Chutes & Ladders—Novavax CEO Stanley Erck bids adieu after 12 years, overseeing COVID vax development

 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. 

Novavax CEO sails off into retirement after leading COVID vax launch


Novavax CEO Stanley Erck heads off into retirement with a COVID vaccine authorization in hand, a critical achievement after 12  years at the helm building up the vaccine-focused biotech. The COVID milestone is—by far—his and the company’s crowning moment as Novavax looks to differentiate itself from market rivals Moderna and Pfizer. And he leaves behind a pipeline of other potential vaccines tackling viruses like influenza and RSV.

Erck took the helm of the company after spending eight years at vaccine maker Iomai—which has since changed its name to Intercell and then Valneva. The company has an approved vaccine against Japanese encephalitis. At Novavax, he worked to expand the company’s global footprint while building out the current pipeline. But it was anything but smooth sailing, especially the last couple of years as sluggish development and regulatory efforts delayed authorization of the company’s COVID jab in the U.S. 

Replacing him is John Jacobs, former CEO of Harmony Biosciences. Prior to that, he spent time at Teva Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, Wyeth and Pfizer. In a release, Jacobs thanked Erck for the foundation he built at the company he’ll now lead. Fierce Biotech

CureVac CEO hands the baton off to Sanofi exec after COVID vax whiffs


CureVac CEO Franz Haas is heading for the exits after a dismal effort developing a COVID vaccine has left the company empty-handed to-date as it works on an upgraded shot. The RNA-focused company sprang into action when the pandemic began in 2020, like its mRNA counterparts Moderna and BioNTech, but its candidate failed to produce robust enough efficacy. The company ultimately withdrew its authorization application in Europe last year and canceled a purchase agreement with the regulators there for hundreds of millions of doses. 

This essentially defined Haas’ entire tenure, after he joined in April 2020 and is set to leave three years later, on March 31. He’s slated to be replaced by Alexander Zehnder, M.D., Sanofi’s global head of oncology. Zehnder’s move wraps up more than eight years at the French pharma, starting in October 2014 as president and managing director of the company’s Italy outpost. He spent much of his earlier career rising through the ranks at fellow European biotech Roche. Release

Shook promoted to CMO to guide NKarta through clinical milestones

Nkarta Therapeutics

Nkarta Therapeutics is staying in-house to replace its chief medical officer, tapping VP of Clinical Development David Shook, M.D., for the role. The promotion represents a swift ascension for Shook, who’s elevated from medical director to chief medical executive in less than three years. But while the speed at which he’s risen is head-turning, his draw is evident. Shook previously worked at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis where he worked in the lab of Nkarta’s scientific founder, Dario Campana, M.D., Ph.D.

As he takes the helm, all eyes or on Nkarta’s NKX101 asset, which is slated for additional data in the first half of 2023. The timeline for the data drop was pushed back a few months so that the company could collect “a more robust and interpretable data set,” according to the company’s third-quarter earnings report. 

After leaving St. Jude’s in 2015, Shook spent five years as the medical director for pediatric cell therapy at AdventHealth before becoming a clinical instructor in 2021 at the University of California-San Francisco. Release

> Dutch biotech Azafaros is bolstering the top of its scientific and clinical branches, announcing a new CSO and CMO, respectively. Taking over as chief scientific officer is  Kyle Landskroner, while Christian Freitag will become chief medical officer. Release

> Annexon is tapping Dean “Rick” Artis, Ph.D., to be the company’s chief scientific officer, a homecoming after Artis spent five years as the senior vice president of chemistry. His appointment comes as the company stopped clinical development of its lead asset, AXN005 for the treatment of warm autoimmune hemolytic anemia. Release

> Mike Gamson has been named the new CEO of bioengineering company Evozyme. He joins the protein maker from LinkedIn where he was a senior vice president. Release

> Cogent Bioscience’s head of clinical development is jumping to TFF Pharmaceuticals to lay out a clear-eyed vision of the company’s clinical ambitions as chief medical officer. Zamaneh Mikhak, M.D., has led clinical development at a number of biotechs after more than 20 years in clinical practice. Release

> The top of KemPharm’s executive team is getting a shakeup, with chairman Richard Pascoe becoming CEO and existing CEO Travis Mickle moving to president. Joshua Schafer has also been tapped as chief commercial officer and SVP of business development. Release

> Acadia Pharmaceuticals has named Doug Williamson, M.D., as executive vice president and head of R&D, hoping he can help turn the company’s science into a commercial national park. Before joining Acadia, Williamson was chief medical officer at Avadel Pharmaceuticals. Release

> A personnel STORM is brewing atop the biotech’s top R&D team, with Matthew Fyfe, Ph.D., joining as SVP of Therapeutics and Beth Thomas, Ph.D., set to lead medicinal chemistry. Thomas was promoted after joining STORM in 2016 and Fyfe joins the team with more than 20 years of of experience in drug discovery and development. Release

> Metabolic-focused Akero Therapeutics has named Patrick Lamy as senior vice president of commercial strategy. Most recently, Lamy was the VP of commercial at Iovance after a number of commercial roles at Gilead. Release

> A top marketing executive at Novartis is bolting to become the chief commercial officer at Neurotech Pharmaceuticals. Scott Hunter was the global marketing head for Luxturna before taking this new position. Release

> Robert MacLeod, Ph.D., has taken on the role of ADARx Pharmaceuticals’ chief scientific officer. MacLeod joins the RNA-focused biotech from Flamingo Therapeutics, where he also served as CSO. Release

> Biotech Atreca has selected Philippe Bishop, M.D., to serve as the California company’s chief medical officer. The leader joins from Clover Biopharmaceuticals, where he held the same role as CMO. Bishop also founded, and has held roles across Gilead, Roche’s Genentech, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi-Aventis. Before that, Bishop also held leadership positions at the FDA and NIH. Release

> Preclinical biotech Ymmunobio has tapped Michel Janicot, Ph.D., to serve in the newly created position of chief development officer. Most recently, Janicot served as founder and managing director of JMi ONConsulting and has also worked in oncology R&D with organizations such as Rhone-Poulenc Rorer and Johnson & Johnson. Release

> Luke O’Neill, Ph.D., is entering Senda’s space as chief scientific officer, taking over for interim CSO Kyle Chiang, Ph.D., who will now serve as head of new modalities. O’Neill is a member of the company’s board of directors and scientific advisory board and also is the chair of biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin and leads the college’s inflammation research group. Release

> Alpha Cognition Chief Medical Officer Cedric O’Gorman, M.D., has resigned, leaving the Canadian company to serve as CMO for U.S.-based Relmada Therapeutics. Alpha is currently on the hunt for a replacement as it files an NDA for its Alzheimer’s disease asset dubbed ALPHA-1062. Release

> C4XD has appointed its SVP of drug discovery Nick Ray, Ph.D., to lead the company’s clinical development as chief medical officer. Ray joined the company in 2016 and has more than 30 years of experience leading key programs at multinational companies. Release

> EVOQ Therapeutics is making a couple of key C-suite appointments, naming David Giljohann, Ph.D., as the new CEO and promoting Greg Barrett to chief operating officer. Giljohann was most recently the CEO at Exicure while Barrett joined the company in 2018. Release