Chutes & Ladders—Illumina names new CEO after a stormy summer

 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.  

Illumina names new CEO following a stormy summer


Diagnostics giant Illumina has found a new top boss following a tumultuous last few months marked by the departure of CEO Francis DeSouza, with Jacob Thaysen, Ph.D., now set to take over. Thaysen was previously president of Agilent Technologies’ life science division and will start at Illumina at the end of the month. 

Jacob Thaysen
Jacob Thaysen, Ph.D. (Illumina)

The question now is, which mountain will he climb first? Likely at the top of the list is familiarizing himself with the company’s new board, rebuilt after an activist campaign from Carl Icahn. Board chair John Thompson was replaced by Andrew Teno, and deSouza resigned shortly after. 

That campaign was spurred by Illumina’s acquisition of cancer detection company Grail, which has drawn the ire of governments around the world. The company has racked up almost $500 million in fines from European regulators and the acquisition is under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. As a rotten cherry on top, Illumina has slashed its sales forecast for the year, now expecting revenue from its core business to remain flat through the year. 

All to say, Thaysen has quite the to-do list upon his arrival. Fierce Medtech 

Biogen swiftly names new research chief 


Sometimes interim placeholders can sit in top roles for months if not years on end. But Biogen was not wasting any time finding a new research chief, naming Jane Grogan, Ph.D., for the job. It’s been less than a month since previous research head Chris Henderson left to become the chief scientific officer at Flagship-founded Alltrna.  

Grogan was most recently the chief scientific officer at Graphite Bio, a gene therapy developer that ascended during the 2021 biotech boom to the tune of a $238 million IPO. But it had a sketchier 2023, marked by the decision to stop work on a sickle cell candidate and layoffs to half of the team. Grogan was one of two executives to depart as part of the restructuring. Prior to Graphite, Grogan was the chief scientific officer at ArsenalBio. 

In the months since leaving Graphite, Grogan has been an adviser at SPARK at Stanford, a program aimed at turning academic discoveries into actual products, and at QB3, an advisory service for California biotech execs. Release 

Novartis’ CCO steps down as executive musical chairs continue


Chief Commercial Officer Marie-France Tschudin is leaving Novartis after nearly seven years at the company, adding a new gap to fill among the executive ranks after months of reorganization. Tschudin, also president of innovative medicines international, will step down on Sept. 15. Replacing her at innovative medicines international is Patrick Horber, M.D., president of immunology at AbbVie, the latter company’s most important division. Of note, Horber will not be taking on the CCO title. 

Tschudin had been in the CCO role for a little more than a year, since April 2022. She was previously president of the pharmaceuticals division. Prior to joining Novartis in 2017, she spent eight years at Celgene, rising to be the VP of hematology and oncology for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. 

Prior to leading immunology at AbbVie, Horber was the VP and global head of marketing and commercial operations. And from 2005 to 2012, he worked across a number of business areas at Roche. He’ll report directly to Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan, M.D. Release 

> CRISPR Therapeutics co-founder and President Rodger Novak, M.D., is resigning from his post, alongside his spot as chair of the board, on Sept. 15. In connection with Novak’s departure, CEO Samarth Kulkarni, Ph.D., will become chair of the board. Release

> Biotech leaders Josh Schimmer, M.D., and Eric Schmidt, Ph.D., have left their roles at Evercore and Allogene Therapeutics for spots on Cantor Fitzgerald’s healthcare and biotechnology research platform team. Schimmer joins the global financial services firm from his position as senior managing director on Evercore's biotechnology research team while Schmidt previously served as Allogene’s chief financial officer. Release

> Christopher Stevenson, Ph.D., has left Johnson & Johnson—where he most recently served as VP and global head of pharmaceutical sciences for interventional oncology—to join Engitix as the biotech’s chief scientific officer. Before J&J, Stevenson held leadership roles at Respivert, Novartis and Roche and has contributed to the development of more than 10 drug candidates aiming to treat fibrosis, inflammation or cancers. Release

> SIGA Technologies has chosen board member Jay Varma, M.D., has joined the pharma as EVP and chief medical officer. Varma worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 20 years and was recruited by the mayor of New York to lead as the principal scientific spokesperson and architect for New York City’s COVID-19 pandemic response from April 2020 to May 2021. Release

> Bayer’s Vividion Therapeutics has tapped Shawn Rose, M.D., Ph.D., to serve as chief development officer. Rose joins from Magenta Therapeutics, and has held multiple leadership roles at Annexon Biosciences, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Bristol Myers Squibb. Release

> Metabolic-disease-focused Glyscend Therapeutics has appointed Sapan Shah, Ph.D., to take the reins from founding CEO Ashish Nimgaonkar, M.D., who will transition to serve as the company’s first chief medical officer and head of R&D. Previously, new CEO Shah has helmed StrideBio, ARMGO Pharma and Shionogi Inc. Release

> Sparx Biopharmaceutical has tapped Roland Meier, M.D., Ph.D., to serve as the antibody-therapy-focused company’s chief medical officer. Meier has held several leadership roles in the industry over the last 20 years, including executive medical director at Kyowa Kirin and VP of immuno-oncology for Eli Lilly. Release

> Cell-therapy-focused Sernova has elected Cynthia Pussinen as CEO, with long-time leader Philip Toleikis, M.D., transitioning to the role of chief technology officer. Pussinen joins from Roche’s Spark Therapeutics, where she served as CTO, and has previously worked at Ipsen and Pfizer, among others. Release  

> Find Therapeutics has found a chief medical officer: Robert Glanzman, M.D. The neurologist and American Academy of Neurology fellow has held several industry leadership roles, including jobs at Big Pharmas Pfizer, Novartis and Roche. Release

> ALX Oncology’s former CEO Jaume Pons, Ph.D., has been succeeded by board member Jason Lettmann. Pons will take on the role of chief scientific officer and retain his title as president and member of the board. Release

> Xilio Therapeutics’ president and head of R&D Martin Huber, M.D., has resigned from the company to pursue other opportunities (see below). Xilio CEO René Russo is taking on the title of president, while Katarina Luptakova, M.D., was promoted to chief medical officer and Scott Coleman, Ph.D., was promoted to chief development officer. Release

> Mersana Therapeutics has tapped Xilio’s Martin Huber, M.D., to lead the company upon the retirement of President and CEO Anna Protopapas on Sept. 10. Huber was already a Mersana board member and both he and Protopapas will remain on the board. Release

> Gene therapy company Purespring Therapeutics has tapped Fredrik Erlandson, Ph.D., to serve as chief medical officer and Peter Mulcahy as chief people officer. Erlandsson joins from CSL Vifor, where he was head of global clinical development, and has previously held positions at AstraZeneca and Bayer, while Mulcahy has spent the past 11 years at GSK, most recently as VP of human resources. Release

> Nanobiotix is welcoming Louis Kayitalire, M.D., to the team as the company’s chief medical officer. Before joining Nanobiotix, Kayitalire served in the same role for F-star Biotechnology and has held other leadership roles at Bristol Myers Squibb, Celgene and Eli Lilly. Release

> Barely two weeks after Ivan Tornos took the helm of Zimmer Biomet, the devicemaker has announced executive promotions for Mark Bezjak, Wilfred Van Zuilen and Nitin Goyal, M.D. Fierce Medtech

> Radiopharmaceutical company Convergent Therapeutics is expanding its leadership team, appointing Neil Bander, M.D., as chief scientific officer; Eric Sullivan as chief financial officer; and Dimitris Voliotis, M.D., as SVP of clinical development. Convergent founder Bander moves into the role from his past position as chief scientific adviser, while Sullivan joins the company from TCR2 Therapeutics and Voliotis joins from Zentalis Pharmaceuticals. Release

> EnGene has appointed Richard Bryce as its chief medical officer, starting Sept. 19. Bryce most recently served as CMO for Rain Oncology and has held leadership roles at Puma Biotechnology and Onyx Pharmaceuticals as well. Release

> Anokion is shaking things up, promoting Kristie Grebe, Ph.D., to chief scientific officer and Michael DiLeo to SVP of corporate development and business operations, while bringing on Nicole Luosey as SVP of product and development operations. Before joining Anokion, Luosey has held varying leadership roles at Replimune, Cadent Therapeutics (acquired by Novartis), Syntimmune (acquired by AstraZeneca’s Alexion), among others. Release

> Rapport Therapeutics is bringing on Cheryl Gault to serve as the company’s chief operating officer. Gault joins from Cyclerion Therapeutics, where she held the same job title, and has held past roles at Ironwood Pharmaceuticals and Genzyme Corporation. Release

> Renalytix has chosen Howard Doran to take up the spot as the company’s chief business officer. Before Renalytix, Doran served at LipoScience (acquired by LabCorp), Constitution Medical (acquired by Roche Diagnostics), Hologic and Cytyc Corporation (acquired by Hologic). Release