Janssen discovery head joins Incyte as its CSO jumps to Third Rock

Janssen Research & Development’s global head of discovery, Dashyant Dhanak, Ph.D., is joining Incyte to serve as its chief scientific officer, effective Dec. 10.

He will take over for Reid Huber, Ph.D., who has moved on to become a partner at Third Rock Ventures.

The change follows some ups and downs for Incyte’s portfolio over the past year, which saw the axe fall on its late-phase epacadostat program, including at least nine trials of the IDO1 inhibitor, after a combination study with Keytruda missed its endpoint in melanoma.

But this summer did see a long-fought FDA approval for Olumiant (baricitinib), Incyte’s rheumatoid arthritis tablet developed with Eli Lilly—albeit only for the lower dose and not the higher one, and with a black box warning to boot.

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Huber had been at Incyte since 2002, serving as senior VP for discovery biology and in other clinical development roles. He will work at Third Rock to help discover and build new life science companies.

“We look forward to leveraging his broad experience from early drug discovery through commercial execution as we translate the unprecedented level of innovation emerging from academia and industry to our company creation efforts,” Third Rock partner Robert Tepper, M.D., said in a statement.

“Reid’s contributions to Incyte have been instrumental in its evolution from a start-up operation to the world-class discovery engine of today, and I thank him most sincerely for his commitment and critical thinking over the last 16 years,” said Incyte CEO Hervé Hoppenot, who also described Dhanak as bringing “an ideal mix of discovery and development experience” to the team.

Prior to joining Janssen in 2013, Dhanak spent 25 years at GlaxoSmithKline ultimately as VP and head of its Cancer Epigenetics Discovery Performance Unit. He is a member of the American Association of Cancer Research’s epigenome task force and has participated in the American Chemical Society Pharma Leaders Forum as well as on peer review committees at the American Cancer Society and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

Going forward, Incyte aims to complete its research for new indications for Jakafi (ruxolitinib) in graft-versus-host disease and essential thrombocythemia, as well as its studies of Olumiant in atopic dermatitis, systemic lupus erythematosus, alopecia and psoriatic arthritis.

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All told, Incyte’s portfolio holds 19 candidates aimed at 17 molecular targets, the company said, including cancer immunotherapies in clinical proof-of-concept trials.