Merrimack poaches Ariad CMO after shake-ups for both companies

The new CMO comes on board amid a series of structural and executive changes for the biotech in 2017.

Following a major reorganization earlier this year that saw it sell off its marketed med and revert back to being a clinical-stage biotech, Merrimack is making major changes in its executive team, announcing today that former Ariad chief medical officer Sergio Santillana, M.D., will be its new medical lead. 

Santillana, a medical oncologist by training, leaves Ariad after its $5.2 billion takeover from Japan’s Takeda in January. He’s also served stints at Takeda, as well as GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly.

Santillana joins from one biopharma going through change to another, as Merrimack at the start of the year sold off its drug Onivyde and other assets to Ipsen for $575 million in cash up front, turning it back into a slimmed-down, clinical-stage cancer biotech. In doing so, its headcount shrunk by 80% from 400 to 80.

The new, leaner organization will focus on advancing MM-121, MM-141 and MM-310 using $125 million from the Ipsen deal. Non-small cell lung cancer drug MM-121 and metastatic pancreatic cancer program MM-141 are in phase 2, making them the most advanced of the company's assets.

“We are pleased to welcome Sergio … to Merrimack to help lead our organization in the execution of our refocused research and clinical development strategy,” Richard Peters, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO and a former Sanofi Genzyme SVP (and himself pretty new to Merrimack, coming on board in February after the changes), said in a release. “The collective expertise of our expanded management team is an invaluable asset to Merrimack as we focus on pinpoint execution across three wholly-owned, innovative and promising clinical-stage programs. With funding into the second half of 2019 to support our corporate objectives, a refined strategic focus and experienced teams in place to execute, we are poised to deliver on the long-term potential of our pipeline for cancer patients and our shareholders.”

In April, Merrimack also promoted Daryl Drummond, Ph.D., to become its head of research, putting a liposomal discovery specialist who helped invent Onivyde in charge of a rebooted research organization seeking to replicate that earlier success.