Humanigen opens up CMO role, drops AstraZeneca vet to push on with COVID hopeful

Humanigen has created a chief medical officer role and has chosen AstraZeneca’s Adrian Kilcoyne, M.D., to fill it as it looks to outdo so many failed pharma attempts and get a new COVID-19 drug onto the market.

Kilcoyne previously served as vice president of oncology global medical affairs as well as head of evidence generation and external alliances at the U.K. pharma giant.

He has also spent time at Celgene (now Bristol Myers Squibb), where he worked on clinical development and launch preparations for Breyanzi, also known as liso-cel, which was finally approved in February after a bumpy trip through the FDA regulatory process. Kilcoyne also made stops at Sanofi Pasteur MSD, Roche and Eli Lilly earlier in his career.

The move comes less than a month after the Burlingame, California-based company’s big hope lenzilumab was found to increase the rate of ventilator-free survival in hospitalized COVID-19 patients during a phase 3 trial. Lenzilumab targets a cytokine called GM-CSF that is believed to cause the immune system to overreact to the coronavirus, a phenomenon referred to as a cytokine storm.

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Kilcoyne will now oversee clinical development and regulatory strategy for lenzilumab in COVID-19, but Humanigen was originally working on it for graft-versus-host disease, chronic myelomonocytic leukemia and as a CAR-T treatment, all of which are still on the cards for the therapy. He will also work on another pipeline drug, ifabotuzumab, in solid tumors.

Since no new adverse events turned up in the phase 3 COVID-19 trial for lenzilumab, Kilcoyne will join a team seeking to quickly file for an emergency use authorization from the FDA and other authorities worldwide. Humanigen’s therapy could serve a set of hospitalized patients who have proven difficult to treat during the pandemic. Other pharma giants such as Roche with Actemra and Sanofi with Kevzara have tried to lend their expertise with drugs that can quiet the immune system, to mixed results.

The biotech was up 4.5% in midmorning trading Wednesday on the news.