Chutes & Ladders—Rubius execs depart as the walls close in

 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. 

Rubius switches up CEO spot as the walls close in on the biotech 

Rubius Therapeutics

The writing appears to be on the wall for Rubius Therapeutics with the company laying off a whopping 82% of its staff as it looks for a sale or merger to maximize its dwindling value. That did not stop the company’s board of directors from switching up the executive team, however. 

Current CEO Pablo Cagnoni, M.D., is leaving the company but staying on the board, elevating to executive chairman, while Chief Operating Officer Dannielle Appelhans will become the new CEO and president. Chief Financial Officer Pepe Carmona and Chief Legal Officer Maiken Keson-Brookes are also set to depart the company. The departures of Cagnoni, Carmona and Keson-Brookes take effect on Nov. 15. 

Additionally, Flagship Pioneering founder Noubar Afeyan is slated to resign from the board. The company’s disclosure on the moves said Cagnoni would subsequently join the Cambridge-based venture capital firm. 

Rubius’ fall from grace has been swift and decisive. After hopping on Wall Street in 2018 with a now-head scratching $277 million IPO, the company has slowly whittled down its pipeline after disappointing readouts. The final straw came in September when the company ended development of its two lead solid tumor assets to focus on a separate platform. Fierce Biotech

Ambrx plucks new chief executive after more than 2-month search


More than two months after former CEO Feng Tian, Ph.D., headed for the exits, Ambrx has found his replacement, naming Daniel O’Connor for the job. O’Connor will be tasked with righting the company’s clinical ship after the company was forced to lay off 15% of its staff and Bristol Myers Squibb ended collaboration on an FA relaxin med. 

This is O’Connor’s third CEO job after leading fellow biotechs OncoSec and Advaxis. He also held C-suite positions at ImClone Systems, Bracco Diagnostics and PharmaNet. Since departing OncoSec in June 2021, O’Connor founded and ran a special-purpose acquisition company focused on merging with biotechs. According to his LinkedIn profile, O’Connor still works at the SPAC part-time and is listed as CEO on the company’s website. 

Ambrx currently has one oncology asset in a phase 1 trial with safety data expected to read out in the second half of 2023. The company’s other asset, ARX305, is set to launch into a phase 1 trial in 2023. Release

Alexion co-founder joins management team of new life science-focused J.P. Morgan firm  

J.P. Morgan

It’s been more than a few years since Stephen Squinto, Ph.D., has worked at Alexion, but it will likely go down as one of his most significant tenures. The co-founder of the rare disease company served as both the head of R&D and chief global development officer during a 22-year period that ended in 2015. 

But now, he’s found his new gig as chief investment officer of J.P. Morgan’s new life science-focused private equity wing. The firm, aptly named Life Sciences Private Capital, is launching with Squinto, Gaurav Gupta and Anya Schiess as its managing partners. Squinto and Gupta both also worked at OrbiMed, one of the most well-known biotech investment firms in the industry. Schiess co-founded and was general partner at Healthy Ventures. 

In an interview with Fierce Biotech, Squinto and Gupta highlighted autoimmune and rare diseases as areas of interest along with obesity. In terms of modality, the two emphasized that genetic medicine is an exciting frontier. Squinto hinted that within the first half 2023, the firm will likely be “in a pretty strong investment space.” Fierce Biotech

> ImmunoGen SVP and chief commercial officer Kristen Harrington-Smith will be departing the company on Nov. 16. Upon her exit, VP of Market Access Todd Talarico will serve as interim leader of commercial organization as the company searches for a permanent replacement. Release

> On Nov. 17, Kristen Harrington-Smith will become ADC Therapeutics’ chief commercial officer. The Swiss biotech has also appointed Peter Graham to serve as chief legal officer. Release

> Michael Aldridge will be the new face of Focal Medical, succeeding former CEO Tony Voiers, who will assume the role of chief operating officer. The company just rebranded from Advanced Chemotherapy Technologies to Focal. Release

> Laura Gault, M.D., Ph.D., is exiting Big Pharma for biotech, taking up the role of chief medical officer for Sage Therapeutics. Gault joins from AstraZeneca’s Alexion, where she was VP and therapeutic area head for neurology and ophthalmology. She also has held positions at AbbVie and Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Release  

> Gilead Sciences Canada has tapped Christophe Griolet to serve as VP and general manager. Griolet has been with Gilead since 2003 and most recently was general manager for Gilead Switzerland. Release

> X4 Pharmaceuticals has announced several exec shake-ups, including the departure of Chief Medical Officer Diego Cadavid, M.D. Cadavid intends to leave by the end of the year, in which Murray Stewart, M.D., a member of X4’s board and GSK vet, will fill the role as interim CMO while the company searches for a permanent replacement. The company has also tapped Mark Baldry to fill the role of chief commercial officer. Release  

> Charles McWherter, Ph.D., has received an additional role at CymaBay, stepping up to become the California company’s president of R&D. McWherter has served as CymaBay’s chief scientific officer since 2013. Release

> Cytek Biosciences has tapped Chris Williams to serve as chief operating officer, effective immediately. Williams joins the company from Thermo Fisher’s Pharma Services Group, where he was VP of engineering, technology, operations and innovation. Release

> Amneal Pharmaceuticals has tapped Reem Malki to be SVP and chief quality officer, and Maryll Toufanian as SVP of regulatory strategy and policy. Malki joins the company from Alvotech, where she served as chief quality officer, while Toufanian comes from the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, where she served as director of the office of generic drug policy. Release

> Former founding CEO of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals John Maraganore, Ph.D., will become the GNS' new chair of the board. Maraganore succeeds Timothy Thompson, who served as executive chair since 2020. Release 

> Immunology company Aristea Therapeutics has appointed three new leaders in positions that will guide drug development. Himanshu Patel, D.O., a rheumatologist who worked for six years at Eli Lilly, will become Aristea’s executive medical director. Meanwhile, Jennifer Barnes, Ph.D., is leaving Alnylam Pharmaceuticals to serve as the company’s senior director of clinical science. Lastly, following a two-year fellowship at Novo Nordisk and time at Ascendis Pharma, Walter Frank Eng is coming aboard as Aristea’s associate director of clinical science. Release