Medigene loses CMO after slashing staff, blood cancer program

Medigene's chief medical officer and chief development officer, Kai Pinkernell, M.D., is bidding the immuno-oncology biotech adieu. His departure comes two months after the company culled a blood cancer program and six months after it revealed it would cut its staff by about 25%. 

Pinkernell is leaving “for personal reasons,” Medigene said in a statement. He will hand his CMO duties over to René Goedkoop, M.D., Medigene’s vice president of clinical affairs, at the end of the month. Pinkernell will serve as an adviser to the company for six months. 

RELATED: Medigene shares sag as it axes TCR-T blood cancer drug, with COVID-19 partly to blame 

The German company has been developing both T-cell receptor (TCR) treatments and dendritic cell vaccines for the treatment of various cancers. In September 2020, it decided to focus all future preclinical research and development activities on its TCR programs for solid tumors. At the same time, Medigene announced it would cut its workforce by 25% to extend its cash runway into the third quarter of 2022. 

"Kai was a valued member of the Executive Management Board and during this time mainly drove our clinical trials and advanced the cell therapy manufacturing processes,” said Dolores Schendel, Ph.D., Medigene CEO and chief scientific officer, in the statement.  

“At the same time, we are pleased that René is stepping up as acting CMO and assumes responsibility for the ongoing clinical studies, ensuring their smooth continuation. With his broad experience he will also contribute to the successful strategic refocus towards solid tumor indications,” Schendel said. 

In January, the company dropped MDG1021, a TCR treatment it was developing for patients suffering from relapsed or persistent blood cancers after receiving a stem cell transplant. In addition to its refocus on solid tumors, the company pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as a factor in its decision. 

RELATED: Ramaswamy's latest 'vant' debuts with Medigene TCR partnership 

“We believe the challenges of recruiting patients for this program have been exacerbated under the prevailing pandemic conditions and that this situation is unlikely to improve substantially over the coming months, leading us to this difficult decision,” Pinkernell said at the time. 

Goedkoop will now take over finalizing the phase 1 part of a clinical trial of MDG1011, a TCR treatment for acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes, Medigene said in the statement. The company is seeking a partner for the phase 2 portion of the study.