European cancer biotech Merus nabs Sanofi I-O chief Andrew Joe

Joe moves from Sanofi to The Netherlands-based biotech. (Pixabay)

Sanofi’s immuno-oncology program leader Appoints Andrew Joe, M.D., has jumped ship from the French Big Pharma to Netherlands-based biotech Merus.

He becomes it new chief medical officer, overseeing all clinical and regulatory strategy and activities at Merus. This includes working on its pipeline of multispecific antibodies, including the biotech’s lead program, Zenocutuzumab (aka Zeno), for neuregulin 1 (NRG1) fusion cancers.

He comes over from Sanofi, where he worked on Libtayo (cemiplimab-rwlc) with Regeneron in skin, lung and other cancers.

Joe has some serious background, having worked on Merck’s blockbuster checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda (pembrolizumab), specifically on expanding its indications, whilst previously serving at Novartis, helping its approval of Zykadia (ceritinib) in ALK-positive lung cancer, and at Roche, helping with the Swiss major’s approval of Zelboarf (vemurafenib) in BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma.

Bill Lundberg, M.D., president, CEO and principal financial officer of Merus, said: “Andrew’s experience with approvals of molecularly-targeted and tumor-agnostic cancer therapies, as well as large basket trials, will enhance our clinical execution and personalized medicine approach with Zeno.”

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While good for Merus, this leaves Sanofi, in the midst of a cancer R&D renaissance, without a leading cancer research executive.

Zenocutuzumab (also called MCLA-128) targets fusions involving the gene NRG1, which can drive the growth of many different types of cancers. The drug was being studied in one trial in metastatic breast cancer and another in solid tumors, but before the co3700mpany refocused the trial on tumors with NRG1 fusions, three patients who tested positive for the abnormality were treated with the drug via an early-access program.

In early data presented last year, the phase 1 showed that targeting NRG1 fusions with the investigational drug produced tumor shrinkage in two patients, both of whom had pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, and in another with non-small cell lung cancer.

“I am thrilled to join Merus at this exciting and pivotal time,” added Joe. “The early clinical data reported on Zeno in NRG1 fusion cancers are quite promising, and I look forward to bringing the program towards potential registration.  I’m equally excited about the company’s phase 1 clinical and preclinical programs and their potential to become meaningful, transformative medicines for patients with cancer.”