Chutes & Ladders—Merck beefs up digital team with Nike executive


Chutes and Ladders

Welcome 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 Conor Hale, and we will feature it here at the end of each week.



Merck grabs consumer executive to beef up digital work


Merck & Co.
Nike's Jim Scholefield will head up global IT and digital strategy.

Merck became the latest Big Pharma to put digital on its priority list, appointing Scholefield to its executive committee as it works to thread digital and IT work into its R&D and commercial operations. According to its hiring announcement, he will also take on cybersecurity, a crucial need following last year’s NotPetya attack that disrupted Merck's manufacturing and R&D and cost the company nearly $1 billion. Recently Pfizer, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline all appointed high-ranking digital executives, including some from retail sectors. FiercePharma

F-star names ex-Immunocore CEO Eliot Forster as leader

Eliot Forster was named CEO of the bispecific antibody shop. 

Forster is best known for leading cancer biotech Immunocore to a $320 million series A in 2015. He left Immunocore in February and now moves to F-star as it gears up to move its own, internal immuno-oncology candidates into the clinic, after spinning off drugs through partnerships with AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Denali Therapeutics and Merck KGaA. FierceBiotech

Ziopharm’s R&D head joins Spectrum as CMO

Spectrum Pharmaceuticals
Francois Lebel, M.D., will become chief medical officer Nov. 5.

Lebel joins Spectrum ahead of planned product submissions to the FDA, including the filing of Rolontis (eflapegrastim) for treating low white blood cell counts following chemotherapy, expected before the end of the year. At Ziopharm, where he also served as CMO, Lebel was present for the slimming down of its R&D portfolio when it split its cancer programs with Intrexon’s Precigen unit earlier this month. FierceBiotech

> Neurological biotech Redpin Therapeutics has snagged Eli Lilly veteran David Bleakman, Ph.D., as its new chief scientific officer. Bleakman joined the year-old JLABS alum after 25 years at Lilly, most recently as VP, CSO and neuroscience site leader at its New York location. FierceBiotech

> CuraSen Therapeutics has named co-founder Anthony Ford as CEO, with co-founder Kathleen Sereda Glaub serving as executive chair of the board of directors. Both previously worked at Afferent Pharmaceuticals, with Ford as CSO and Glaub as chief. CuraSen made the announcement after a $54.5 million series A funding round to tackle neurodegenerative disorders. FierceBiotech

> Akero Therapeutics has brought on Gilead's Kitty Yale to be chief development officer, and to direct its lead clinical program in NASH. As VP of clinical operations at Gilead, Yale led global clinical operations and management of oncology, HIV, inflammation and liver disease trials. Release

> A week after Pfizer unveiled a reshuffled executive team for incoming CEO Albert Bourla, the company announced a wave of restructuring to simplify management—including cutting 2% of Pfizer's global workforce of 90,200, or about 1,800 jobs—as well as an early retirement program. FiercePharma

> Zosano Pharma appointed Greg Kitchener as chief financial officer, during what the company describes as a pivotal time, with its lead program moving towards an FDA filing and plans to add assets to its pipeline. Kitchener was previously CFO at BioPharmX, VP of finance at Cepheid, and director of corporate planning at Synopsys. Release

> Kara Dennis was named senior VP and general manager of life sciences at Clarify Health Solutions, to spearhead its new business division in biopharmaceutical development. Before joining Clarify, Dennis was managing director of mobile health at Medidata Solutions. Release

> Shire officially opened a $1 billion, 1 million-square-foot plasma fractionation plant in Georgia, which currently houses 900 employees that may swell to 1,500 when fully operational. Over the past six years, the plant has been owned by Baxter International, Baxalta, and then Shire, and is expected to be transferred to Takeda following the merger. FiercePharmaManufacturing

> GlaxoSmithKline will begin laying off 99 employees this December at its Memphis, Tennessee, consumer health products plant. The layoffs come as GSK makes deep cuts elsewhere in the U.S., whacking 650 jobs total, including at its U.S. headquarters. FiercePharmaManufacturing