Chutes & Ladders—Vertex CMO Kewalramani steps into pharma's exclusive female CEO club


Chutes and Ladders
Welcome 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 Kyle Blankenship, and we will feature it here at the end of each week.

Vertex joins the new-CEO brigade with Leiden jumping to exec chairman, CMO stepping up

Vertex Pharmaceuticals
Reshma Kewalramani was named CEO, replacing Jeffrey Leiden, who will become executive chairman of the board.

Former CMO Kewalramani will take over for Leiden, who has overseen big changes at Vertex since taking the post in 2012. Among large drugmakers, only GlaxoSmithKline has a woman in its CEO spot. Unlike GSK chief Emma Walmsley, who came up on the commercial side, Kewalramani's background is in R&D. She joined Vertex in 2017 after 12 years in Amgen's R&D department.Vertex said its board had been working with Leiden on a succession plan for several years now; as lead independent director Bruce Sachs said in a statement, it's aiming—not unexpectedly—for a "smooth and effective leadership transition" that doesn't disrupt its strategy or operations. FiercePharma

Verb Surgical taps new CEO as it inches its surgery robot toward the market

Verb Surgical
Kurt Azarbarzin has been tapped as president and CEO.

The founder of laparoscopic surgery startup SurgiQuest will take over for Scott Huennekens, one of FierceBiotech’s most influential people in biopharma, who served as president and CEO since Verb’s founding in 2015. Azarbarzin will help lead the completion of the former Fierce 15 winner’s digital surgery platform—a comprehensive suite years in the making—which aims to incorporate robotics, visualization, advanced instrumentation, connectivity and machine learning analytics into what it describes as “Surgery 4.0,” according to the firm. FierceBiotech

Disarm Therapeutics brings on former Enzyvant boss Shih as CEO

Disarm Therapeutics
Alvin Shih, M.D., was named CEO.

The former Retrophin R&D chief and acting head of Enzyvant since February will be tasked with guiding the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech as it moves its stable of SARM1 inhibitors through preclinical development. Shih will take over for Disarm co-founder and Atlas Venture partner Jason Rhodes, who's been keeping the seat warm as acting CEO since the company's founding. Shih was a founding member and chief operating officer of Pfizer’s rare disease research unit before he headed to Retrophin, where he oversaw the development of programs aimed at neurological and renal diseases. FierceBiotech

> Silicon Valley medtech NeuroPace has pegged former acting CCO Michael Favet as CEO. Favet, who has worked with NeuroPace since 2016, will replace 20-year-CEO-vet Frank Fischer, who will take over as chairman of the company's board of directors. Favet has previously held senior positions at Advanced Cardiac Therapeutics, Sonitus Medical, Ventus Medical, Boston Scientific and Guidant, and was most recently a managing director for KCK’s medtech group. Release

> Obsidian Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based gene therapy biotech, is shaking up its leadership team, appointing Catherine Stehman-Breen, M.D., as CDO, Ryan Daws as CFO and Karen Brown, Ph.D., J.D., as senior VP of IP and legal affairs. Stehman-Breen served most recently as entrepreneur-in-residence at Atlas Venture and previously held leadership positions at Sarepta Therapeutics, Regeneron and Amgen. Daws' last posting was managing director in the healthcare investment banking group at Robert W. Baird & Co., and Brown most recently served as VP and chief IP counsel at Ironwood Pharmaceuticals. Release

> Pittsburgh biotech NeuBase Therapeutics has appointed Danith Ly, Ph.D., as its newest CSO. Ly is the primary inventor of NeuBase’s peptide nucleic acid (PNA) antisense oligonucleotide platform technology and is currently a professor of chemistry and a founding director of the Biomolecular Design and Discovery Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Prior to joining NeuBase, Ly co-founded PNA Innovations and served on the scientific advisory board at HelixBind and as a member of the board of directors for Karuna Commune Enterprise. Release

> Pathologist Kirk Wojno, M.D., will join Royal Oak, Michigan-based OncoCell MDx as the biotech's next CMO. Wojno, the former head of urologic pathology at the University of Michigan, at Ascension Health System and at Ameripath Laboratories, is part of a C-suite shakeup that included the recent appointments of Mark McDonough as president and CEO and Christopher Thibodeau as COO. Release

> Atreca is adding two new members to its senior management team with Lisa Decker, Ph.D., named as CBO and Courtney Phillips as general counsel. Decker most recently served as VP of business development at Nektar Therapeutics and previously as associate director of technology licensing at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Phillips previously worked as VP of corporate law at Global Blood Therapeutics as well as senior counsel and then VP at Relypsa. Release

> Alkahest, a San Carlos, California-based age-related disease biotech, has named Robert Klein, Ph.D. as CBO. Klein, who most recently served as CBO at Complete Genomics, has held the role of CEO at iKaryos Diagnostics, CSO at Amnestix, senior director of business development at Rinat Neuroscience and then Pfizer and VP of business and technology development at Deltagen. Release

> Cambridge-based Rubius Therapeutics, a cellular medicine developer, has tapped Kris Elverum as senior VP of business development and strategy. Elverum, previously of Turnstone Biologics, Novartis and Sandoz, will take the lead on developing Rubius' corporate strategy and creating and executing new business development opportunities, replacing Nathan Dowden, who will be departing Rubius after a transitional period. Release

> Corbus Pharmaceuticals will bring on Kaizar Lehri as the biotech's head of global supply chain. Lehri, who most recently served as director of supply chain operations at Regeneron, will be responsible for the company's commercial supply chain.