Chutes & Ladders—Former Takeda exec takes reins at Tessa

  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.

Ex-Takeda leader Thomas Willemsen will take the reins as Tessa’s new CEO

Tessa Therapeutics 

Tessa Therapeutics, Takeda
Thomas Willemsen (Tessa Therapeutics)

After several C-suite shake-ups, Tessa Therapeutics is hoping to find some steady footing with former Takeda exec Thomas Willemsen, who will take the reins as CEO and president Oct. 1. 

Willemsen will guide the CAR-T biotech as it pushes two candidates through clinical development using a $126 million series A raised this June. As Willemsen takes the helm, John Ng will step down as active CEO, remaining onboard as Tessa’s chief technical officer. Ng has held the temporary role since November 2021, when former CEO Jeffery Buchalter departed after a year-and-a-half-long run.

Willemsen—who is leaving his role at Takeda as SVP of Asia-Pacific operations—brings more than 25 years of industry experience to Tessa, serving in multiple leadership roles across GSK and Merck KGaA before his time at Takeda. The leader has also joined Tessa’s board of directors. 

As president and CEO, Willemsen will focus on maximizing the value potential of the biotech’s autologous and allogeneic CAR-T platforms. Fierce Biotech

Anne-Virginie Eggimann flies the bluebird coop, heads over to Tessera  

Tessera Therapeutics 

headshot of Anne-Virginie Eggimann

Anne-Virginie Eggimann has spread her wings, leaving bluebird bio for Tessera Therapeutics, where she will serve as chief regulatory officer.     

Eggimann joins the gene writing and rewriting biotech after 11 years with bluebird, most recently serving as chief regulatory officer. In that position, Eggimann oversaw teams that played a role in several U.S. and Europe approvals for three bluebird gene therapy products, including recently approved Zynteglo. Before Bluebird, Eggimann was an executive director at Voisin Consulting Life Sciences for a decade.

Now, as Tessera’s chief regulatory officer, Eggimann will guide regulatory science and portfolio management of the gene writing programs. She said Tessera’s technology, current leadership team and improvements in delivery and manufacturing made joining “an irresistible opportunity.”

The biotech’s CEO Michael Severino, M.D., mirrored Eggimann’s sentiments a few months ago when he departed AbbVie to lead Tessera. In May, Severino told Fierce Biotech that the opportunity at Tessera was simply “too good to pass up.”

The biotech—which exited stealth mode in 2020 and closed a $300 million series C in April—is focused on gene writing, a form of genetic medicine aimed at overcoming the limitations of gene editing and gene therapy. Fierce Biotech

Aeglea’s CEO out the door after FDA denies the biotech’s drug application

Aeglea BioTherapeutics

Headshot of Anthony Quinn

Amid layoffs and a pipeline restructuring, Aeglea CEO Anthony Quinn is leaving the company. 

Quinn has stepped down and transitioned to an advisory role. Jim Kastenmayer, Aeglea’s current general counsel, will serve as interim CEO while the biotech searches for a permanent replacement

The departure comes after Aeglea’s failed attempt to bring rare disease drug pegzilarginase to market. Fresh from an FDA’s refusal-to-file letter this June, the biotech has shifted its focus to an earlier-phase prospect and reduced head count by 25%. 

The agency asked for additional data to support the effectiveness of pegzilarginase, which aims to treat arginase 1 deficiency. Aeglea is still talking to the FDA about a path forward for pegzilarginase but, given the “current state of the financial markets,” is reallocating resources. Fierce Biotech

>  Moderna co-founder Kenneth Chien is helping finance the series B of a new, Belgium-based mRNA shop, eTheRNA, and will be joining the company’s board. As part of the financing announcement, the company said current CEO Steven Powell will be departing and will be temporarily replaced by COO Bernard Sagaert. Fierce Biotech

> Ginkgo Bioworke’ bioactive-focused subsidiary Ayana Bio has nemed Frank Jaksch as CEO. Jaksch previously founded and ran health and wellness company ChromaDex. Release

> Neuropsychiatry medicine startup Cognesy Therapeutics is fleshing out top leadership positions, including CEO and CSO. Big Pharma vet Thomas Wessel, M.D., Ph.D., has been named CEO, Peter DiStefano, Ph.D., will be chief scientific officer and Danny Talati has been tapped to be SVP of corporate strategy. Release

> Mythic Therapeutics CEO Alex Nichols, Ph.D., will be embarking on a new quest, debarting the company to pursue new opportunities. While a search for a replacement is underway, Chief Scientific Officer Brian Fiske, Ph.D., Chief Operating Officer Sandra Poole, and newly named Chief Development Officer Gilles Gallant, Ph.D., will run in the company. Release

> Oncology company Portage Biotech has named Justin Fairchild as vice president of development. Fairchild most recently led clinical development work at the Parker Institute of Cancer Immunotherapy, a Bay Area-based research outpost. Release

> GSK alum Annette Doherty, Ph.D., is joining Fraizer Life Sciences as a senior adviser. She was most recently SVP of product development and supply at the British Big Pharma, which followed leadership positions at Pfizer. Release

> Swiss biotech CDR Life has nabbed Swethajit Biswas, M.D., to be chief medical officer as the company continues building out its T-cell engager technology. Biswas was most recently at Adaptimmune Therapeutics after being a clinical director in oncology drug development at GSK. Release

> After nine years at Novartis, Sarah Grant, M.D., is joining Celsius Therapeutics, keeping the temperature of the company’s clinical ambitions. The company is building out a pipeline of autoimmune and cancer therapies., with its lead asset slated to enter the clinic in early 2023. Release

> HemoShear founder Brian Wamhoff, Ph.D., is taking the reins of the company following the retirement of CEO Jim Powers. Wamhoff most recently led drug discovery and business development work for the company. Release

> Johnson & Johnson has tapped former CVS president and CEO Larry Merlo to be the chair designate of the company’s still unnamed new consumer health company. Merlo will formally assume the role when the planned separation happens next year. Release

> A week after naming a chief medical officer for its rare disease division, Kriya Therapeutics is continuing to add to its leadership team, naming Curt Herberts as president and chief operating officer. Herberts joins from Senti Biosciences where, over the course of four years, he held roles as chief financial, business and operating officer. Release

> Badrul Chowdhury, M.D., Ph.D., is resigning as chief medical officer of Savara effective Sept. 9. Chowdhury, a former regulator, joined in November 2019 after nearly two years at AstraZeneca. Release

> Kerry Blanchard
has resigned from his role as Everest Medicines' CEO, effective immediately. The Chinese drug developer has spent the past few months searching for a CEO, putting it on course to appoint a successor to Blanchard in the coming month. Blanchard will stick around for six months as an adviser. Fierce Biotech