Editas brings on Sarepta CMO—for CEO swap, not the vacant CMO role

Editas is bringing on Sarepta’s Chief Medical Officer Gilmore O’Neill, M.B., but not to fill that empty role at the gene editing biotech. He will instead replace Chairman, President and CEO James Mullen, who is taking on the executive chairman role.

O’Neill is leaving Sarepta, where he served as vice president of R&D and chief medical officer. His work included discovery, preclinical and clinical development and regulatory matters behind the rare disease biotech’s research activities, specifically the RNA and gene therapy portfolio. The company has a number of gene therapies under development for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, while three drugs have already been approved for various gene mutations associated with the rare degenerative muscle disorder.

Prior to Sarepta, O’Neill was with Biogen for 15 years, working on gene and cell therapy, rare diseases, neuromuscular diseases, Alzheimer’s and more. He also holds board seats at Unity Biotechnology and Aptinyx.

O’Neill will arrive at Editas at a pivotal time in the biotech's history. The company revealed its first proof-of-concept data last fall, but the limited readout failed to impress investors. More recently in February, the company ousted Chief Medical Officer Lisa Michaels without explanation. That means O’Neill will have an important role to fill at the top of his to do list, in addition to spending the second half of 2022 building a case for the company's gene editing therapies based on clinical data. 

Other major issues he will have to navigate include an ongoing patent dispute that could have major a impact on the leading gene editing companies. Editas came out a winner in late February when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled in favor of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in a dispute over the patents around CRISPR gene editing technology. Editas holds its patents with this group and saw a nice bump in its share price following the decision.

But the opposing group, Nobel Prize winner Emmanuelle Charpentier, Ph.D., the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Vienna have appealed the matter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. So the legal saga continues.

Mullen, meanwhile, will stay involved in the company as executive chairman of the board. The change is effective June 1.