Chutes & Ladders—Maxwell Biosciences taps CMO, 2 other leaders as it aims to shed preclinical status

 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. 

Maxwell Biosciences brings 3 new leaders aboard

Maxwell Biosciences
Tony Verco, M.D. (Business Wire)

Maxwell Biosciences  

Maxwell Biosciences has added three new senior executives to its team as it aims to shed its preclinical status. 

Tony Verco, M.D., will step into the role of chief medical officer, leading the company as it looks to take its chronic rhinosinusitis biomimetic therapy into the clinic next year. Most recently, Verco owned Shelton Clinical Research Consultants, and has previously held leadership roles at Medwell Capital Corp., Endpoint Research and AstraZeneca.  

Verco is an expert in first-in-human studies and will help the biotech focus on the FDA regulatory pathway, Maxwell founder and CEO Joshua McClure told Fierce Biotech.  

The company has also brought on Beth Burnside, Ph.D., as SVP of R&D strategy, while Donald Treacy Jr., Ph.D., will serve as SVP of development operations. Both leaders are joining Maxwell from Shire Pharmaceuticals.

In April, the biotech tapped Edward Rudnic, Ph.D., to serve as chief operating officer. Rudnic was the founder, chairman and CEO of MiddleBrook Pharmaceuticals, and, before that, head of U.S. R&D at Shire Pharmaceuticals.  

The current team has been working together for decades, McClure said. “Shire better watch out—we’re coming for their team.” Release

Everest taps new CEO weeks after Blanchard’s abrupt departure

Everest Medicines

Not even a month after Everest announced CEO Kerry Blanchard’s resignation, the Chinese drug developer has selected pharma veteran Rogers Yongqing Luo to lead the biotech.

Luo previously served as Brii Biosciences' president and general manager for greater China as well as CEO of Brii’s TSB Therapeutics unit. There, he oversaw the registration and commercialization of the amubarvimab/romlusevimab combination, the first COVID-19 neutralizing antibody treatment in the country. Before that, Luo headed up Gilead’s operations in China. The CEO also has held leadership roles at Big Pharmas Roche and Novartis.

Luo has replaced Blanchard, who abruptly departed Everest in late August after serving two years as CEO. Blanchard, who joined the biotech after a stint at Innovent Biologics and a 17-year run at Eli Lilly, took Everest public months after taking up the CEO post. 

Luo will now guide Everest as it aims to secure Chinese approvals for Calliditas Therapeutics’ Nefecon, which is approved in the U.S. for lgA nephropathy, as well as Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals’ Xerava, which is approved in the U.S. and EU for complicated intra-abdominal infections. Everest secured the rights for both drugs in China in 2019 and 2018, respectively. Fierce Biotech

Celgene, Acceleron alum Backstrom to fill Scholar Rock's CEO spot

Scholar Rock

Jay Backstrom, M.D., former executive vice president for R&D at Merck-acquired Acceleron Pharma, is set to take the reins as Scholar Rock’s president and CEO, effective Oct. 20. 

Before Acceleron, Backstrom was the chief medical officer at Celgene up to its acquisition by Bristol Myers Squibb. Prior to Celgene, he served as the VP of global medical and safety at Pharmion Corporation.

The news marks the beginning of the end of Nagesh Mahanthappa’s 13-month interim tenure. The Scholar Rock co-founder was thrust into the role when then-CEO Tony Kingsley departed in August 2021 after just one year on the job. Kingsley became the CEO of Stablix in February 2022.  

Now, Backstrom will lead the biotech as it funnels resources to its phase 3 stage asset, apitegromab. The asset’s lead indication is in spinal muscular atrophy, though Scholar Rock is also assessing it in the preclinical stage as a potential treatment for myosin-related disorders. Fierce Biotech

AlivaMab Discovery Services has reappointed Larry Green as CEO, effective immediately. Green is the founding CEO and assumes the role from Justin Mika, who has served as CEO for more than two years. Green will continue in his role as CEO of Ablexis. Release

Alliance Pharma has expanded its executive team with the addition of four C-suite hires as the bioanalytical services company continues to grow. Among the hires is Jean Pierre Boutrand, who will serve as chief operating officer; Vito Saccente as chief commercial officer; Glenn Weber as chief financial officer; and Susan Woolley as chief people officer. Fierce Biotech

> Jeffrey Finer, M.D., Ph.D., is transitioning from his role as Septerna’s interim CEO to lead as permanent CEO. The biotech co-founder is also a partner for Third Rock Ventures, which led Septerna’s $100 million series A financing this January. Release

Germany’s Neuway, looking to push delivery of mRNA and other biotherapeutics into the central nervous system (CNS) and beyond, has slotted Chief Operating Officer Oliver Ernst into the CEO seat. Separately, the company selected Thomas Christoph, Ph.D., to don the chief development officer mantle. Ernst, for his part, joined Neuway back in 2019, initially serving as chief operating officer and managing director. Ernst will oversee Neuway’s efforts to build a “new class” of biologics centered on the company’s proprietary Engineered Protein Capsules, which it claims can cross the blood-brain barrier to treat CNS disorders. Release

Current Biologics has summoned Tom Hochuli to lead the cell and gene therapy startup as chief executive officer. Hochuli joins from Vibalogics Holdings, where he served for two years in the captain’s seat. Prior to his Vibalogics stint, Hochuli held a leadership role at CDMO juggernaut Catalent, Current said in a release. Current is a joint venture between Cincinnati Children's and CTI Clinical Trial & Consulting Services. The Cincinnati Children's Translational Core Laboratory claims it’s been at the forefront of development, testing and manufacturing of biologics “for early phase clinical trials for more than 15 years.” Release 

Avid Bioservices has tapped Michael Alston Jr. to serve as VP of operations. Alston has been with the company since 2019, and most recently served as director of project engineering. Release

A regime change is afoot at Q32 Bio, where Jodie Morrison has been named board member and acting CEO, taking over from Michael Broxson. During his stint as CEO, Broxson helped the company advance two programs into the clinic. Morrison, for her part, is a venture partner at Atlus Venture and previously helmed the ship at Cadent Therapeutics until its sale to Novartis in 2020. Release

Neuroscience company Delix Therapeutics has appointed Eliseo Salinas, M.D., to head up R&D. He most recently served as head of R&D at Passage Bio and has held leadership roles at Acadia Pharmaceuticals, Shire Pharmaceuticals, Elan Pharmaceuticals and Wyeth. Release  

Zentalis Pharmaceuticals, angling to discover and deploy small-molecule drugs across “fundamental biological pathways” of cancer, has named Carrie Brownstein, M.D., chief medical officer. As an experienced oncologist and hematologist, Brownstein enters the Zentalis fold with more than two decades of medical and biopharma know-how, Zentalis said in a release. Brownstein previously held the same role at Cellectis, preceded by at Celgene. Release

American Gene Technologies has bumped up Barry Wells, M.D., into the position of head of business development. The promotion follows Wells’ entry into AGT’s investor relations team back in 2019. “I am excited to have Barry leading our investor relations and business development efforts,” said AGT’s CEO Jeff Galvin. Release

Viracta Therapeutics is ushering in a new leader with the appointment of Mark Rothera as president and CEO. At the same time, Viracta’s former helmsman Ivor Royston, M.D.  will stick around to chip in on the company’s board of directors, Viracta said in a release. Rothera, for his part, is a 30-year industry vet, most recently serving as president and CEO of Silence Therapeutics. Before taking the vow of Silence, Rothera was CEO of Orchard Therapeutics, where he helped raise the profile of the gene therapy player and led it to a more than $600 million fundraising round. Release


Wheeler Bio has appointed Roger Lias, Ph.D., as president and chief operating officer. Lias most recently served as chief commercial officer at Vibalogics, which was acquired this year by Recipharm. He previously served as CEO at Avid Bioservices and Stelis Biopharma.