Another AstraZeneca executive hits the exit, joins alumnus at Immunocore

David Berman (AstraZeneca)

Immunocore has named David Berman as its head of research and development. Berman spent the past decade overseeing the rise of immuno-oncology drugs at AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Most recently, Berman worked as head of the immuno-oncology franchise at AstraZeneca, a position he held until shortly before moving to Immunocore in September. Berman joined AstraZeneca from Bristol-Myers—triggering a lawsuit in the process—in 2015 to take up the role of head of oncology at Anglo-Swedish company’s MedImmune subsidiary. 

Berman landed the role at AstraZeneca on the back of a 10-year stint at Bristol-Myers. At the immuno-oncology pioneer, Berman played a part in the discovery and development of the CTLA-4 checkpoint inhibitor Yervoy before taking a broader role in exploratory development.

The 13 years Berman spent at AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers cover the period in which the first wave of immuno-oncology agents reshaped cancer care, and the later shift to drug combinations and trials targeting earlier-stage disease. 

Having helped Bristol-Myers become a big player in immuno-oncology and influenced AstraZeneca’s catch-up strategy, Berman is well placed to opine on the state of the sector. And the ex-AstraZeneca exec thinks his new employer can help to bring the benefits of immuno-oncology to more patients.

“The majority of IOs in development attempt to bypass peripheral tolerance by "rewiring" existing anti-cancer T cells. They also require that tumors have neo-antigens for these T cells to recognize and target,” Berman wrote in a post on LinkedIn. “However, many patients lack these pre-existing T cells and tumors may have insufficient neo-antigens. New approaches such as bypassing central tolerance (thymic selection) is an exciting new field; in essence, creating 'new T cell hardware.'”

At Immunocore, Berman will work to move lead candidate IMCgp100 toward commercialization and advance earlier-stage assets as part of a new-look management team. Berman will work alongside Immuncore CEO Bahija Jallal, who also recently joined the British biotech from AstraZeneca. 

Jallal has made strengthening the leadership team a top priority for 2019 after inheriting a management group that had been weakened by departures during a time of change for the biotech.