Locanabio picks up ex-CRISPR Tx, Sanofi head as chief scientific officer, snags Audentes' CMO

Locanabio doubled down on its C-suite hires Tuesday, snagging talent from CRISPR Therapeutics and Astellas' Audentes Therapeutics to lead its preclinical pipeline into the future.

John Leonard, Ph.D., who was CRISPR Therapeutics' head of hematology and in vivo research, joins as chief scientific officer. Edward Conner, M.D., who was chief medical officer at Audentes Therapeutics, now Astellas Gene Therapies, will be Locanabio's chief medical officer.

Leonard and Conner will help lead the RNA-targeted gene therapy biotech's pipeline as it tackles severe neurodegenerative, neuromuscular and retinal diseases. The San Diego biotech picked up a $100 million series B in December to bring forth treatments for myotonic dystrophy, Huntington's disease, frontotemporal dementia and other indications.

"Their extensive experience in drug discovery and development across multiple therapeutic areas, including rare and neuromuscular diseases, and deep insights into successfully advancing new genetic medicines will be instrumental as we progress and expand the company's pipeline," said CEO Jim Burns, Ph.D., in a statement.

At CRISPR, Leonard worked on gene-editing programs using lipid nanoparticle and adeno-associated virus vector delivery of CRISPR-Cas9 for liver and neuromuscular indications. Prior to CRISPR, Leonard was head of metabolic and neuromuscular research in Sanofi Genzyme's rare disease unit. 

RELATED: Intellia hits a 'home run' with gene-editing results, setting up entire field for a grand slam

The CRISPR movement picked up steam last week when Intellia and partner Regeneron were the first to show that gene editing can work in a human. CRISPR Therapeutics benefited from the results, with its shares rising about $18.

On Conner's end, he brings with him a background in clinical development, translational medicine and clinical strategy. At Audentes, Conner helped lead clinical development and operations, medical affairs, regulatory, drug safety and patient advocacy, Locanabio said. Conner's resume also includes stints at Sangamo Therapeutics, Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical, BioMarin Pharmaceutical and Roche's Genentech. 

While at Audentes, Conner oversaw an investigational new drug filing for Pompe disease and drove the clinical development for myotonic dystrophy and Duchenne muscular dystrophy treatments. 

RELATED: Astellas takes $540M impairment charge over Audentes' gene therapy trial hold

After doling out $3 billion to buy Audentes in 2019, Astellas said in April it was taking a $540 million impairment loss because of an FDA clinical hold on a gene therapy for X-linked myotubular myopathy last year after a patient died from sepsis.