CureVac has hired Daniel Menichella as CEO of its Boston-based subsidiary. The appointment gives the mRNA specialist and Moderna rival a dealmaker last seen helping Bamboo Therapeutics to a $645 million (€591 million) takeover by Pfizer.
Tϋbingen, Germany-based CureVac has tasked Menichella with developing its business in the U.S. with a “clear focus” on business development activities related to its mRNA technology platform. CureVac has R&D collaborations with Boehringer Ingelheim and Sanofi, but the number, size and scope of its alliances fall short of activity at its mRNA rivals BioNTech and Moderna.
The expectation is that Menichella will use the contacts and dealmaking nous he built up during stints as chief business officer at Bamboo and Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation (AGTC) to turn CureVac’s technology into income streams. CureVac wants Menichella to “more directly engage pharmaceutical communities.”
Menichella’s résumé is littered with examples where such engagement has led to deals. During his stint at Bamboo, Menichella in-licensed a Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) gene therapy and played a role in the raising of $40 million and subsequent Pfizer takeover. Pfizer cited the DMD asset in a release to explain its motivation for inking the deal.
The executive’s time at AGTC was defined by another big deal. In his 17 months at the company, Menichella drove the signing of a $1 billion pact with Biogen that netted AGTC $124 million upfront.
CureVac’s appointment of a dealmaker with a business development brief to lead the U.S. team marks a clear break from the past. When CureVac put down roots in Moderna’s backyard in 2015, it put Karen Slobod in charge. Slobod joined CureVac from Novartis, where she headed up the vaccine early development clinical group and maternal immunization team during an eight-year spell at the company. CureVac tasked Slobod primarily with driving forward development of its mRNA pipeline.
Slobod left CureVac late last year, two months before the company disclosed a setback to its lead candidate. The setback came in January when CureVac revealed a phase 2b trial of prostate cancer vaccine CV9104 missed its primary endpoint. The failure left CureVac with little hope of making a success of CV9104 in the indication as a monotherapy, although it is clinging to the prospect the 6-mRNA vaccine may prove more effective in combination with a checkpoint inhibitor.
CureVac has relied heavily on the largesse of its billionaire backer Dietmar Hopp to reach this point, although it has also attracted support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others. The financing rounds have brought in approximately $360 million, allowing CureVac to hold off on filing for a long-anticipated IPO. But the phase 2b blowup weakened CureVac’s hand for future financings, potentially making dealmaking more critical to its near-term future.