Ely Benaim, M.D., is set to leave Rexahn Pharmaceuticals to take up the CMO position at Novocure. The move comes as Rexahn closes in on data from a phase 2a trial of its pancreatic cancer prospect.
Benaim joined Rexahn as CMO in 2015 following a decade featuring stints at Amgen, Millennium and Sangamo. Upon arrival, Benaim inherited two early-phase programs, RX-3117 and RX-5902. Rexahn is still developing both drugs but has failed to progress the pipeline as hoped, leading CEO Douglas Swirsky to admit recently that the company has “clearly had some bumps in the road.”
Swirsky, who has sought to restructure Rexahn since taking over in November, will now have to try to steer the company in the right direction without the support of Benaim. The CMO is set to take up the same position at Novocure at the start of next month.
Benaim’s exit comes in the run up to the delivery of phase 2a data on RX-3117, a prodrug designed to be selectively activated by cancer cells. Rexahn thinks the activated molecule will cause apoptosis, thereby killing cancer cells without causing significant harm to healthy tissues.
Rexahn is testing the drug in a phase 2a trial in combination with Celgene’s Abraxane, but interim data from the study have failed to excite investors. At the last update, one of the 24 evaluable patients to receive the combination had a complete response. Another eight patients had partial responses. Shares in Rexahn are down more than 50% since it shared the data in January.
The trial is fully enrolled and heading toward a readout that Swirsky thinks could set Rexahn up to move into a pivotal trial. But Benaim isn’t sticking around to find out.
At Novocure, Benaim will take on some of the responsibilities currently handled by Eilon Kirson, M.D., Ph.D., who serves as CSO and head of R&D. When Kirson retires at the start of May, Novocure will split scientific and medical affairs. Benaim will take on one piece, giving him responsibility for clinical operations and medical affairs. Uri Weinberg, M.D., will handle the other tasks, including preclinical development.