Chutes & Ladders—Billy Dunn departs FDA neuroscience team after 18 years

 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. 

Dunn departs FDA neuroscience team after 18 years at the agency 


Dunn-zo would be an apt term to summarize the top employment move this week. Billy Dunn, head of the Office of Neuroscience at the FDA, is leaving the agency. His departure marks the end of an 18-year run at the FDA, during which he helped launch and lead  neuroscience efforts. After joining the Office of Neurological Products in 2005, Dunn ascended up the regulatory body before becoming chief of the neuro team. His move was announced in a staff email from Peter Stein, M.D., head of the Office of New Drugs.

But Dunn’s career has been consumed with controversy over the last two years stemming from his involvement in the 2021 accelerated approval of Biogen’s Alzheimer’s disease med Aduhelm. The FDA granted the accelerated nod against the recommendations of the agency’s own advisers. Subsequent reporting from Stat News found that Dunn had a cozy relationship with top executives at Biogen, a no-no for the FDA, which touts itself as keeping sponsor interactions at an arm’s length. 

A subsequent congressional investigation further detailed how the FDA worked alongside Biogen in its approval application, saying that some portions of Biogen’s briefing document for FDA advisers was drafted by the FDA. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services ultimately restricted reimbursement of Biogen to federally authorized trials, rendering its commercial prospects virtually nil. 

The letter did not expand on where Dunn will be heading, saying only that he left to “explore other opportunities.” Taking his place on an interim basis will be Teresa Buracchio, M.D., who was recently permanently appointed to be deputy head of the neuroscience unit. Fierce Biotech

Former Celgene pres tapped to lead Viatris


Viatris is reading a changing of the guards atop its leadership ranks, with former Celgene vet Scott Smith ready to take the helm from CEO Michael Goettler

Smith has most recently been president of BioAtla, but gained prominence earlier in his career at now Bristol Myers Squibb-owned Celgene. After working in Celgene’s immunology and inflammatory units, he was promoted to president and chief operating officer in 2017. He abruptly left a year later. He remains a board member at a number of companies, including GreenRiver BioPharma, Himalaya Therapeutics and Apexigen. 

He takes over Viatris at a critical inflection point. The company is projecting another year of sliding sales but expects 2024 to be the beginning of a new chapter. The company sold off its biosimilars business Biocon Biologics in part to afford acquisitions of Oyster Point Pharma and Famy Life Sciences. Ultimately, the hope among Viatris’ leadership is to build the company into a global leader in eye care. Fierce Pharma 

Merz Therapeutics taps König to be new CEO

Merz Therapeutics

Merz Therapeutics, the human health wing of European pharmaceutical company Merz, has found a new leader. The company has named Stefan König as its new CEO, hoping the Big Pharma alum can conjure a winning pipeline from his commercial experience. 

König joins after being CEO at George Medicines, a London-based biotech working on treatment for noncommunicable diseases. The company has a phase 3 blood pressure med and a phase 2 diabetes asset. His tenure there came after 12 years at Takeda, where he bounced around the world leading business efforts for a number of different offices and therapeutic regions. His journey took him to Mexico City and Vienna, from business development leader to head of the entire IBD franchise. He also spent time at Novartis and Merck KgaA. 

At Merz, König will be responsible for making a dent in the company’s three therapeutic focuses: neurology, hepatology and dermatology. The therapeutic wing launched three years ago as part of a larger corporate reorganization. The company said it had a mutual parting of ways with former CEO Stefan Brinkmann. Release 

> Rare disease biotech Longeveron has found a permanent leader to guide the clinical-stage company. Wa’el Hashad, who most recently served as president and CEO of Avanir Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Otsuka Pharmaceutical), will take the reins from interim head Chris Min, M.D., Ph.D., who will continue in his role as chief medical officer. Beyond Avanir, Hashad has held leadership roles at Seres Therapeutics, Amgen, Eli Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim. Release  

> Boston-based biotech Tango Therapeutics has tapped Adam Crystal, M.D., Ph.D., as president of R&D. Most recently, Crystal was chief medical officer for C4 Therapeutics and worked at Novartis before that. Release   

> Flamingo Therapeutics is standing on one leg no more, as Dynacure folds into the biotech via a merger agreement. The combined company has left the lagoon with Dynacure CEO Stéphane van Rooijen, M.D., leading and Flamingo CEO Michael Garrett at his wing as chief operating officer. Ionis’ CEO and President Brett Monia, Ph.D., has joined Flamingo’s board of directors, which will be chaired by Chris Mirabelli, Ph.D., chair of Leap Therapeutics. Fierce Biotech   

> T-cell cancer company Marengo Therapeutics has called on Kevin Chin, M.D., to serve as chief medical officer. Chin joins from 2seventybio, where he was SVP and head of clinical development, and has also worked at ED Serono and Bristol Myers Squibb. Release   

> Clinical-stage Kartos Therapeutics has selected Srdan (Serge) Verstovsek, M.D., Ph.D., to serve as the company’s chief medical officer. The world-renowned physician-scientist has been affiliated with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center since 1998 and was also the director of the world’s largest myeloproliferative neoplasms clinical research center, the Hanns A. Pielenz Clinical Research Center for MPNs. Release  

> Novo Nordisk’s global R&D business development head Christo Shalish left for the new frontier, joining Frontier Medicine as SVP and head of business development. Before his tenure at Novo Nordisk, Shalish led business development and alliance management at Dicerna Pharmaceuticals. Release   

> RNA editing company Korro Bio has snagged Steve Colletti, Ph.D., to serve as chief scientific officer. He most recently served as SVP of drug discovery R&D at Zymergen, (acquired by Ginkgo Bioworks). Before that, he was Lodo Therapeutics’ CSO and had worked for Merck & Co for more than 24 years. Release

> Personalized cancer testing company Personalis is bringing on Christopher Hall to be its new CEO. Hall was most recently CEO of Naring Health. Release

Aadi Bioscience is on the hunt for a new chief executive after Brendan Delaney resigned for personal reasons. The company has tapped Chief Financial Officer Scott Giacobello to serve on an interim basis while a search for a permanent replacement is underway. Release

> Chris De Savi, Ph.D., is joining the team at newly formed Curie.Bio as a CSO partner. He was previously head of drug discovery at Kymera following stints at Blueprint Medicines and AstraZeneca.