Chutes & Ladders—Frontier Medicines launches with biotech vet as CEO

Chutes and Ladders
Welcome 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 Conor Hale, and we will feature it here at the end of each week.

Frontier Medicines launches with $67M and biotech vet as CEO

Frontier Medicines

Founder Chris Varma was named president and CEO. 

After founding and leading a handful of biotechs, plus spending time at multiple venture capital firms, Varma will now lead Frontier Medicines in its efforts to reach undruggable targets, starting in cancer. The startup launched this week with $67 million in series A funding and plans to use its chemoproteomics platform to look for new binding sites on previously inaccessible proteins, such as those shaped as dynamic, stringlike chains of amino acids, where pockets may only form temporarily as a space for a therapeutic drug to connect. Varma previously helped found Warp Drive Bio, Vision Medicines and Blueprint Medicines. FierceBiotech

After being snapped up by Alexion, Syntimmune's CEO joins MorphoSys


Jean-Paul Kress, M.D., will become CEO of MorphoSys, effective Sept. 1.

Following a roller-coaster few years, including the loss of CEOs and being acquired by Alexion for up to $1.2 billion, Syntimmune is losing its CEO to MorphoSys, a Germany-based cancer biotech. Kress, a former Sanofi and Biogen executive, became CEO of Syntimmune early last year, taking over for Boehringer and Pfizer veteran David de Graaf, Ph.D., who had only been at the helm himself for 13 months. MorphoSys, meanwhile, raised $208 million in its April 2018 IPO, giving it more than $500 million in total to develop its CD19 antibody MOR208, which it believes can compete with CAR-T therapies in cancer. Earlier this year, MorphoSys also picked up EMD Serono’s senior commercial vice president of oncology, David Trexler, to serve as president of its U.S. subsidiary. Kress will take over for Simon Moroney, who will stay on through a transition period. FierceBiotech

Recursion names Theravance veteran as CSO

Recursion CSO Sharath Hegde

Sharath Hegde, Ph.D., was appointed chief scientific officer.

Following a 20-year stint at Theravance Biopharma and its parent company, culminating as head of research, Hegde will become the third person to occupy the CSO role at Recursion in the past two years, as the company aims to move internal and partnered programs into the clinic over the next 18 months. The programs will join existing phase 1 treatments for cerebral cavernous malformation and neurofibromatosis type 2. FierceBiotech

> From prison, "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli sued—and subsequently settled with—his former CEO at Retrophin and two other executives. In May, Shkreli sued for $30 million in damages, claiming they "unceremoniously and illegally" fired him in 2014, and settled for an undisclosed amount. He is currently serving a seven-year sentence for securities fraud. FierceBiotech

> In the wake of its $64 billion buyout of Shire, Takeda has outlined an ambitious plan to consolidate its U.S. operations in the Boston area, including a move of over 1,000 employees from its headquarters site in the Chicago suburbs. After emptying the facility by the end of the year, the Big Pharma expects to put the building on the market in March of 2020. FiercePharma

> Verona Pharma named longtime GlaxoSmithKline employee Nina Church as executive director of global clinical development, as Verona preps for phase 3 testing of its ensifentrine treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Church spent 15 years at GSK, rising to the rank of global operations director for COPD, before being affected by the company's retreat from R&D in North Carolina. Since then, she's held positions at Parexel and Parion Sciences. FierceBiotech

> After nearly 10 years leading Xencor’s clinical development, Chief Medical Officer Paul Foster, M.D., is now set to retire in October, capping a 35-year career in academia, medical practice and industry. The announcement comes as Xencor moves two programs into the clinic and works to resume a phase 1 study of its Novartis-partnered blood cancer drug following a clinical hold. FierceBiotech

> Transdermal drug delivery developer Medherant appointed John Burt as CEO. Current chief Nigel Davis will stay on as chief business officer. Burt was most recently CEO of Abzena, an international contract research, development and manufacturing organization. Release

> KromaTiD has promoted Christopher Tompkins, Ph.D., to CEO. After joining in 2010, Tompkins most recently served as president, general manager and chief technology officer. Release

> Cognito Therapeutics has appointed Mihály Hajós, Ph.D., Pharm.D., as chief scientific officer, as it begins to analyze data from three studies in Alzheimer's disease. Hajós was previously head of experimental and translational neurophysiology at Biogen. Release

> Bernd Hoppe, M.D., will join Dicerna Pharmaceuticals as VP of global medical affairs, effective July 1. A professor of pediatrics and former head of the Division of Pediatric Nephrology at the University Hospital in Bonn, Germany, Hoppe has served as a reviewer for the German Research Foundation as well as for several medical journals. Release

> Amylyx Pharmaceuticals has brought on former Viragen CMO Patrick Yeramian, M.D., to be its CMO; Alexion Pharmaceuticals VP Margaret Olinger to serve as chief commercial officer; and Biogen's longtime senior director of external manufacturing, Tom Holmes, to be global head of supply chain operations. Release

> Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation named Theresa Heah, M.D., as CMO, replacing Matthew Feinsod, M.D., who will move to a new role overseeing global clinical and regulatory strategy. The company also hired Brian Krex as general counsel. Heah was VP of clinical research at Aerie Pharmaceuticals, while Krex was global head of commercial and regulatory law and interim chief compliance officer at Alexion. Release

> Pluristem Therapeutics has transitioned to a sole-CEO structure with the appointment of President Yaky Yanay. Former co-CEO Zami Aberman was named executive chairman of the board. Release

> ImmunoGen is set to lay off 220 employees and stop some R&D activities, following the failure of its antibody-drug conjugate mirvetuximab in platinum-resistant ovarian cancer and the FDA’s unwillingness to approve it based on existing data. The cuts aim to make ImmunoGen’s $240 million cash pile last until the delivery of phase 3 mirvetuximab data in the first half of 2022. FierceBiotech

> A phase 2b trial of Conatus Pharmaceuticals’ emricasan in nonalcoholic steatohepatitis missed its primary endpoint, prompting the Novartis-partnered company to lay off 40% of its staff and begin looking for strategic alternatives. FierceBiotech

> Just months after Catalent jumped into gene therapies, it has now added the gene-manufacturing operations of vaccine biotech Novavax and 100 employees to its operations. Catalent will pay $18 million upfront for the equipment and assets, and take over leases on Novavax's sites in Gaithersburg and Rockville, Maryland. FiercePharmaManufacturing

> As it moves toward an FDA filing for its inflammatory eye drug teprotumumab, Horizon Therapeutics has begun to expand its sales team, with the goal of selecting 40 to 45 sales reps by the end of July. FiercePharmaMarketing