Former Gilead CSO McHutchison takes charge at Assembly Biosciences

During his time at Gilead, McHutchison oversaw the development of five hepatitis drugs and also led the Big Pharma’s expansion into oncology with its blood cancer medication Zydelig. (Tim Adams/Wikimedia Commons)

Three weeks after Gilead announced his exit, John McHutchison, M.D., has landed at Assembly Biosciences—in the CEO seat. The nine-year Gilead veteran left his post of chief scientific officer and R&D chief on Friday. 

McHutchison joined Gilead from Duke University Medical Center in 2010, as senior vice president of liver disease therapeutics. He moved up the ranks, serving as EVP of clinical research before becoming the company’s top scientist and EVP of R&D in 2018 when Gilead’s longtime R&D lead Norbert Bischofberger, Ph.D., stepped down. 

During his time at Gilead, McHutchison oversaw the development of five hepatitis drugs and also led the Big Pharma’s expansion into oncology with its blood cancer medication Zydelig. He now brings that expertise to South San Francisco-based Assembly, which is putting together a pipeline of treatments for hepatitis B and diseases linked to the microbiome, including cancer and immune-modulated diseases, as well as ulcerative colitis and other diseases of the gut. 

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“I am very pleased to welcome John to Assembly and could not think of a more fitting leader to guide the transition of the company into a global development stage organization,” said Derek Small, Assembly’s outgoing president and CEO, in a statement. “As we now have four development candidates across our HBV programs and microbiome platform, including our lead core inhibitor ABI-H0731 completing its phase 2 studies and ABI-M201 in a phase 1b study for ulcerative colitis, it is an ideal time to pass the torch to a visionary leader who has an extensive track record of moving important therapies through to approval and out into the hands of physicians and patients.” 

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ABI-H0731 is the most advanced of Assembly’s four hepatitis B programs, all of which target the core protein of the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The company believes these core inhibitors can go beyond current antiviral treatments, which focus on stopping or slowing the reproduction of the virus, but do not cure the disease. Assembly’s treatments are designed to disrupt viral replication and prevent the production and replenishment of covalently closed circular DNA, a special DNA structure that turns up when some viruses reproduce in the cell nucleus. 

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“The science and the talented team are what attracted me to Assembly and gives me confidence that we can achieve a future with curative treatment regimens for patients with HBV infection,” McHutchison said in the statement. “There are a quarter of a billion people worldwide who are chronically infected with HBV and deserve better outcomes, as has been done for patients with HCV infection. I am enthusiastic about leading this team and working together to bring transformative medicines to patients in need.” 

As for its microbiome programs, Assembly is using a platform that combs through a library of bacterial strains isolated from healthy people. It identifies strains that have shown pharmacological, immunological and cell biological functions and Assembly chooses the most promising ones to take forward as live biotherapeutics for diseases such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and cancer.

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