Chutes & Ladders—John Reed jumps Sanofi ship, boards J&J team

 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. 

Sanofi’s John Reed jumps ship, boards J&J team


Sanofi's head of global R&D John Reed, M.D., Ph.D., has left for a spot at rival Big Pharma Johnson & Johnson, where he'll serve as executive vice president of pharmaceutical R&D.

Sanofi global R&D head John Reed
John Reed, M.D., Ph.D.

Sanofi announced his exit in a Feb. 13 release that didn’t mention J&J, stating only that Reed was leaving to “pursue a new opportunity."

Reed served in Sanofi's top R&D role for nearly five years and “laid the foundation for the company’s R&D transformation," according to the release. The leader's departure has left the French drugmaker with Chief Medical Officer Dietmar Berger, M.D., Ph.D., filling Reed’s role on an interim basis until a full-time replacement is found.  

Reed will start his new role at J&J on April 3, taking the reins from Executive Vice President and Chief External Innovation and Medical Safety Officer William Hait, M.D., Ph.D., who has served as interim R&D head since last August. Fierce Biotech

Saunders returns to head up Bausch + Lomb after 10 years away

Bausch + Lomb 

Ten years after last serving as CEO at Bausch + Lomb, Brent Saunders is back at his former post starting March 6. Current head Joe Papa has been in charge since 2016 and announced his departure as CEO and director last July.

Brent Saunders
Brent Saunders (Brent Saunders)

Saunders’ return has reunited a company and a wheeling-dealing exec who has been through a lot over the last decade. In 2013, Saunders orchestrated Valeant Pharmaceuticals’ $8.7 billion buyout of Bausch + Lomb, ending his three-year tenure as CEO. Saunders then proceeded to serve as CEO at Forest Laboratories, where it took him five months to execute its sale to Actavis and his takeover as its CEO. Then, in 2014, Saunders pulled off a $70 billion acquisition of Allergan and stepped into its lead role. 

The Allergan CEO next tried to pull off his biggest coup—a company sale to Pfizer where he would become CEO. The deal fell through in 2016, and Saunders settled for a $63 billion sale to AbbVie three years later.

Starting in 2021, Saunders took on a lower profile as chair of Beauty Health, a role he will continue to hold. 

In the meantime, Valeant also went on its own acquisition roll, racking up billions in debt before its business model came under fire. In 2018, Valeant rebranded as Bausch Health Companies, and Bausch + Lomb is currently being spun out from the parent company. Fierce Pharma

Ex-Alnylam leaders head over to biotech spun out of Feng Zhang’s lab 

Aera Therapeutics 

Aera Therapeutics has emerged with 20-year Alnylam vet Akin Akinc, Ph.D., at the helm and support from Alnylam’s founding and former CEO John Maraganore, Ph.D. 

Akin Akinc, Ph.D.
Akin Akinc, Ph.D. (Aera Therapeutics)

Akinc took up the CEO role at the gene editing biotech last September, joining after nearly 20 years with Alnylam, where he most recently served as head of oncology. 

Aera itself was founded in 2021 and is based around a delivery platform from the lab of Feng Zhang, Ph.D., a world-renowned synthetic biology and functional genomics expert who works at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

When Zhang approached Akinc about Aera, the CEO said it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. 

The newly emerged company, which currently has about 50 employees on its roster, is looking to increase headcount by 30 this year. The biotech also holds an impressive roster of board members, including Vertex Pharmaceuticals' former president Vicki Sato, Ph.D., and Alynlam’s Maraganore as chair. Fierce Biotech 

> Gilead-owned Kite Pharma will look to the sky for a new CEO, with Christi Shaw slated to leave the company at the end of the first quarter. Shaw has been with the company since 2019, expanding the use of the company's two approved cell therapies. Release

> Abivax has named Sheldon Sloan, M.D., as its new chief medical officer. Sloan previously worked for Arena Pharmaceuticals and then Pfizer after the Big Pharma acquired the former. Release

> Several biotech entrepreneurs have launched a new VC vehicle—dubbed—that will serve not only as a seed investor, but as a drug discovery co-pilot for founders. The company was co-founded by Zach Weinberg, founder of Flatiron Health (acquired by Roche in 2018), who will steer the VC as CEO. Former Third Rock Ventures Partner Alexis Borisy also helped launch the company and will serve as operating chair, working alongside third co-founder Christoph Lengauer, Ph.D., also formerly of Third Rock, who will serve as chief scientific officer. Fierce Biotech   

> Biogen’s long-time chair Stelios Papadopoulos, Ph.D., is set to retire soon. Papadopoulos, 74, is nearing the company’s mandatory retirement age of 75 for directors. He has been Biogen’s chair since 2014 and was founder of several other companies, such as Exelixis. A new Biogen board leader could potentially give new CEO Chris Viehbacher more freedom to make bold moves in hopes of saving the biotech from declining revenues. Fierce Pharma   

> Amid layoffs and a trial flop, Frequency Therapeutics’ CEO David Lucchino has fallen ill with bacterial meningitis and is on temporary medical leave after being hospitalized. The leader is expected to make a full recovery and return soon, but, in the meantime, Chief Scientific Officer Chris Loose, Ph.D., has stepped up as interim CEO. Fierce Biotech

> Cartesian hopes it found the latest diamond in the rough in clinical leadership, naming Christopher Jewell, Ph.D., as chief scientific officer. Jewell jumps to the industry from the University of Maryland where he studied immune engineering and nanotechnology. Release 

> Gene-editing-focused Metagenomi has tapped Sarah Noonberg, M.D., Ph.D., to be chief medical officer. It’s Noonberg’s third consecutive CMO role after previously holding the position at Maze Therapeutics and Nohla Therapeutics. Release

> Francis Sarena is being promoted to president of Apexigen, jumping from his hired position as chief operating officer. Current President and CEO Xiaodong Yang, M.D., Ph.D., is retaining his CEO position. Disclosure

> Global vaccine access organization GAVI has named a new CEO, tapping Muhammad Ali Pate for the role. Pate previously served as Nigeria's minister of state for health and as a top official at the World Bank. Release 

> Direct Biologics has hired Amy Lightner, M.D., to be the company’s next chief medical officer as it focuses on production of its regenerative medicine biologic, ExoFlo. She most recently worked at the Cleveland Clinic to launch the Center of Regenerative Medicine and Surgery. Release

> Justin Zamirowski is joining Mahana Therapeutics as chief commercial officer as the company looks to grow use of its digital therapeutic for irritable bowel syndrome. Zamirowski joins from Better Therapeutics where he was also led commercial work. Release

> Former Aimmune Therapeutics President and CEO Andrew Oxtoby is joining Chinook Therapeutics as chief commercial officer. First on the docket will be planning a commercial strategy for Chinook’s phase 3 IgA nephropathy med, atrasentan. Release

> U.K.-based Leucid bio is rejigging its leadership team, moving current CEO Artin Moussavi to chief business officer and undertaking a fresh search for a new CEO. The CAR-T maker is looking to expand the number of clinical programs in its arsenal beyond one autologous therapy, LEU001, currently in a phase 1/2 trial. Release