Novartis continues its hemorrhaging of executives seeking new careers at smaller, younger biotechs as its EVP and head of U.S. oncology Bill Hinshaw takes the reins at Axcella Health.
Axcella Health is a very early-stage company (it expects to have data from several pre-IND human signal-seeking studies across a few disease indications “in the coming months”) that’s working on “a new class of products to rebalance patients’ metabolic state to address serious unmet medical needs,” the biotech says.
Specifically, Axcella is “combining endogenous metabolic modulators to develop powerful new medicines with the goal of addressing metabolic dysregulation by safely reprogramming cellular physiology with unprecedented multifactorial effects.”
Its so-called ‘AXA’ product candidates “leverage the diversity and synergy of metabolic modulators to restore health across a network of dysregulated pathways,” with early programs that include liver, muscle, CNS and other target indications.
The biotech has been quietly plugging away on its early-stage work, with much of its public face over the past year focused on hiring new faces, including another former Novartis cancer exec David Epstein in January as its chair, and a CMO in Manu Chakravarthy, M.D., Ph.D., coming from Eli Lilly as its global head of innovation strategy and external R&D.
So, what brought Hinshaw, who helped lead all aspects of Novartis’ $6 billion revenue U.S. oncology business, including products such as Tasigna, Gleevec, and CAR-T drug Kymriah, to this little-known company with much more risk, and much less money?
“I will be forever grateful for the significant experiences and great teams that I led at Novartis,” he told FierceBiotech. “At this stage of my career, I wanted to join a company as CEO where I could lead and work with the team in shaping a discovery and development program to bring real innovation forward to the market, and thus broader access to patients.
“Biotech is unique in that it provides the opportunity to fully integrate the life cycle and launch of truly impactful products. I was specifically attracted to biotech because it provides the opportunity for me to engage in the whole life cycle of development, and the launch of differentiated therapies that can provide clear benefit to patients and the healthcare system.
“Axcella fills all of these criteria and additionally, provides an opportunity for me to join a company at an inflection point in its life cycle where I can directly impact its growth and development as a company. At this stage of my career, I feel I have the relevant experience and personal circumstances that position me to pursue this approach and lead an organization passionate about that same vision.”
Why specifically Axcella, when presumably there were offers elsewhere? Did Epstein help tip the balance? “I was attracted to Axcella due to the science, the platform, the development model, the stage of the company, and the opportunity to lead a talented and passionate team,” Hinshaw explained.
“The science is fundamental to human health and offers the potential to restore the balance of health in a powerful and safe way. The platform allows for disease-matched design of AXA candidates, that could potentially address the many diseases that have multifactorial metabolic dysregulation at their core.
“The stage of company allows for tremendous learning and growth as a leader, individual, and for us as a management team. The people at Axcella are skilled, bright, committed to the vision, and fun. Of course, I am also very excited to work with David [Epstein] again; he is a vastly experienced leader with whom I have a strong working relationship. His own transition from big pharma to an entrepreneurial environment is an additional plus.”
“Bill joins Axcella’s leadership team at a key inflection point in the company’s strategic and clinical evolution with a proven track record of overseeing the successful clinical development and commercialization of numerous therapeutic franchises across multiple geographies,” said Epstein, also an executive partner at VC Flagship Pioneering.
“Axcella has made substantial progress in 2018 as we continue advancing our proprietary platform and expanding our pipeline of novel metabolic modulators. We are excited to have Bill on board to lead the company through its next phase.”
Ameet Mallik, who has been region head of Latin America and Canada for Novartis oncology, replaces Hinshaw as U.S. oncology head.
This follows a series of departures for senior Novartis execs over the last few years, which includes Epstein, who led Novartis Pharmaceuticals for six years, as well as Usman "Oz" Azam, who exited to take the CEO spot at Tmunity Therapeutics. Then there’s Alessandro Riva, who left for Gilead, where he is EVP of oncology therapeutics; Hugh O'Dowd, who ended up as chief of Neon Therapeutics; and Mahesh Karande, who signed on as president and CEO at Macrolide Pharmaceuticals recently and was formerly vice president and head of Novartis' breast and renal oncology unit in the U.S.
And at the start of the year Liz Barrett, former global president of oncology at Pfizer, became CEO of Novartis Oncology, and took over from Bruno Strigini, who was said by Novartis to have retired for “personal reasons.”