MedImmune-lite? Immunocore delves into British Big Pharma's R&D talent pool, again

AstraZeneca
The biologics arm of AstraZeneca has been shedding executives to Immunocore this year. (AstraZeneca)

Bahija Jallal, David Berman, Koustubh Ranadel, and now Mohammed Dar lines up as the latest AstraZeneca/MedImmune executive to jump ship into U.K. biotech Immunocore.

Amid some big changes in R&D at AstraZeneca, Dar comes on board as the T cell receptor biotech’s head of clinical development and chief medical officer, leading work on tebentafusp (IMCgp100) as well as other “key programmes” in Immunocore’s pipeline, including hepatitis B, HIV and autoimmune diseases.

He comes from MedImmune, formerly its vice president of clinical development oncology, R&D; before this, he was a long-termer at GlaxoSmithKline, also focused on cancer.

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While at MedImmune, he led the clinical trials and teams supporting the approval of anti-PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor Imfinzi (durvalumab) and anti-CD22 immunotoxin blood cancer drug Lumoxiti (moxetumomab).

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Dar will likely feel at home at the biotech, which has bases in Oxfordshire, U.K., and in the U.S., given that three former execs out of AstraZeneca and its biologics arm MedImmune are already set up at the company.

Bahija Jallal, a former 12-year veteran at Medimmune, became Immunocore's CEO at the start of the year and was swiftly followed by David Berman, the ex-head of the immuno-oncology franchise at AstraZeneca; they join Koustubh Ranade, its head of translational medicine, formerly the VP of translational medicine at MedImmune for all therapeutic areas and who also worked on Imfinzi.

Jallal said of her latest hire: “Immunocore is approaching a crucial point in the company’s development, with our lead product candidate, tebentafusp, moving through pivotal studies. Mohammed has a complete breadth of experience in leading clinical teams through early and late stage development. We’re delighted to have such a distinguished physician, scientist and industry leader join us as we progress tebentafusp and our other promising candidates through clinical development.”

RELATED: Immunocore lifer leaves to head research at TCR rival Scancell

“The potential of Immunocore’s unparalleled science and TCR platform is very impressive,” added Dar. “I am thrilled to have joined Immunocore at such an exciting time for the Company and I look forward to working with the scientific leadership team to drive this compelling science forward.”

The biotech, which recently got a $100 million boost from a pact with Roche, is working on an ImmTAC platform designed to redirect T cells to attack tumors and is one of the prominent players in the British biotech world.

But there has been trouble for Immunocore in recent years: Former chief Eliot Forster’s departure last February came amid multiple other senior people leaving the company, with social media reports abounding about redundancies.

Immunocore originally made waves around the world in 2015 when it raised a $320 million series A round. Since then, the British biotech has taken its lead candidate IMCgp100 into a pivotal trial in uveal melanoma and advanced other internal and partnered assets.

Immunocore’s interest in MAGE-A4, the focus of its recent Roche pact, puts it in the same field as sister company Adaptimmune, which is running a phase 1 trial of a T cell therapy that targets the antigen. Both companies are going after a range of solid tumors including non-small cell lung cancer.

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