Former Gilead CMO Cheng joins Akero as CEO, as company moves HQ

Akero will relocate its headquarters from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to San Francisco, where Cheng is based.

After serving as Gilead’s chief medical officer for just six months, Andrew Cheng, M.D., Ph.D., has taken the top spot at Akero Therapeutics, not long after the biotech raised $65 million to move its lead nonalcoholic steatohepatitis candidate into phase 2 trials in the middle of next year.

And with the new president and CEO, Akero will relocate its headquarters from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to San Francisco, where Cheng is based. The company’s former CEO and co-founder, Jonathan Young, J.D., Ph.D., will stay on as executive VP and chief operating officer.

“Andrew's appointment as president and CEO builds on the incredible momentum at Akero this past year,” Aaron Kantoff, Akero board member and principal at Apple Tree Partners, which helped lead June’s series A round, said in a release. “The ability of the company to attract someone of Andrew's caliber is a testament to the groundwork laid by the founding team.”

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Cheng first joined Gilead in 1999 and helped lead clinical development of its HIV/AIDS programs, as well as its development operations in oncology, inflammatory, respiratory and cardiovascular indications, and liver diseases.

RELATED: Andrew Cheng to quit Gilead 6 months after taking CMO post

Akero's lead NASH program, AKR-001, is a long-acting fibroblast growth factor 21 analog—which plays a role in regulating metabolism and signaling in multiple organ systems—and has been previously evaluated in phase 1 studies of diabetic patients.

RELATED: Akero picks up $65M to advance Amgen-licensed NASH drug

AKR-001 targets downstream NASH symptoms alongside the underlying cause of the disease, Akero said, by aiming to reduce liver fat while suppressing inflammation and fibrosis. The company plans to study AKR-001 in other metabolic diseases as well.

The sudden loss of Cheng at Gilead last month followed several exits from its C-suite. In April, Norbert Bischofberger, Ph.D., departed as chief scientific officer to launch his own drug discovery startup, Kronos Bio. In July, John Milligan, Ph.D., announced he would step down as CEO at year’s end after nearly three decades at the company, while Chairman John Martin, Ph.D., said he would step down after a new CEO is named.