Gilead's virology lead and remdesivir developer Brainard jumps ship to run AlloVir

After she helped Gilead Sciences repurpose its old Ebola drug remdesivir into the first antiviral for COVID-19, AlloVir is hoping Diana Brainard, M.D., can repeat that same magic as its new CEO.

Now a celebrity in life sciences circles, Brainard moves from a 10-year career at Gilead, where she was most recently senior vice president and head of the virology therapeutic area at the pharma and oversaw the major blockbuster development and launch of its hugely successful hepatitis C franchise as well as helped turn remdesivir into a the first approved treatment for SARS-CoV-02.

After working on infectious diseases at Merck before moving to Gilead, running a virus-specific T-cell therapy startup will be both familiar but very next-gen in focus, and she will still be in the hunt for a new COVID-19 drug.

She joins AlloVir less than a year after it nabbed an upsized IPO worth $276 million to fund development of allogeneic T-cell treatments for viral diseases and as it embarks on a broad clinical development program for a phase 3-ready cell therapy that targets five viruses.

Massachusetts-based AlloVir generates off-the-shelf, virus-specific T cells in donors before stimulating their peripheral blood mononuclear cells to selectively activate and expand the therapeutic cells.

RELATED: AlloVir raises $276M IPO to run broad cell therapy program

AlloVir plans to spend that cash to take its leading therapy, Viralym-M, through phase 3 trials in immunocompromised patients post-allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) who have complications linked to hemorrhagic cystitis, cytomegalovirus or adenovirus.

The bigger size of the IPO also means AlloVir also has enough money to pursue other opportunities. In addition to the three phase 3 trials, AlloVir also has three phase 2 trials in the mix to test Viralym-M in the prevention of multivirus infections in HSCT patients as well as the treatment of BK virus and cytomegalovirus in kidney and solid organ transplant recipients, respectively.

It's also working on a COVID-19 drug, ALVR109, which is made of CD4+ and CD8+ virus-specific T cells generated from healthy donors. The therapy was hit with a hold last year, but the FDA cleared an IND for it in September, and it will clearly be a major area of focus for Brainard in the short term.

She takes over from David Hallal, who steps down as CEO but will continue on as executive chair. He will also continue to lead ElevateBio, which is the largest shareholder in AlloVir and grabbed more than $500 million in a VC raise just last week.

“Over the past three years, AlloVir has advanced a robust clinical pipeline across multiple cell therapies and viral diseases, positioning the company to execute on up to eight pivotal and proof-of-concept studies by the end of 2021,” said Hallal.

“Given this progress, it is an ideal time for Diana to succeed me as CEO and leverage her extensive virology expertise and broad leadership experience to drive the next phase of AlloVir’s growth. As an AlloVir board member, Diana is immersed in all facets of AlloVir’s people, corporate objectives and plans, and I look forward to continuing to work with her as she builds an industry-leading, global, virus-specific T-cell therapy powerhouse.”