Chutes & Ladders—Novartis' Kymriah head jumps ship to Atara

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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.

Novartis' Kymriah head jumps ship to Atara as its R&D chief quits

Atara Logo

Atara Biotherapeutics
Pascal Touchon was named CEO and president.

Novartis has lost its head of oncology and the global head of its cell and gene therapy unit as Touchon leaves to run the T cell-focused California biotech Atara. His departure echoes the exit of Usman "Oz" Azam, who a few years back left the Swiss Big Pharma as its cell and gene therapy lead to take the helm at Tmunity. The news also comes as Atara’s global head of R&D, Dietmar Berger, resigns to serve as head of development at Sanofi after one year in the job. Touchon takes over from Atara founder Isaac Ciechanover, who has stepped down to become a special adviser to a subcommittee of the biotech’s board. FierceBiotech

Gilead's new chief steals BMS exec for top commercial job


Gilead Sciences
Johanna Mercier will take over as commercial chief July 1.

Bristol-Myers Squibb is losing another key commercial cog with Gilead's poaching of Mercier, who led the biotech's work in the U.S., Germany, France and Japan as president of large markets. She'll take over for Laura Hamill, who took the post last summer after Gilead swiped her from Amgen. The switch marks another key executive hire for CEO Daniel O’Day, who began building his team after taking the helm earlier this year. Longtime CFO Robin Washington has already announced plans to retire next March, and oncology EVP Alessandro Riva jumped ship earlier this year for a CEO position. FiercePharma

Sanofi hires Atara's Berger to lead development

Sanofi small logo
Dietmar Berger

Dietmar Berger was hired as head of development. 

Berger ended his brief stint in biotech earlier this month to return to Big Pharma R&D at Sanofi. He spent almost 20 years rising through the oncology ranks at Amgen, Bayer and finally Genentech, where was a senior VP of the Roche unit. One year ago, Berger joined the exodus to biotech, joining Atara as global head of R&D. He resigned earlier this week in an action that was seen by some analysts as a response to being overlooked for the CEO role. The appointment reunites Berger with John Reed, now Sanofi’s global head of R&D. Reed spent six years running the pRED unit at Roche, during which time Berger held senior positions in the oncology and hematology global clinical development teams at Genentech. FierceBiotech

> Audentes Therapeutics has hired Sangamo Chief Medical Officer Ed Conner to fill one of two vacancies created by the back-to-back departures from its C-suite, including the departing CMO Suyash Prasad and Chief Technology Officer John Gray. FierceBiotech

> Dynavax is pulling out of immuno-oncology R&D, laying off 82 staff and parting company with its CEO, Eddie Gray. After losing more than a third of its workforce, the slimmed-down commercial-stage company will focus on selling its hepatitis B vaccine HEPLISAV-B. FierceBiotech

> An investor lawsuit claims executives at drug distribution giant McKesson personally profited off a massive generic drug price-fixing scheme and insider trading. McKesson’s former CEO and chairman, John Hammergren, sold $287 million in shares alone, the lawsuit said. FiercePharma

> Catalent CEO John Chiminski withdrew from consideration for a spot on Biogen's board after his company bought the gene therapy player Paragon Bioservices, creating a potential conflict of interest. At the moment, Biogen isn’t planning to nominate a replacement as it looks to infuse new blood into its board following the failure of its Alzheimer's drug earlier this year. FiercePharma

> NervGen Pharma has brought on Denis Bosc to serve as its VP of chemistry, manufacturing and control. Bosc was previously at the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization, a Canadian center of excellence for commercialization and research where he was director of radiopharmaceutical development and supply. In addition, Paul Brennan joined NervGen as an adviser on strategy and business development. Brennan has held roles at Astra, AnorMED, Aspreva and Aquinox. Release

> Merck KGaA promoted Tina Sandmann as head of internal auditing; she takes over for Barbara Weiland following her promotion to chief compliance officer, both effective July 1. Release  

> Cerevel Therapeutics is bringing on Imbrium Therapeutics' research VP John Renger as chief scientific officer; Sangamo Therapeutics' EVP Kathy Yi as chief financial officer; and Oak Hill Capital Partners' chief talent officer Ken DiPietro as chief human resources officer. Cerevel says the three newly created positions will help accelerate its next stage of growth and pipeline development. Release

> June Almenoff joined RedHill Biopharma as chief scientific officer. Almenoff was previously president and CMO of Furiex Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired by Actavis, now known as Allergan. Release  

> Following the closing of a $824 million capital pool earlier this year, Flagship Pioneering has brought on Robert Berendes, Ron Hovsepian, Theo Melas-Kyriazi and John Mendlein as capital partners. Berendes joined Flagship in 2014 as an advisory partner. Hovsepian is currently chairman of Ansys and board member of Pegasystems. Melas-Kyriazi previously joined Flagship as an executive partner, currently serves on the board of Evelo Biosciences and was previously on the board of Moderna. Mendlein was CEO of Adnexus and was a board member and president of Moderna. He serves on the boards of new platform companies Cogen Immune Medicine and Ohana Biosciences. Release