Rakhit, M.D., as CEO. He’ll replace Abbie Celniker, Ph.D., a partner at Third Rock Ventures, which has led the company’s early fundraising. 

Rakhit comes aboard after being CEO at Sporos Bioventures, a holding company with four portfolio biotechs developing cancer therapies. But it was a position he was in less than a year after more than five years at Ovid Therapeutics, joining as chief medical officer before rising up to be president. Rakhit has also had stints at larger pharmas Biogen and Bristol Myers Squib. 

At Flare, he’ll look to ignite a clinical flame, working with a pipeline that so far has three unnamed assets in the discovery phase. The company launched in 2021 with $82 million in series A funds and hired Adrian Jubb, Ph.D., as chief medical officer in April. 

Moving forward, Rakhit may exhale slightly knowing that the company continues to have the backing of Third Rock. The VC previously told Fierce Biotech that it planned to participate in Flare’s upcoming series B. Release

> Immune Therapeutics has tapped Stephen Wilson, M.D., as its new CEO, president and interim chief financial officer. The announcement follows Kevin Phelps stepping down from his roles as president, CEO and CFO. Both leaders will continue to serve as members of Immune’s board of directors. Release

> Septerna, a biotech that launched this January, has tapped Liz Bhatt to serve as chief operating officer while also appointing Ran Xiao as VP of finance and business. Bhatt comes from Applied Molecular Transport, where she served as chief business and strategy officer, and spent more than a decade at Gilead before that. Xiao has held various leadership roles at Ambys Medicines, Corvus Pharmaceuticals, Intermune, Natus Medical, Celera Genomics and CV Therapeutics. Release

> Former FDA director Thomas Laughren, M.D., is Biomind Labs’ new medical adviser for clinical trials. The biotech aims to develop drugs for neurological and psychiatric disorders using psychedelic molecules. Release

> Summit Therapeutics has tapped Maky Zanganeh, formerly the company’s chief operating officer, to lead as president and co-CEO alongside current CEO and chair Bob Duggan. Duggan will remain in both his current roles. Release

> Catherine Mackey, Ph.D., has joined the board of Voyager Therapeutics, a gene therapy biotech. Mackey has more than 30 years of industry experience, including her tenure as SVP of global R&D for Pfizer. Release

> Paul Park is joining Circle Pharma as its new chief business officer. Park is the former VP of business development at Ionis Pharmaceuticals and previously served as head of strategic partnerships at Aetion and various roles at Amgen. Release

> HotSpot Therapeutics has appointed Paul Thibodeau, Ph.D., as the biotech’s chief business officer. The leader joins from Novartis, where he held several business development positions, most recently leading M&A across all of the company’s therapeutic areas. Release

> Crown Bioscience has promoted Michael Prosser from his role as SVP of commercial and strategic development to the new role of chief business officer. The company has also expanded its team with the creation of three new roles that will report to Prosser: Alex Slater will take on added responsibility as VP of global business development; Jonny McMichael, Ph.D., will become VP of client experience and enablement; and Achim Quandt has joined as product management director. Release 

> Jeff Eidel is joining on as chief commercial officer for Pacific Biosciences of California, effective Aug. 16. Eidel joins from reproductive health startup Cradle Genomics, where he most recently served as CEO after joining as chief operating officer in 2019. The leader has also worked at Illumina, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Corillian Corporation and KPMG. Release

> Relmada Therapeutics has tapped John Hixon to lead in the newly created position as head of commercial. Hixon brings more than 30 years of experience with him, the majority of which was spent at Eli Lilly, where he most recently served as senior director for global new product planning, biomedicines. Release

> AccuraGen has appointed George Cardoza as its new CEO. Cardoza joins the oncology company from Quest Diagnostics and will be taking the reins from Kang Ying, M.D., Ph.D., AccuraGen co-founder and chair. Ying will remain on as chair of the company’s board. Release

> Alexandra Snyder, M.D., is Generate Biomedicines’ new chief medical officer. She joins the Massachusetts biotech from private equity firm Two River and was previously head of translational oncology at Merck. Release 

> Purespring Therapeutics is expanding its medical and operational capacities with four new leadership appointments. Pille Harrison, M.D., will join as VP of clinical development, Aoife Waters, M.D., as medical director, Nick Cetateanu as head of operations and Andreea Iuras, Ph.D., as program manager. Release

> Closed Loop Medicines has made two new leadership appointments as it expands its development programs into the U.S. David Van Sickle, Ph.D, former CEO and co-founder of Propeller Health, will become the company’s nonexecutive director, while Simon Ramsden, who joins from EUSA Pharma and holds a decade of experience working at GSK, will step into the role of chief financial officer. Release

> Rocket Pharmaceuticals has appointed Mayo Pujols as its chief technical officer and EVP. Most recently, Pujols served as CEO for Andelyn Biosciences, and, before that, was head of global cell and gene technical development and manufacturing for Novartis. Release