Chutes & Ladders—Flagship plucks former BMS R&D exec Rupert Vessey to be chief scientist

 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. 

Flagship poaches another top researcher, this time hiring former BMS R&D czar Rupert Vessey

Flagship Pioneering 

BMS, Bristol Myers Squibb
Rupert Vessey (BMS)

Flagship Pioneering has long been seen as a leading venture creation firm in the biotech world, led by COVID-19 maker Moderna. But that status was cemented last year when the company plucked AbbVie President Michael Severino to join the firm, who’s since become CEO of Tessera Therapeutics. Now, the company has gone back to the well and returned with a new big-time exec.

Rupert Vessey, the recently departed head of research and early development at Bristol Myers Squibb, will be Flagship’s first chief scientist. It’s a role that essentially entails overseeing the development efforts across the company’s created companies, guiding founders and executives along the way to clinical success. It doesn’t sound all that much different from his previous role, though he no longer is limited just to early development. 

Vessey joined BMS in 2019 after the New Jersey pharma bought Celgene for more than $70 billion. Vessey stayed on, keeping the same title. Prior to Celgene, Vessey spent more than 10 years at Merck. His first day at Flagship is July 31. Fierce Biotech

Eisai's Ivan Cheung to retire, CEO's son tapped to lead Alzheimer's development


Ivan Cheung, Eisai
Ivan Cheung (Eisai)

Following the seismic full FDA approval of Alzheimer’s disease treatment Leqembi, Eisai’s Ivan Cheung is retiring. It marks the end of a 15-year career at the Japanese pharmaceutical spanning a number of high-profile jobs, none more important than his most recent role overseeing global Alzheimer’s development. When Cheung’s position was narrowed in 2019 to focus specifically on Alzheimer’s, Leqembi—then known as lecanemab—was just months into a pivotal phase 3 trial. The readout for the trial came three years after Cheung was hired, showing the first bit of evidence ever that a drug could stymie the development of the disease in early Alzheimer’s patients. 

Replacing Cheung at the helm of current and future Alzheimer’s work is Keisuke Naito, the 34-year-old son of Eisai CEO Haruo Naito who’s most recently served as the company’s chief ecosystem officer. Tatsuyuki Yasuno, Eisai’s CFO, will replace Cheung as CEO of the U.S. division. 

Leqembi was approved just days before the company announced Cheung’s plans to move on. The drug first snagged accelerated approval in January, but the full nod opens significantly more coverage from Medicare, a huge boost to potential sales. GlobalData Healthcare has estimated total global revenue for Leqembi at $12.9 billion through 2028. Fierce Pharma

Pfizer's Albert Bourla to lead international pharma lobbying group

International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations 

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Ph.D., has stepped up to lead the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA), the largest global trade group of the pharma industry representing more than 90 companies. Bourla is jumping from vice president to president, a two-year role, as well as chair of the CEO steering committee. New Roche CEO Thomas Schinecker will be the group’s vice president alongside Daiichi Sankyo CEO Sunao Manabe.

Albert Bourla incoming Pfizer CEO
Albert Bourla, Ph.D. (Pfizer)

Bourla’s appointment follows a period of significant influence for the CEO, with Pfizer’s role in the COVID-19 vaccine race making him a significant broker with countries across the world. It’s almost hard to remember at this point, but two years ago, there was no more precious commodity than doses of the vaccine. To this day, biotech and pharmaceutical executives alike reflect on the COVID-19 vaccine development process glowingly and consider it one of the most significant glimpses at innovation coming to the rescue arguably ever. 

That’s all to say that Bourla’s more formal appointment at IFPMA is indicative of his reputation among regulators and decision-makers. But it also comes at a time when those same regulators are heightening scrutiny on prescription drug costs, with drugmakers firmly in the crosshairs of new legislation. In the U.S., pricing reforms in the Inflation Reduction Act have caused all kinds of hand-wringing. The Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, the U.S. equivalent of the IFPMA, recently named Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan, M.D., as CEO of its board of directors. Fierce Pharma

> Deborah Birx, M.D., is succeeding former Armata Pharmaceuticals CEO Brian Varnum, Ph.D., for undisclosed reasons. Birx most recently served as the response coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and has also served as the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator. Release 

> New biotech Crossbow Therapeutics has shot out of stealth with $80 million and Briggs Morrison, M.D., holding the quiver. Morrison has over 30 years of industry experience, including past executive roles at Syndax Pharmaceuticals, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Merck. He’s joined by Dmitri Wiederschain, Ph.D., who serves as Crossbow’s chief scientific officer after past roles at Jounce Therapeutics, Sanofi and Novartis. Release

> Howard Horn is leaving Vir Biotechnology for Ultragenyx, where he will take on the role of executive vice president and chief financial officer starting Oct. 16. Horn served as Vir’s CFO since 2017 and held leadership roles at Biogen and McKinsey & Company before that. Release

> MBX Biosciences has tapped Steven Prestrelski, Ph.D., to serve as the company’s chief scientific officer. Most recently, Prestrelski was founder and chief scientific officer for Xeris Biopharma Holdings and before that was VP of pharmaceutical R&D at Amylin Pharmaceuticals. Release

> Nataliya Agafonova, M.D., has departed Otsuka Pharmaceutical for Longeveron, where she’ll take up the role as chief medical officer. Before Longeveron, she was Otsuka’s clinical development lead, senior medical director and product development chair and has also held leadership positions at Bristol Myers Squibb, Biogen and Amgen, among others. Release

> BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics is welcoming Bob Dagher, M.D., on as executive vice president and chief development officer, starting July 17. Dagher joins the cell therapy company from Enveric Biosciences where he was chief medical officer and has previously worked at GSK, Sanofi/Genzyme and LabCorp/Covance. Release

> Elevation Oncology has selected interim CEO and Chief Financial Officer Joseph Ferra to officially lead the company. Elevation’s vice president of finance and accounting Tammy Furlong will step up as CFO while Ferra helms the company. Release

> Giorgia Scapin, Ph.D., is becoming Garuda Therapeutics’ chief scientific officer. She’s transitioning from her previous role as the cell therapy biotech’s SVP of R&D. Release

> Tenpoint Therapeutics has unveiled with $70 million to reverse vision loss, with Eddy Anglade, M.D., at the helm. The newly appointed CEO joins from Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen, where he was vice president and clinical lead of retina R&D, and had clocked in experience at Astellas before that. Release

> Opthea’s chief medical officer Joel Naor, M.D., has stepped down from his role to pursue other opportunities outside the company. In his place steps Kenneth Sall, M.D., an ophthalmologist who was medical director for the Sall Research Medical Center in California for more than 33 years and will now serve as Opthea’s senior medical adviser. Release

> Syncromune has chosen Jonathan Lewis, M.D., Ph.D., to serve as the company’s chief medical officer. In the past, Lewis was CEO, CMO and executive chair of Ziopharm Oncology. Release

> Azitra co-founder Travis Whitfill is joining the dermatology company as chief operating officer. Whitfill helped found the company almost 10 years ago and is leaving his role as partner at VC firm Bios Partners to return. Release

> Jay Duker, M.D., is taking the reins from Nancy Lurker as CEO of EyePoint Pharmaceuticals. Duker is transitioning from his role as EyePoint’s chief operating officer and president, while Lurker is stepping into the role of executive vice chair of the board of directors. Release

> Preclinical regenerative medicine company APIE Therapeutics has tapped Ashwin Datt as CEO. Datt most recently served as CEO of Carousel Therapeutics and succeeds Esther Alegria, Ph.D., who co-founded APIE and held the top job since 2020. Release