Life after Novartis: Jimenez joins board of Bayer-backed cell therapy startup

Graphic of workers with parachutes and ladders
Joe Jimenez left Novartis in early 2018, six months after the Swiss pharma’s CAR-T treatment, Kymriah, won FDA approval. (Lia Shaked)

Joe Jimenez has (another) new gig. The ex-Novartis boss joined the board of Century Therapeutics, a startup working on off-the-shelf cell therapies that emerged last July with $250 million from the likes of Versant Ventures and Bayer’s VC arm. 

He arrives at Philadelphia-based Century as the biotech nets a new chief technology officer: Greg Russotti, Ph.D., who wore various hats at Celgene, but was most recently vice president of cell therapy development and operations. 

“We are thrilled to welcome Joe Jimenez to Century’s board of directors. His unique background, outstanding leadership, and deep understanding of the biomedical industry will complement and enrich Century,” said Century CEO Lalo Flores, Ph.D., in a statement. “His role in leading Novartis to attain the first FDA approval for a CAR T cell therapy aligns with Century’s goal to lead the next wave of innovation in cell therapy.” 

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Jimenez left Novartis in early 2018, six months after the Swiss pharma’s CAR-T treatment, Kymriah, won FDA approval for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. 

RELATED: Bayer powers Versant cell therapy startup to $250M round

Kymriah and other autologous cell therapies are made from a patient’s own cells, and so, can be complicated and time-consuming to make. Players like Allogene are working on allogeneic, or off-the-shelf, treatments that are aimed at solving those problems. Century thinks it can improve the allogeneic approach further. 

RELATED: uBiome grabs $83M, new digs and Joe Jimenez as it expands into therapeutics 

That belief rests on Century’s use of self-renewing induced pluripotent stem cells, rather than nonrenewable cells from donors. Century puts these cells through multiple rounds of cellular engineering to create master cell banks. By expanding and differentiating the cells in these banks into immune effector cells, Century thinks it can supply “vast amounts” of homogeneous off-the-shelf products. 

RELATED: FBI raids uBiome’s San Francisco HQ over insurance billing practices: reports 

Jimenez’s latest board position comes after an ill-fated first foray into life after Novartis. In September 2018, he joined the board of uBiome after meeting with more than 30 companies, Forbes reported. At the time, the company sold sequencing-based tests that can catalog a person’s gut microbiome or serve as a women’s health screen, but it had ambitions to apply its technology and knowhow to drug discovery and development. 

Jimenez left uBiome in April 2019, around the time the FBI raided uBiome’s San Francisco headquarters over its insurance billing practices. It turned out that the company had been billing patients multiple times without their consent and pushing doctors to approve tests with little oversight, CNBC reported. By the end of the year, Stat News reported, uBiome inked a preliminary sale of its patents to Psomagen for less than 1% of the company’s original value. The company had raised more than $100 million from investors and had once been valued at more than $600 million.

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