Chutes & Ladders—Romanelli returns to Merck to lead international human health team after brief CEO stint

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

Romanelli returns to Merck, a homecoming of sorts after brief CEO stint


Joe Romanelli, Merck

Joseph Romanelli is returning to Merck to lead its international health business less than a year after he left the company to lead Ji Xing Pharmaceuticals. 

It's a bit of a homecoming for Romanelli, who launched his career at Merck in 1996 when he joined as a business manager. Since then, he ascended through the ranks of the company, ultimately being tapped to Merck's business in China, a position he held from 2016 in 2021. But he left in July 2021 to become CEO of Ji Xing Pharmaceuticals. Now, he's back where it all began, this time leading the Human Health International division. In his new position, Romanelli will oversee a business unit that rakes in $22 billion and includes 14,000 employees covering 75 markets outside of the U.S. He'll start his new gig in August. Release

Bayer taps another GSK leader to help shape oncology unit


Tara Frenkl, Bayer, oncology

After poaching Christine Roth from GlaxoSmithKline back in February, Bayer is back it again, this time nabbing Tara Frenkl, M.D., to lead oncology development in the oncology strategy business unit. Before joining the German Big Pharma, Frenkl was SVP and head of medicine development leaders at GSK. Before that, she spent 13 years at Merck. 

Frenkl joins a team, and a company, that is looking to gain a larger foothold in the market. First and foremost will be bolstering Nubeqa, which was approved by the FDA in 2019 for men with non-metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer. But its uptake has been slow and has not cracked the top-20 most valuable drugs for the companies. However, the company bullish that further expansion of its use will bolster sales. After posting positive phase 3 data of the drug as part of a combo for metastatic hormone-sensitive prostate cancer, the company raised its projection of peak sales to exceed 3 billion euros (roughly $3.25 billion). The drug is also being investigated as an adjuvant treatment for localized prostate cancer. Fierce Biotech

Nearly five months after ousting last CEO, Fore has a new leader

Fore Biotherapeutics

Fore CEO Matt Ross

Nearly five months after the company axed its last CEO over insider trading charges, Fore Biotherapeutics has a new leader, naming Matthew Ros for the job. 

Ros joins after more than five years as an executive at Epizyme. He began as COO in 2016 before being promoted to chief strategy and business officer in 2018. Prior to that, he was VP, COO and head of oncology at Sanofi Genzyme, leading its $1.4 billion cancer business. Ros' hiring comes after a dramatic ouster of the company's last CEO, Usama Malik, in December. Malik was charged with insider trading stemming from his time as chief financial officer of Immunomedics. Ros will be tasked with growing Fore's business, which currently centers around its sole asset in clinic, FORE-8394. The company has two additional early assets in the pipeline with undisclosed targets. Fierce Biotech

> In addition to nabbing $80 million in series B funds, Octant named a number of new hires to its executive team, including Rick Artis as its first chief scientific officer. Artis, who started in December 2021, joins from Annexon Biosciences, where he was SVP of chemistry and helped oversee development of the company's small-molecule inhibitors. Fierce Biotech

> Eiger BioPharmaceuticals is bolstering its top brass with two new leadership changes. First, Chris Kurtz has been named chief technical officer after most recently working at Cidara Therapeutics as EVP of technical operations. Additionally, Eiger has brought on Sarah Mathieson as SVP of corporate affairs. Release

> Camp4 hopes it struck gold with its latest promotion, elevating Kelly Gold as chief financial officer. Gold is currently the company's CBO and SVP of Finance and will now lead all of the company's financial operations. Release

> Paul Schneider will be the new CFO of Freeline, jumping from Exo Therapeutics where he was SVP of finance and operations. Prior to joining Exo in 2020, he was SVP of finance at Casebia Therapeutics. Release

> Evidence of its commitment to clinical progress, eGenesis is promoting Michael Curtis, Ph.D. from president of R&D to CEO. Two of the company's revamped xenotransplatation assets are in preclinical stages, with two others in early development. Release

> CAR-T-focused ImmPACT Bio has named Venkat Yepuri as its chief operating officer. Yempuri jumps aboard after 20 years at Amgen, where he was most recently VP of global business solutions and chief procurement officer. Release

> Acrivon Therapeutics has brought on Rasmus Holm-Jorgensen as its chief financial officer after he helped launch Kiniksa Pharmaceuticals. As a member of Kiniksa's founding team, he saw the company through a number of milestones, including an IPO and its first commercial product, Arcalyst. Release

> Enveda Biosciences is turning to Robert Buckley as chief people officer as it looks to grow its staff. Buckley will oversee the company's new recruitment and development efforts to "enhance the employee experience." Release

> Curtis Ruegg, Ph.D. is joining NaNotics as chief development officer and chief operating officer to help steer the company's operations as it develops its nanoparticle platform. The focus is on developing "NaNots," a platform through which the company believes to treat diseases by clearing pathogenic molecules from a patient's blood. Release

> After leading MiddleBrook Pharmaceuticals onto Wall Street, Edward Rudnic, Ph.D. is joining Maxwell Biosciences as chief operating officer. While as CEO of MiddleBrook, Rudnic also helped the company rack up $300 million in financing. Release

> Twist Bioscience COO Patrick Weiss is stepping down for personal reasons, prompting the company to initiate a formal search for his replacement. In the meantime, the company announced two promotions to fill the void: Tracey Mullen will be the new SVP of operations, and Nimisha Srivastava, Ph.D., has been named SVP of R&D. Release

> Scott Fry is joining Vaxxas as chief operating officer, overseeing the manufacturing and engineering arms of the company. Most recently, Fry was COO of Ellume, which developed the first over-the-counter COVID-19 test in the U.S. Release

> Contract research organization Argenta has a new leader, tapping Will Downie as CEO after he led Vectura Group. Interim CEO Stephen Sibson will resume his role as global head of manufacturing. Release

> Timothy Cooke, Ph.D. has been named the CEO of Omniose as it looks to further develop its vaccines against bacterial infections. Most recently, Cooke was SVP of commercial business for contract development and manufacturing organization Ology Bioservices. Release