Ex-Merck R&D exec Robert Plenge jumps ship to Celgene

Robert Plenge is said to be heading for Celgene's immunology unit, which is working on ozanimod.

Robert Plenge is to take the plunge and leave his role at Merck as VP and head of translational medicine to take up a new position at Celgene to run its immunology R&D. 

The news has not, however, come from an official press release from either Merck or Celgene, but rather from bio-Twitter. Last night Bruce Booth, a partner at Atlas Venture, and David Shaywitz at Forbes helped break the news.

“Exciting (if buried) news from @rplenge – he’s heading to @Celgene, great get for them, and congratulations, Robert!,” Shaywitz said, with Booth adding: “The news is out! @rplenge is newest member of R&D leadership team CELG, running immunology research. Great for Robert and for CELG!”

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The news only came out when it was noticed under Plenge’s latest blog post that he added: “[Disclaimer: I am an employee of Merck, although will soon transition to a new role at Celgene.]” His Twitter bio, from which he re-tweeted Shaywitz and Booth this weekend, also now says: “soon at Celgene, ex-Merck.”

Despite the bulk of its sales coming from several cancer meds, and although it is currently only headed up in the market by its psoriasis drug Otezla (apremilast), immunology and inflammation is a core research area for Celgene.

On the horizon for this unit is ozanimod, which could yield blockbuster sales in multiple sclerosis if approved (filing is expected in that indication by year’s end at the FDA), with it also in testing for GI disorders including Crohn’s disease.

And back in January, Celgene spent $300 million upfront with $475 million in biobucks for Delinia, boosting its inflammation and immunology pipeline as it nabbed the upstart’s lead program DEL106, a new IL-2 mutein Fc fusion protein designed to preferentially upregulate regulatory T cells.

It also got its hands on “related second generation programs,” with its newly acquired early pipeline potentially targeting a variety of autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Celgene did not immediately respond to a request from FierceBiotech about Plenge's position. 

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