Panacea, renamed as Sensei Bio, appoints former X4 executive as CEO

Known as Panacea Pharmaceuticals until earlier this year, Sensei has cited promising data from a phase 1 trial of a potentially first-in-class cancer vaccine that targets an embryonic self-antigen. (Sensei Biotherapeutics)

Sensei Biotherapeutics has appointed John Celebi as its new president and CEO as the company begins building clinical data on its lead cancer vaccine.

Celebi was previously chief operating officer of X4 Pharmaceuticals, following his time as chief business officer of Igenica Biotherapeutics. Before that, he served as VP of business development, new product planning and alliance management at ArQule, where he helped form alliances with Roche, Daiichi-Sankyo and Kyowa Hakko Kirin. Celebi will also join Sensei’s board of directions.

Known as Panacea Pharmaceuticals until earlier this year, the Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Sensei has cited promising data from a phase 1 trial of SNS-301, a potentially first-in-class cancer vaccine that targets an embryonic self-antigen. The company described observations of antigen-specific immune responses from both B-cells and T-cells, as well as a reduction in disease-specific biomarkers.

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“John’s oncology background and accomplished track record in biotech will serve Sensei exceptionally well as we move forward with our innovative immuno-oncology platform and advance new medicines for patients,” said co-founder Hossein Ghanbari, chief scientific officer and chair of the board, and the company’s original CEO.

In addition, the company is looking to its SPIRIT drug development platform to generate a pipeline of immuno-oncology therapies, Sensei said in a statement. Both SPIRIT and SNS-301, formerly PAN-301-1, were first developed at Panacea.

The phase 1 study enrolled 12 patients with relapsed prostate cancer. A majority of subjects treated beyond three months saw reductions in prostate specific antigen doubling rate, the company said in February. The vaccine targets the enzyme HAAH, normally expressed in fetal development, but typically silenced after birth. HAAH expression has been detected in more than 20 types of cancer.

“We are encouraged by the clinical data that is emerging for our lead drug candidate, SNS-301, which we are advancing to lead the way in our strategy to build a precision pipeline of immuno-oncology therapies through companion diagnostics,” Celebi said.