Immunomedics poaches AstraZeneca I-O executive as new research chief

Troubled Immunomedics, which saw a potential $2 billion deal with Seattle Genetics scrapped last year—a whirlwind that also saw the biotech’s board ax its former president and CEO Cynthia Sullivan—is bringing in a new head of research.

Sullivan was replaced by Celgene veteran Michael Pehl as its CEO in December, and the new hires keep coming in the wake of last year’s fiasco, with Robert Iannone, M.D., M.S.C.E., becoming head of R&D and CMO, from today.

Iannone brings more than 13 years of experience in clinical drug development, most recently working on I-O programs at AstraZeneca and its biologics arm MedImmune.

Here, he oversaw the development of the company’s late immuno-oncology offering Imfinzi and was, most recently, SVP and head of immuno-oncology, global medicines development, at the British-headquartered Big Pharma.

He joined AZ back in 2014, coming from rival Merck, where he was a development leader for PD-1 inhibitor star Keytruda.

This all comes after Seattle Genetics last May killed off a major breast cancer drug tie-up with Immunomedics after intense legal battles.

The troubles stemmed from a few months prior, when Immunomedics signed a potential $2 billion development and licensing deal with Seattle for its leading med IMMU-132, including a hefty $250 million upfront, only to have it placed on hold in March 2017 after a shareholder revolt.

Disgruntled investors, led by activist investor venBio, eventually forced through changes to the biotech’s board of directors.

The acrimonious battle centered on IMMU-132, a.k.a. sacituzumab govitecan, with venBio pushing to keep the drug in-house and calling the Seattle Genetics agreement “a rushed deal that does not deliver fair value to shareholders.”

normal">RELATED: VenBio slams timing, terms of Immunomedics’ $2B deal

It eventually won out when the deal was killed off, with Sullivan swiftly booted out the door. The ax also swung on David Goldenberg, the biotech’s founder, who stepped down as chief scientific officer and chief patent officer.

The biotech, hoping both Pehl and now Iannone can help steer the ship through calmer waters, is in the critical latter stages of preparing to seek FDA approval for IMMU-132 a third-line treatment for late-stage, metastatic triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).

The med is an antibody-drug conjugate of SN-38—the active metabolite of the chemotherapy drug irinotecan—and Immunomedics’ anti-TROP2 asset hRS7. The ADC is designed to target the TROP-2 receptors that are found in certain tumors and hustle the payload into cells.

In its second quarter update, announced in mid-Feb., the biotech’s new CEO said: “We continue to work diligently on our BLA to be submitted to the FDA for accelerated approval. I am pleased with the overall progress across clinical and manufacturing work streams, including successful validation runs.

“Our focus continues to be on compiling a BLA package that efficiently brings sacituzumab govitecan to market, and one that anticipates and addresses potential FDA requests going forward. As such, we now expect to file the BLA by the end of May 2018.” This is a delay on the Q4 2017 the company had originally planned on, saying last May during the troubles that it would be delayed by a few months, though it did not share the reason why.

RELATED: Immunomedics says IMMU-132 hits targets in small cell lung cancer

Pehl said of his new head of research: “Through his unique expertise, Rob will be instrumental in aggressively advancing development of our programs with the right drug combinations and in the most appropriate patient segments. I look forward to working closely with Rob to unlock the full potential of our ADC platform and further strengthen Immunomedics as a leader in this field.”

The biotech, with a $2.3 billion market cap, saw its shares under $4 a share last February, when venBio aimed to scuttle the deal, but has risen steadily since, worth around $14 a share last week.

The biotech is also at work on early-to-midstage programs in colorectal cancers, as well as ALL and autoimmune diseases.

Check out its pipeline.