Chutes & Ladders—Former Roche pharma chief tapped to be new Bayer CEO

 Chutes and LaddersWelcome to this week's (and last 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. 

Bayer backs Anderson for CEO role, Bauman slated to depart



Bayer AG made a seismic hire this week, naming former Roche pharmaceutical chief Bill Anderson as the company’s new CEO. The news comes just two months after Anderson announced his departure from the company. As a result, current Bayer chief Werner Baumann will depart his post early, pacifying investors who felt he hasn’t been up to snuff. The move caps off a 35-year career for Baumann at Bayer. 

The addition of Anderson marks a concerted refocusing on the company’s pharmaceutical and drug development pursuits, attempting to leave behind a reputation marred by the acquisition of Monsanto. Bayer noted in its announcement that Anderson was involved in the launch of 25 new medicines. 

The move also reignites debate over whether the company’s consumer health and agricultural businesses should stay linked under one life sciences umbrella. Activist investors have advocated that the two be split up. Any reconsideration of the matter is still months away at least, with Anderson not slated to officially take the reins until June. Fierce Pharma

Astellas implements new leadership strategy, tapping CSO Okamura for chief exec role

Astellas Pharma

Headshot of Astellas Chief Strategy Officer Naoki Okamura

Astellas Pharma has found its next leader within its internal constellation of executives, naming Chief Strategy Officer Naoki Okamura as the company’s new CEO. His promotion to the top role comes after 37 years at the company. Simultaneously, current CEO Kenji Yasukawa is moving into the chairman role, closing out five years as CEO. Replacing Okamura as strategy chief will be VP of corporate strategy Adam Pearson. 

Okamura helped orchestrate a number of critical business development moves, including acquiring Audentes for $3 billion in 2019 and CAR-T company Xyphos for $665 million. The company also inked a couple of new partnerships last month, including an antibody research collaboration with Twist Biosciences. 

Under Yasukawa’s leadership, Astellas moved away from focusing on specific disease areas and instead took a more multifaceted approach. And it appears to be paying off, as the company announced a 17% increase in revenue over the last nine months compared to the nine-month period a year earlier. Fierce Pharma

Nelson wraps up eight month stint as head of White House science and tech wing

White House

Headshot of interim OSTP chief Alondra Nelson

Alondra Nelson is departing the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy at the end of the week, wrapping up two years at the office, eight months of which were as leader. She was appointed to lead the office after Eric Lander was ousted following allegations of bullying and fostering a toxic work environment. 

Prior to filling the leadership vacuum left by Lander, Nelson ran the Science and Society team within the larger OSTP branch. The Science and Society unit was created under the Biden administration. 

Much of Nelson’s work centered around designing ethical policy around artificial intelligence and improving transparency in federally-funded research. She spearheaded the creation of the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, an in-depth framework regarding the use of AI in society and its implications. 

She’ll be returning to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, where she was a social science professor before joining the Biden administration. Tweet

> Johnson & Johnson is overhauling operations for its Janssen pharmaceutical unit, with sweeping layoffs expected to claim staffers' jobs across the globe. Part of the so-called “comprehensive review” of its portfolio includes plans to operate its vaccines and infectious diseases outfits as one group. Consequently, James Merson, Ph.D., current head of the infectious disease unit, is set to leave the company “to pursue his next opportunity” while Penny Heaton, M.D., head of the existing vaccines division, will oversee the merged unit. Fierce Pharma

> Iya Khalil, Ph.D., will be jumping from Novartis to Merck & Co., starting in her new role as VP and head of data, AI and genome sciences on Feb. 13. At Novartis, Khalil worked as global head of the AI Innovation Laboratory and has more than 20 years of experience pioneering AI/ML work, according to an emailed statement a Merck spokesperson sent Fierce Biotech.  

> Three months after Rubius Therapeutics slashed most of its staff, Chief Scientific Officer Laurence Turka, M.D., stepped down. Turka—who also served as head of research and translational medicine—was joined by three board members, who also resigned. In November, CEO and President Dannielle Appelhans was set to leave in January, though Appelhans has now agreed to stay on until March 3. After former CEO Pablo Cagnoni and former Chief Financial Officer Pepe Carmona exited in November, Appelhans is set to be the only C-suite executive left. Release   

> As Magenta Therapeutics winds down, a long list of C-suite executives have hit the exits. That includes CEO Jason Gardner, Chief Technical Officer David Nichols, Chief Commercial Officer Caren Deardorf, Chief People Officer Kristen Stants and Senior Vice President and Head of Clinical Development Shawn Rose. Gardner, Nichols and Deardorf will stay somewhat involved in as-needed consulting roles. The stem cell transplant biotech has also cut 56 positions, or 84% of staff, in an effort to save money. Fierce Biotech  

> Ovid Tx has tapped Eisai’s Manoj Malhotra, M.D., as its chief medical officer and Takeda’s Toshiya Nishi to serve as head of epilepsy research. During his time at Takeda, Malhotra led global medical affairs for its epilepsy and multiple sclerosis units. Malhotra has held roles at Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, Takeda Pharmaceutical and within Novartis Medical Affairs. Nishi also most recently worked at a Big Pharma, serving as a scientist in neuroscience drug discovery and translational medicine for Takeda. He also worked for Ovid as a visiting research fellow for two years starting in 2017. Release  

> Former Viridian Therapeutics CEO and President Jonathan Violin, Ph.D., has stepped down, though he will serve as a company consultant for one year. In his place steps Scott Myers, who most recently served as AMAG Pharmaceuticals’ president and CEO from April 2020 until its acquisition by Covis Group in October 2020. Myers has plenty of CEO experience, previously holding the top title across several biotechs, including Rainier Therapeutics (formerly BioClin Therapeutics), Cascadian Therapeutics (acquired by Seattle Genetics) and Aerocrine (acquired by Circassia Pharmaceuticals). Release  

> Adam Crystal, M.D., Ph.D., will leave his role as chief medical officer at C4 Therapeutics on Feb. 24, to pursue an opportunity as a head of R&D. Crystal has been C4’s CMO since 2019 and, before that, worked at Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research. Upon his departure, Solid Therapeutics co-founder and biotech consultant Hagop Youssoufian, M.D., will serve as interim CMO. Release 

> After a 70% workforce reduction in January and reprioritizing its pipeline, Cyteir is eliminating the roles of chief business officer and chief scientific officer. CBO Andrew Gengos departed Feb. 3, while CSO Paul Secrist, Ph.D., plans to leave April 1. Release

> Blue Water Vaccines is bringing on Frank Jaeger to serve as  SVP of marketing and business development. Jaeger joins from Clarus Therapeutics, where he was SVP and chief commercial officer, and helped take the company public last spring. Release  

> 2seventy bio Chief Operating Officer Nicola Heffron will be leaving the biotech next month, effective March 10. Release  

> General manager of Novo Nordisk’s U.K. operations Pinder Sahota has decided to resign from his role as president of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI). The decision was made in efforts to avoid distracting from ABPI’s work amid an ongoing Novo Nordisk ABPI Code of Practice case. ABPI Vice President Susan Rienow, president of Pfizer UK, will temporarily take on the president’s roles and responsibilities until a new leader is chosen. Release  

> Clinical-stage Adiso Therapeutics has appointed Srikar Guntaka, M.D., to the company’s newly created role of medical director. Most recently, Guntaka served as medical director and clinical development lead at Mirum Pharmaceuticals. He also has worked in positions at AbbVie and Baxter Healthcare. Release 

> Harlan Weisman, M.D., has been selected to helm TFF Pharmaceuticals as permanent CEO. The former interim CEO has served as the company’s vice chair since 2018. In the past, he served as Flame Biosciences’ co-founder, CEO, president and chair, and was also former co-founder and chief scientific officer for Mycrobiomics. Earlier in his career, Weisman worked with J&J. Release  

> Orchestra BioMed is conducting several organizational changes, tapping several new additions for its senior leadership team. Avi Fischer, M.D., joins from ElectroPhysiology Frontiers, where he was CEO, to serve as Orchestra's SVP of medical affairs and innovation, while J.C. Simeon joins from Amring Pharmaceuticals to take on the role of SVP of quality. Meanwhile, former SVP of Quality George Papandreou, Ph.D., will become Orchestra’s general manager and SVP of focal therapies. Lastly, previous Senior Director of Formulation Development Kunal Faldu has been promoted to serve as VP of pharmaceutical development. Release  

> T-knife Therapeutics has cut to the chase, appointing Behzad Kharabi, M.D., to serve as chief medical officer for the immunotherapy company. Kharabi joins from Gilead’s Kite, where he led global clinical development for TECARTUS, an approved cell-based gene therapy for treating relapsed or refractory B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Before Kite, Kharabi worked for J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Release 

> Palisade Bio has promoted Robert McRae, who joined the company in 2021, as SVP of operations and strategic development, to chief operating officer. Before Palisade, McRae held several leadership positions at Viracta Therapeutics. Release