AbbVie oncology exec Graef jumps ship for natural killer cell biotech Acepodia

Immuno-oncology
Thorsten Graef, M.D., Ph.D., will take over Acepodia's oncology pipeline, which comprises four targeted cancer therapies. (Shutterstock)

Cell therapy biotech Acepodia has nabbed AbbVie cancer R&D veteran Thorsten Graef, M.D., Ph.D., as chief medical officer.

Graef rose up the ranks after AbbVie’s 2015 acquisition of Pharmacyclics, which brought the blockbuster cancer drug Imbruvica—which delivered $5.31 billion in 2020 sales—into the pharma giant’s fold. His most recent role at AbbVie was VP of oncology early development, where he oversaw clinical development and regulatory preparations for more than 20 pipeline assets.

Acepodia is hoping Graef will repeat that success, this time with research focused on natural killer cell therapies. He will take over a pipeline that includes four targeted cancer therapies. The cell therapy ACE1702 has entered the clinic in a phase 1 trial for HER2-expressing solid tumors, while the remaining assets are in the preclinical stage.

Founded by a Juno exec, Acepodia raised $47 million in March to advance lead natural killer cell therapy candidate ACE1702 through the clinic in solid tumors and advance other pipeline assets. The company has been filling out its executive suite in recent weeks.

“Dr. Graef’s strong expertise in clinical drug development and knowledge of global regulatory environments will be invaluable as we advance our pipeline of novel antibody cell conjugation investigational therapies,” said Sonny Hsiao, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of Acepodia.

Graef also did a stint at Merck & Co. after jumping from an attending physician position in Germany.

RELATED: From natural killer cells to off-the-shelf CAR-Ts, biopharma targets cancer with next-gen cell therapies

Acepodia also announced Michael Brock as the company’s new chief strategy officer today. He lands at the biotech after serving as managing director for Wells Fargo Securities’ Healthcare Investment Banking group.

The company seems to be on a hiring spree, having added Jimmy Lai as chief financial officer in March. Both Graef and Brock will work from Acepodia’s San Mateo, California headquarters.

Acepodia was founded in 2016 by Hsiao and Patrick Yang, Ph.D., a former exec at CAR-T maker Juno Therapeutics.