I-O startup Gritstone lures Rousseau from Genentech

Employment contract
Rousseau joins Gritstone after eight years at Genentech

Gritstone Oncology has appointed Raphaël Rousseau, M.D., Ph.D., as its CMO. Rousseau joins Gritstone from Genentech, becoming the latest biopharma veteran to join the ranks at the well-financed personalized cancer immunotherapy startup.

The appointment puts the former global franchise head, pediatrics for Genentech’s oncology drug development division in charge of overseeing Gritstone’s advance into the clinic. Gritstone put its name on the map in 2015 when it unveiled a $102 million Series A. And having used that money to advance research into personalized neoantigen immunotherapies, the Emeryville, California-based firm now needs a CMO.

“Raphaël’s expertise in applying translational research to immunotherapy in oncology and hematology and his experience overseeing clinical trials of innovative therapeutic compounds will be invaluable as we advance our first neoantigen immunotherapy into the clinic in 2018,” Gritstone CEO Andrew Allen, M.D., Ph.D. said in a statement.

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Rousseau joins Gritstone following an eight-year stint at Roche’s Genentech, during which he set up the pediatric oncology drug development unit and oversaw a 60-person team. Projects overseen by Rousseau included the iMATRIX master trial, a multi-tumor, multi-therapeutic study that looked at drugs including anti-PD-L1 cancer immunotherapy Tecentriq in pediatric patients.

In persuading Rousseau to walk away from this work to join Gritstone, the personalized neoantigen immunotherapy startup has added another person with an eye-catching résumé to its team. The company was set up by Allen, the co-founder and former CMO of Clovis Oncology. Allen’s first appointment was Roman Yelensky, Ph.D., the former VP of biomarker and companion diagnostic development at Foundation Medicine. Yelensky was promoted this week to CTO.

In between the appointments of Yelensky and Rousseau, Gritstone brought on board former Pfizer cancer immunotherapy chief Karin Jooss, Ph.D., to work as CSO. And again raided Foundation Medicine to hire Matthew Hawryluk, Ph.D. as chief business officer.

Fueled by the $102 million Series A round, the team is working to apply next-generation sequencing, bioinformatics and algorithms to the creation of immunotherapies. The plan is to find out what tumor-specific neoantigens (TSNA) a patient has and then use an algorithm to figure out what candidate is most likely to activate tumor-specific T cells. Gritstone will then deliver personalized synthetic TSNAs.

The hope is these personalized TSNAs will yield better results than existing, broader approaches to antigen selection.

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