Chutes & Ladders—Leaps by Bayer chief jumps to Bayer, too; Exelixis finds a new CMO

 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. 


Leaps by Bayer chief Juergen Eckhardt adds innovation role at Bayer


Juergen Eckhardt, Leaps By Bayer
Juergen Eckhardt (Bayer AG)

Juergen Eckhardt, M.D., who launched Leaps by Bayer in 2016, is taking on a new role at the pharmaceutical company that bears the investment firm's name. Eckhardt has been appointed head of business development and licensing/open innovation (BDL/OI) of Bayer's pharmaceuticals division. The role also comes with a seat on Bayer's pharmaceuticals executive committee.

The new role is effective Sept. 1, and Eckhardt will maintain his stewardship of the impact investment arm, too. In his time there, Leaps by Bayer has invested more than $1.7 billion in more than 55 companies. Bayer has even acquired several of them to tuck into its pipeline. 

Eckhardt will take over the role from Friedemann Janus, who had served as acting head of the BDL/OI organization for the past few months.

“Juergen’s expertise of more than 25 years in the healthcare industry as a physician, strategy consultant and venture capital investor in healthcare, biotech, and agriculture will be key to lead our external growth strategy,” said Stefan Oelrich, a member of Bayer's board of management and president of the pharmaceuticals division.

Eckhardt got his start as a physician at the University Hospital of Basel in Switzerland before becoming a venture capital investor. Release

Mirati CFO follows CEO to the exits

Mirati Therapeutics

Less than two weeks after CEO David Meek announced his departure from Mirati, Chief Financial Officer Laurie Stelzer is leaving as well to pursue “external opportunities,” the company announced. She’ll stay on as a consultant through October though will be replaced by Aaron Ondrey, senior vice president of financial planning and analysis.

Stelzer’s final act on the job was a $345 million public offering that closed Aug. 11. The company handed over more than 11.2 million shares at $27.80 per share. 

She’s the second top executive to leave in as many weeks after the company, without explanation, announced the departure of David Meek. It’s another gap to fill for interim CEO Charles Baum, who himself was slated to retire at the end of June. So much for that! 

Mirati’s fate and associated investor sentiment have largely been decided by the success of KRAS treatment Krazati. The med received accelerated approval last year and is a rival to Amgen’s Lumakras. But regulators in Europe declined to approve the treatment this year, a significant blow to expanding the drug’s commercial reach. Release

Former CytomX president to be new Exelixis CMO 


Roughly two years ago, Exelixis was faced with the devastating news that longtime executive and Chief Medical Officer Gisela Schwab, M.D., had passed away. Schwab was a company staple, having joined in 2006. CEO Michael Morrissey, Ph.D., described her as “a brilliant oncologist turned clinical development professional.” Exelexis brought on Vicki Goodman, M.D., in January 2022, but the company announced this week that she’d be departing. 

Replacing Goodman in the role Amy Peterson, M.D. She most recently was at CytomX, first as chief development officer before tacking on president duties for eight months from February 2022 to September 2022. Prior to that, she was the chief medical officer for immunoncology at Beigene, noteworthy experience given that Exelixis’ renewed clinical emphasis is on squeezing value out of FDA-approved Cabometyx/Cometriq with combo therapies. 

Peterson’s appointment—and the renewed focus on maximizing the approved treatment—follow a successful activist campaign by Farallon Capital Management earlier this year that spurred the ouster of three board members. Farallon believed the company’s R&D spend was lopsided and that too little potential had been extracted from Cabometyx and Cometriq to-date. Release

Meta, Pfizer alum to be new Nestle marketing chief

Nestle Health Science

I won’t lie, it’s still difficult to see Nestle in any context and not immediately think about Crunch bars, a childhood favorite. But drug development and commercial success are no cakewalk, with the company’s health wing hiring a new chief marketing officer four months after nabbing a new FDA approval.

The company is bringing on Brian Groves to lead marketing efforts, plucking the Meta, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson alum amid a larger commercial overhaul. Before joining Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Groves led U.S. marketing efforts for Pfizer’s consumer health wing and before that, commercial efforts for Johnson & Johnson’s previous consumer healthcare brand. Joining him will be Gabriella Viljoen as vice president of e-commerce after she spent time at Garden of Life and Amazon.

The company’s biggest product to date has been Palforzia, but COVID-19 severely stunted the drug’s sales potential with reports now that it’s being shopped around. In April, Nestle and Flagship-founded Seres Therapeutics nabbed FDA approval for a microbiome-based treatment for recurrent Clostridioides difficile infection. The two companies signed a co-commercialization deal that will result in split commercial costs and profits. Fierce Pharma

> Ray Therapeutics is promoting Jenny Holt to chief development officer after she was hired in 2022 as SVP of portfolio program management. Prior to joining Ray, Holt was at  4D Molecular Therapeutics and was a co-founder of Ignite Immunotherapy. Release

> Gene therapy biotech Adverum Biotechnologies has named Andrew Ramelmeier, Ph.D., as chief technology officer. He most recently was an executive vice president and head of technical operations at Sangamo. Release

> Yutaka Niihara, M.D., Ph.D., is out as CEO of Emmaus Life Sciences, the company reported this week. Chief Operating Officer Willis Lee and Chief Innovation Officer George Sekulich have been named interim co-presidents while a search for a permanent replacement gets underway. Release

> After raising $75 million in fresh funds, Fore Biotherapeutics is moving on from CEO Matthew Ros as he pursues other work. Ex-Elevation Oncology CEO Shawn Leland will temporarily run the company while a successor is found. Release

> 3M’s soon-to-be-spun-out healthcare business has found a leader, hiring Zimmer Biomet CEO Bryan Hanson. He’ll join 3M before the spinout is official to help orchestrate a smooth transition before leading the new venture. Fierce Biotech

> Regulatory consultant William Clementi is jumping aboard Tiziana Life Sciences as chief development officer. Clementi has run his own life science consulting firm since 1991. Release

> New York-based Ajax Pharmaceuticals has tapped David Steensma, M.D., to be chief medical officer. He was previously the global head of hematology at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. Release

> Vistagen Therapeutics is bringing on Cynthia Anderson as its new chief financial officer after new data on the company’s social anxiety nasal spray sent stocks soaring. Anderson replaces Jerrold Dotson, who’s retiring. Disclosure

> Former TenSixteen Bio CBO Andrew Yost is joining Neuron23 in the same role. The precision medicine company is working on a growing pipeline of medicines, with an LRRK2-targeted therapy in a phase 1 trial to treat systemic inflammation and Parkinson’s disease. Release