Ex-Shire R&D chief takes charge of immuno-oncology firm

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Vickers joins Northern Biologics after spending seven years at Shire.

Northern Biologics has named former Shire R&D chief Phil Vickers, Ph.D., as CEO. The appointment puts Vickers in charge of the Celgene-partnered biotech as its lead immuno-oncology asset closes in on the start of clinical testing. 

Vickers spent seven years at Shire, rising to the role of global head of R&D, before leaving around the time the firm began its recent reorganization into three hubs. Now, five months later, Vickers has followed the increasingly well-trodden path from large biopharma into little biotech. The move frees Stefan Larson, Ph.D., Northern Biologics’ founding CEO, to rejoin Versant Ventures.  

Northern Biologics began life in 2014 equipped with $10 million from Versant and IP from the University of Toronto and a nearby cancer hospital. A year later, Celgene paid $30 million upfront for the option to in-license candidates or buy the startup outright. Northern Biologics followed up that deal by merging with Mosaic Biomedicals to acquire leukemia inhibitory factor-targeting antibody MSC-1.

That antibody, MSC-1, is the one Northern Biologics will move into the clinic under the stewardship of Vickers. Having previously targeted a 2017 start date for the clinical trial, Northern Biologics is now aiming to hustle the candidate into human testing in a range of cancers early next year. 

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Northern Biologics put funding in place for early clinical development of the drug at the time of the merger, specifically by tapping Versant Ventures for money and getting Celgene to exercise its option on certain rights to MSC-1.

Vickers is the latest in a string of big names to be attracted to the potential of Northern Biologics’ science. Versant and Celgene both came on board early in the biotech’s history. And the company has also hired CSO Jeanne Magram, Ph.D., away from Pfizer and CMO Robert Wasserman, M.D., from a senior role at the CRO Covance. 

The latest appointment lays the groundwork for more biotechs to emerge from the Ontario and broader eastern Canada regions that spawned Northern Biologics. Upon returning to Versant, Larson will start hunting for more investments for the VC shop to make in the region.