Chutes & Ladders—Ex-Stanford president will lead new billion-dollar biotech

  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.  

Ousted former Stanford president tapped to lead new billion-dollar biotech

Xaira Therapeutics

Last year was a difficult one for ex-Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Ph.D. An investigation into his prior research from the campus’s student newspaper ultimately led to his resignation. But the once-chief scientific officer of Genentech is now back in biotech.  

Marc Tessier-lavigne
Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Ph.D. (Tessier-Lavigne Laboratory)

Tessier-Lavigne has been tapped to lead Xaira Therapeutics, which emerged this week with a whopping $1 billion (yes, with a “B”) in new capital to become a leader in AI’s use in drug discovery. That’s one of the largest initial financings for a new biotech ever. The company was incubated by Arch Venture Partners and Foresite Labs, which have a good track record of mega-launches. Arch backed Altos Labs, which emerged in 2022 with $3 billion. 

Xaira was co-founded by David Baker, Ph.D., a University of Washington professor and leader in wielding AI for designing new proteins. It’s the most significant private investment in Baker and his research to date. Five of Baker’s previously founded companies were either bought or merged, including AstraZeneca’s $1.1 billion purchase of Icosavax. Fierce Biotech

Fresh off BMS buy, Karuna’s ex-CEO tapped to lead Anthos

Anthos Therapeutics

Let’s hope Bill Meury has taken a nice long vacation since February, because he’s back working. 

The longtime pharma commercial executive was the CEO of Karuna Therapeutics for a little more than a year, steering the company toward a $14 billion acquisition by Bristol Myers Squibb that closed a couple of months ago. He was a partner at Hildred Capital Management beforehand after nearly five years at Allergan. 

At Anthos, Meury will be tasked primarily with successful development of factor XI med abelacimab. It’s chasing the likes of Bayer and Johnson & Johnson that have similar inhibitors in late-stage development. 

What remains to be seen is whether the company soon takes a similar exit to Karuna. Reuters reported in December that financial backer Blackstone was exploring a sale of the biotech. Anthos now has a leader with experience executing that exact deal. Release

German biotech CureVac names new CBO 


Thaminda Ramanayake will be CureVac’s next chief business officer, looking to jump-start the company’s next chapter following a failed attempt at entering the COVID-19 vaccine market during the height of the pandemic. 

He joins from Affini-T Therapeutics, a KRAS-focused cancer biotech that was launched with funding from Bayer’s venture arm. Before that, Ramanayake was the global head of business development for Sanofi. He’s had pitstops at BioMarin and Amgen during his career, as well. 

His hiring comes as CureVac is completing a downsize of about 150 employees and ending a pandemic preparedness agreement with Germany, alongside partner GSK. CureVac’s clinical focus as of late has been an mRNA-based flu candidate, nipping at the heels of fellow mRNA biotech, Moderna. Source 

> Eli Lilly's former head of immunology Ajay Nirula, M.D., Ph.D., is heading to Recludix Pharma as head of R&D. He held roles at Amgen and Biogen before landing at the Indianapolis-based pharma. Release

> Melita Sun Jung, former chief business officer of Structure Therapeutics, has taken on the same role at Terns Pharmaceuticals. Sun Jung previously held roles at Adamas Pharmaceuticals and Ipsen after starting her career at biotech VC Bay City Capital and Swiss fund manager Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch. Release

> In a Seamless transition, Albert Seymour, Ph.D., is taking the reins as president and CEO of Seamless Therapeutics as acting CEO and co-founder Anne-Kristin Heninger transitions to lead operations at Seamless Therapeutics’ Dresden site. The German gene editing company is also establishing itself in Massachusetts in connection with the leadership change. Release

> Tentarix Biotherapeutics has tapped Andrew Kidd, M.D., to lead the CNS-focused biotech. Kidd has previously served as Aptinyx’s CEO and clocked in past experience across VC Matter, Baxter International and the Boston Consulting Group. Release

> Arvinas has appointed Randy Teel, Ph.D., as the biotech’s first chief business officer. Teel also serves as the company’s interim chief financial officer and treasurer and will remain in those roles until Arvinas’ board finds a replacement. Release

> Oruka Therapeutics, maker of treatments for chronic skin diseases, has a new chief medical officer. Joana Goncalves most recently held the same title at Cara Therapeutics; her more than two decades’ worth of experience in biopharma also include stints at Celgene, Leo Pharma and Novartis. Meanwhile, Oruka has tapped another alum of the same trio of companies, Eugenia Levi, to serve as VP of medical affairs. Release

> Sofinnova Partners has promoted two of its principals to partners. Both Anta Gkelou, Ph.D., and Guillaume Baxter joined the VC firm in 2017–Gkelou as an analyst on the capital strategy team and Baxter as a senior associate on the industrial biotech strategy team. Release

> Will Song, head of Johnson & Johnson China, is reportedly set to step down from his post at the end of September to pursue other opportunities, according to an internal company letter. Song has been at J&J for more than 15 years, during which time he helped head up the healthcare giant’s response to the initial coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. Yicai Global

> Jie D'Elia, Ph.D., is the new CEO of SystImmune. D’Elia joins the cancer drug maker after more than a decade spent at Bristol Myers Squibb, where she’d served as senior VP of business development in oncology, hematology and cell therapy since 2021. Release