Chutes & Ladders—Johnson & Johnson CMO Joanne Waldstreicher announces retirement

 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. 

J&J CMO Waldstreicher retires after 20-year exec run

Johnson and Johnson 

headshot of outgoing J&J CMO Joanne Waldstreicher

Johnson & Johnson’s longtime chief medical officer is calling it a tenure, closing out 20 years as an executive at the major pharmaceutical and healthcare company. Joanne Waldstreicher, M.D., announced her move in a LinkedIn post published this week, thanking colleagues and highlighting achievements of the CMO office. The longtime veteran also chairs the company’s R&D development pipeline review committee, a role she says she’s had for more than a decade. 

Waldstreicher’s exit creates a massive executive hole for the company to fill. J&J spent almost $15 billion on research and development in 2021, a 21% increase in raw dollars from the year before and a one percentage point jump in the share of R&D spend compared to revenue versus 2021. Her departure comes almost six months after global head of R&D Mathai Mammen, Ph.D., left in August 2022. Mammen was reportedly a finalist to lead Biogen, but negotiations fell through. 

Before joining J&J as vice president of PRD in 2002, Waldstreicher oversaw late-stage work across multiple disease areas at Janssen. She also spent more than 10 years at Merck beginning in 1992, leading a variety of work including endocrinology and metabolism clinical research. LinkedIn

Bayer dealmaker De Backer set to lead Vir after Scangos retires  

Vir Biotechnology

Headshot of outgoing Vir CEO George Scangos

Vir Biotechnology CEO George Scangos, Ph.D., is leaving, ending a six-year run marked most recently by the successful development of a GSK-partnered COVID therapy during the throws of the pandemic. Set to replace him is Bayer dealmaker is Marianne De Backer, Ph.D., who previously led licensing, business development and strategy for the German pharma. 

Scangos won’t be far, however, as he is slated to continue on as a member of the company’s board following his departure in June. De Backer will also join the member when she takes over. 

Scangos’ leaving and De Backer’s hiring come as the company is looking to bounce off the momentum successfully developing sotrovimab to treat COVID-19. But once new variants entered the fold, the FDA revoked the two companies’ emergency use authorization due to dwindling efficacy. Vir is currently working on treatments for HBV, flu and HIV, among others.

Scangos joined in January 2017 after a six-year run at Biogen, a period marked by bouts with activist investor Carl Icahn. Prior to that, Scangos ran Exelixis for 14 years. Fierce Pharma

Bayer-bought Vividion names R&D leader as new CEO

Vividion Therapeutics

Headshot of incoming Vividion CEO Aleksandra Rizo

Bayer-bought Vividion Therapeutics is changing up its executive team, promoting R&D chief Aleksandra Rizo, M.D., Ph.D., to CEO with outgoing leader Jeffrey Hatfield moving to chairman of the board. His departure marks the end of a 25-month stint beginning in November 2020. He previously was the CEO of Zafgen, which was ultimately sold to Larimar Therapeutics. 

Rizo’s promotion comes just seven months after she joined the company in 2022. She previously spent more than three and a half years at Geron Corporation as the company’s chief medical officer. According to her LinkedIn, Rizo remains a clinical and regulatory adviser for Geron. Prior to Geron, Rizo spent nine and a half years at Johnson & Johnson working in a variety of clinical research positions.

The chief executive handoff comes as Vividion settles in as a Bayer subsidiary, more than a year after being bought and with phase 1 trials potentially nearing. The company’s lead asset, a small molecule aimed at NRF2 mutant cancers, is currently in IND-enabling studies. Another preclinical cancer therapy at a similar stage is targeting the STAT3 protein. Release

> Adrienne Hallett is exiting her role at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Feb. 25 for a role at biotech Cambrian BioPharma. Hallett worked as NIH’s associate director for legislative policy and analysis for eight years and has 14 years of experience working with the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations before that. The leader is set to soon become VP of global policy and strategic initiatives at clinical-stage Cambrian. Release

> Cue Biopharma’s acting chief medical officer Kenneth Pienta, M.D., has transitioned to a clinical advisory role as the clinical-stage company promotes Matteo Levisetti, M.D., into the CMO role. Previously, Levisetti served as Cue’s SVP of clinical development. Release

> Sling Therapeutics has tapped Jeffrey Kent, M.D., as its chief medical officer to oversee clinical development, in particular of an oral small molecule aimed at treating thyroid eye disease. Kent joins Sling from Horizon Therapeutics, where he served as EVP of medical affairs and outcomes research, and also has experience across Astellas Pharma, Abbott Laboratories and Searle Pharmaceuticals. Release

> Juvena Therapeutics is welcoming several industry vets to lead its team, including Neil Berkley as chief corporate development officer; Gayathri Swaminath, Ph.D., as SVP of discovery; Mo Tabrizi, Ph.D., as VP of preclinical and nonclinical development; and Eddie Moler, Ph.D., as VP of data science. Berkley has over two decades of biopharma experience across AbCellera, Halozyme, GSK and Cadence, among others. Swaminath brings over 17 years of research and drug development experience, holding leadership roles at Amgen, Merck and Greenfire Bio. Tabrizi has over 25 years of experience in the industry, holding leadership roles at Merck, Medimmune (acquired by AstraZeneca), Abgenix (acquired by Amgen) and multiple biotechs. Lastly, Moler has held leadership positions across Novartis, GE Healthcare, Quest Diagnostics, Tethys Bioscience and the U.S. Department of Energy. Release

> The Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) has a new scientific director: Novo Nordisk’s Matthias von Herrath, M.D. A leading diabetes expert, von Herrath joins from the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in San Diego, where he was a professor and also the director of the diabetes center. He also serves as VP and senior medical officer for Danish pharma Novo Nordisk. Previously, DRI’s scientific director had been Camillo Ricordi, M.D., who moved on in 2021 to become a tenured professor and head of the division of cellular transplantation division for the surgery department at the University of Miami Miller, where DRI is located. Release

> ClostraBio has appointed Ritu Shah, managing director for portfolio company Portal Innovations, to helm the biotech as CEO. Before ClostraBio, Shah most recently served as chief operating officer for Pyxis Oncology, and has held leadership roles at Levo Therapeutics, AveXis, Shire (acquired by Takeda), Baxalta and Baxter Healthcare. Release

> Fresh Tracks Therapeutics has a new leader paving the way forward. The company's current president, Andrew Sklawer, will take over Feb. 1 for Rob Brown, who is retiring after steering the company since 2019. Release