Newly merged Mereo BioPharma looks to OncoMed for R&D hires

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After years of setbacks, OncoMed became last year a vehicle for Mereo to gain U.S. listing on the Nasdaq through a reverse merger when its own IPO plans soured. (Nasdaq)

Mereo BioPharma canceled its expected IPO last year in a reverse merger with OncoMed and now is filling up a number of key research posts with execs from the company.

Today, Mereo appointed John Lewicki, Ph.D., as its new chief scientific officer and Ann Kapoun, Ph.D., as senior vice president of translational R&D. Both worked at cancer biotech OncoMed before, now merged into Mereo, with both also having worked on anti-TIGIT oncology hopeful etigilimab before the 2019 union.

Most recently, Kapoun was SVP of R&D at Escape Bio, a central nervous system biotech, and also served a stint at Johnson & Johnson. She was head of translational medicine at OncoMed, overseeing its drug discoveries into the clinic.

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Lewicki, meanwhile, is an OncoMed stalwart, building up R&D responsibilities since 2004 and most recently serving as its president, CEO and member of the board before the Mereo deal.

Through that merger, Mereo got its hands on OncoMed’s cancer drugs—with etigilimab being part of a collaboration with Celgene—as well as a U.S. base in Redwood City, California, a number of OncoMed employees and navicixizumab, an anti-DLL4/VEGF bispecific antibody being tested in ovarian cancer.

OncoMed has, however, had a bit of a rough ride. A 2008 Fierce 15 company, it got off an $82 million IPO in 2013, selling its shares for $17 apiece. But the company faced a number of setbacks in the last couple of years from which its share price has not recovered.

In April 2017, OncoMed revealed that its Celgene-partnered lead asset demcizumab had flunked a phase 2 pancreatic cancer trial, and Bayer had walked away from two drugs, triggering a 40% drop in its stock price. A week later, the company announced its anti-Notch2/3 drug tarextumab, in combination with etoposide and chemo in first-line patients with small cell lung cancer, missed its primary endpoint of progression-free survival as well as its secondary endpoints.

With a new combination in Mereo, which had a rare disease focus prior to its OncoMed merger, the biotech will hope for a better future while using some execs from the past.

“John and Ann bring invaluable expertise to Mereo as we prepare to advance etigilimab, our novel antibody against TIGIT, into a Phase 1b study in the fourth quarter of 2020,” said Denise Scots-Knight, Ph.D., CEO of Mereo.

“John and Ann are seasoned leaders with a deep understanding of oncology drug development, and we are delighted to have them join us as we build the team to advance etigilimab.”

“Having been closely involved in the discovery and development of etigilimab, I am thrilled to formally join Mereo to advance this potential best-in-class anti-TIGIT antibody,” added Lewicki. “I look forward to working closely with Ann and the entire Mereo team to advance etigilimab into a Phase 1b study later this year building on our current clinical data.”

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