Chutes & Ladders—GSK shake-up has R&D head out the door

   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. 

GSK shake-up has R&D head John Lepore out the door


GSK's senior vice president and head of research John Lepore, M.D., has left the Big Pharma. The R&D leader exits after nearly 15 years with GSK and more than five in his most recent position. 

John Lepore, GSK
John Lepore, M.D. (GSK)

Lepore’s departure comes at the same time the U.K. pharma undergoes a slight shuffling of its R&D operations. The company is now dividing its research into a trio of teams: respiratory and immunology, vaccines and infectious diseases, and oncology. 

In line with the reorganization, GSK is welcoming new leader Kaivan Khavandi, Ph.D., who rejoins from BenevolentAI to head up GSK’s newly reorganized respiratory and immunology sector. Meanwhile, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Vaccines Phil Dormitzer, M.D., Ph.D., will lead the vaccine and infectious disease unit while Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology Development Hesham Abdullah, M.D., will lead the oncology arm.  

The changes only apply to the research portion of R&D, meaning the three groups will work on initial discovery and early-stage clinical studies. When asked whether any layoffs or program cuts were associated with the changes, a GSK spokesperson said “the vast majority of roles across R&D are unchanged.” Fierce Biotech 

BenevolentAI CEO steps down  


Joanna Shields has stepped down from her top position at BenevolentAI, one she’s held since 2018. As well as shedding her CEO title, she also leaves behind her role as executive board member.

Shields, who has left to “pursue other endeavors,” has guided BenevolentAI from startup to clinical-stage drug discovery company. Last year, she helmed the company as it became a publicly traded company via a merger with Odyssey Acquisition. 

Before BenevolentAI, Shields served in the U.K. government as undersecretary of state and minister for internet safety and security, digital economy adviser and CEO of Tech City UK.  

As the board searches for a permanent replacement, Chair François Nader, M.D., will take on the role of acting CEO.

Shields departs just days after Merck KGaA announced a deal with BenevolentAI and a few months after a midphase flop led the company to drop its lead program. After the failure, the company laid off up to 180 employees and reduced its lab footprint. Release 

Lonza loses CEO—again


Not once, not even twice, but thrice. For the third time in four years, Lonza is looking for a new CEO. 

Earlier this week, the CDMO said current leader Pierre-Alain Ruffieux would step down at the end of this month by “mutual agreement.”

Lonza Chair Albert Baehny will take over the top spot while the Swiss company searches for a permanent replacement. It will be Baehny’s second time taking the reins as interim CEO since 2020.

Ruffieux will leave after holding the CEO title for less than three years. The leader was hired from Roche in late 2020, after the sudden retirement of CEO Richard Ridinger and the subsequent promotion of chief operating officer of the pharma and biotech unit, Marc Funk, who lasted nine months as CEO. Fierce Pharma 

> Nobel laureate Carolyn Bertozzi, Ph.D., will serve as the chief scientific adviser to cell therapy biotech Acepodia. She said in an interview that her goal is to be a “sounding board” for the scientists at the company. Fierce Biotech

> Fresh Tracks Therapeutics CEO Andrew Sklawer is out as the company plans for dissolution. CFO Albert Marchio II is now taking the helm, while also leading the board. Release

> Nilogen Oncosystems has named a new chief scientific officer after the sudden passing of founder Soner Altiok. Rikhia Chakraborty, Ph.D., is being promoted to the role from VP of research and operations. Release

> Black Diamond Therapeutics will search the seven seas for a new CEO after the departure of David Epstein, Ph.D. He’ll be replaced by current board chair and former G1 Therapeutics CEO Mark Velleca, M.D., Ph.D. Disclosure

> Delaware-based biotech CorriXR Therapeutics has tapped Deborah Moorad as its new CEO. She previously was the CEO of Nature Technology Corp. and is an entrepreneur-in-residence at Cortado Ventures. Release

> Magnet’s Nobel Prize-winning scientists have attracted a core team of executives as the company emerges from stealth. The initial leadership team includes ex-Relay scientist Bret Williams, Ph.D., former Bolt executive Brian Safina, Ph.D., former Pfizer researcher Matthew Hayward, Ph.D., and Jennifer Franklin. Release

> Histogen could very well be history after a search for a strategic alternative has fallen short. All but two employees will remain, with CEO Steven Mento, Ph.D., and Chief Scientific Officer Alfred Spada, Ph.D., part of the outgoing crew. Fierce Biotech 

> Ex-Amgen Medical Director Gwyn Bebb, Ph.D., is moving to clinical research organization Parexel to lead oncology clinical development. He has spent more than 20 years in clinical development and academia, most recently as a clinical research medical director at Amgen. Release

> Vir Biotechnology’s chief operating officer Johanna Friedl-Naderer will leave the company at the end of the month, according to a disclosure this week. The company says it doesn’t intend to fill the position. Release

> Ted Hibben is joining Seraxis following the closure of another financing tranche, this time led by Polaris Partners, Lilly and Frazier Life Sciences. Hibben has held a number of chief business officer positions over his career, including at Vaxess Technologies and Cerevance. Release

> Clinical research organization Emmes has named Peter Ronco as CEO. He was most recently SVP of global development at Johnson & Johnson. Release

> A trio of new hires is joining Accent Therapeutics as work on a small-molecule-focused pipeline continues. The company has brought on Jason Sager, M.D., as chief medical officer, Steven Mennen, Ph.D., as VP of preclinical development and Stuart Ince, Ph.D., as VP of program leadership. Release

> Nanoscope Therapeutics is welcoming Samuel Barone, M.D., on board as chief medical officer. Barone is a former senior medical officer for the FDA’s Office of Cellular, Tissue and Gene Therapies (now the Office of Therapeutic Products), and most recently served as CMO for Gemini Therapeutics before it was acquired by Disc Medicine. Release

> Orphazyme has a new CEO starting Oct. 1. Board member Jakob Bendtsen is set to take on the role as CEO/CFO Anders Fink Vadsholt steps down, per a May 30 severance agreement. Release

> Faron Pharmaceuticals has selected Birge Berns, M.D., to serve as the oncology company’s interim chief medical officer. Berns has more than two decades of industry experience, including time spent at including Sanofi Aventis and Johnson & Johnson, and succeeds Marie-Louise Fjällskog, M.D., Ph.D. Release

> Anavo Therapeutics has tapped Shaun McNulty to serve as chief scientific officer and Anna Quattropani, Ph.D., as SVP of chemistry and nonclinical development. McNulty has led R&D teams for Pfizer and GSK, among others, while Quattropani joins with experience at Asceneuron, Draupnir Bio, Serono and Merck KGaA under her belt. Release