Chutes & Ladders—Verily hires former FDA chief Califf

Parachute landscape
Former FDA commissioner Robert Califf joins Verily.

Chutes and Ladders

Welcome to this week's Chutes and Ladders, our roundup of hirings, firings and retirings throughout the industry. Please send the good word—or the bad—from your shop to Eric Sagonowsky (email) or Angus Liu (email) and we will feature it here at the end of each week.

Alphabet’s Verily recruits former FDA chief Califf

Robert Califf

Robert Califf, M.D., has joined the company.

Alphabet’s life sciences unit Verily has recruited former FDA chief Robert Califf, M.D., to help run Project Baseline, a data-driven longitudinal health project that tries to understand why people transition from health to disease. The announcement came in a company blog post written by Califf himself, although his exact title wasn’t revealed. He will also continue his work as a professor of cardiology at the Duke Clinical Research Institute and will take on an additional role as an adjunct professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine at Stanford University. Califf's appointment came just in time for Verily, as the company just lost a top scientist, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health Thomas Insel, M.D. Blog | Read more on FierceMedTech

Struggling Theranos taps former Abbott Diagnostics exec

Cass Grandone

Cass Grandone became head of product development.

Embattled Theranos just hired Cass Grandone as SVP of product development. He used to lead Abbott’s multibillion-dollar Architect and Accelerator diagnostic platforms. The company has been taking steps to redeem itself. It just closed an exchange offer that saw CEO Elizabeth Holmes shell out some of her personal stake so that the company could give new stocks to investors in exchange for their vows not to sue. On May 1, it announced the resolution of two lawsuits by Partner Fund Management, a hedge fund and investor in the company. It also previously settled with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services by promising not to run a lab for two years, and resolved with the Arizona Attorney General to pay $4.65 million. Release | Read more on FierceMedTech

Biogen’s CSO secretly transitions to part-time visiting scientist

Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas

Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas stepped down as CSO.

Biogen’s exec hemorrhage shows no sign of stopping. Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas, the company’s SVP and CSO, stepped down to become a part-time “visiting scientist.” The company slipped that key exec change in an SEC proxy statement last month. The filing says that Biogen reached a research agreement with Harvard University in January, under which it will pay the university $1.7 million a year, including $1 million directly to the Artavanis-Tsakonas laboratory. The lab “will conduct research to identify novel genes, targets, and pathways that regulate neurodegenerative diseases,” and Biogen gets “an option to negotiate an exclusive license to any invention resulting from projects funded under the agreement.” Boston Business Journal story

Pfizer poaches Lilly’s China R&D exec

Bei B. Zhang

Bei B. Zhang, Ph.D., became VP of metabolic research.

Bei B. Zhang, Ph.D., has joined Pfizer as the VP of metabolic research within the company’s Worldwide Research and Development unit based in Kendall Square. Zhang spent seven years as VP of Lilly Research Laboratories and was the founding GM and site head of the Lilly China R&D Center based in Shanghai. Prior to Lilly, she led diabetes discovery research at Merck Research Laboratories and played a key role in the development and global launches of diabetes med Januvia (sitagliptin).

> Former Sarepta CEO Chris Garabedian re-emerged to helm startup life sciences accelerator company Xontogeny with a $25 million Series A. Release

> Johnson & Johnson appointed Jane Griffiths, Ph.D., Janssen EMEA's group chairman, as the global head of Actelion, while Otto Schwarz, Ph.D., will retire from his position as COO of Actelion. Release

> NantKwest appointed Leonard Sender, M.D., as SVP of medical affairs for pediatric, adolescent and young adult oncology, and named John Lee, M.D., as SVP of adult medical affairs. Release | Release

> Sybil Tasker, M.D., Altimmune's SVP of clinical R&D, was promoted to CMO. Release

> Astellas made two senior-level promotions within its commercial organization: Mark Schwitzenberg was named VP of marketing in the Urology and Hospital Business Unit, and Paul Kang was promoted to executive director of marketing sciences. Release

> Insys Therapeutics' current CFO, Darryl S. Baker, will step down once the company hires a successor. Release

> Sarah Noonberg, M.D., Ph.D., is succeeding retiring Martin Koller, M.D., as immunotherapy-focused Prothena's CMO. Release

> CytomX's former CFO, Bob Goeltz, left the company to pursue new opportunities, and the company appointed Debanjan Ray to step in as CFO and head of corporate development. Release

> Medical device company Colorado Therapeutics named former Medtronic exec John Lorbiecki to the newly created position of COO, prior to the company's launch of its first FDA-cleared commercial product, XI‑S+. Release

> Drug development consulting firm Certara appointed Sandy Allerheiligen as SVP of health economics and education. Release 

> Radius Health brought on industry veteran Jose Carmona as CFO. Release

> GW Pharmaceuticals, which has a proprietary cannabinoid product platform, named Volker Knappertz, M.D., as CMO, and tapped Prof. Ben Whalley as head of discovery research. Release