Parker Institute names Connolly as CSO, targets biopharma pacts

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI) has named John Connolly, Ph.D., as its chief scientific officer. Connolly joins PICI having previously collaborated with the institute in his capacity as CSO of Tessa Therapeutics.

PICI helped put Tessa on the map in 2017 when it entered into a cell therapy partnership with the Singapore-based biotech. Later that year, Tessa raised $80 million to support work including a phase 3 trial of a nasopharyngeal cancer candidate based on its virus-specific T-cell platform. Having joined Tessa as CSO in 2016, Connolly was involved in the collaboration with PICI.

Now, Connolly has left Tessa to join PICI. The appointment puts Connolly in charge of the execution of PICI’s research strategy, which covers challenges such as overcoming resistance to checkpoint inhibitors and identifying and expanding partnerships between the institute and biopharma companies. 

PICI has already partnered with a number of biopharma companies. Amgen and Bristol Myers Squibb sit alongside Tessa on a list of 25 partnerships with biopharma companies and other organizations. The partnerships are advancing T-cell immunotherapies, testing new anti-cancer drug combinations and otherwise trying to tackle key oncology challenges.

Connolly, an associate professor at National University of Singapore and adjunct associate professor of immunology at Baylor University, thinks the science has advanced to the point that the challenges can now be addressed. 

“The field of immunotherapy is at a maturity point with technology right now, which gives us the opportunity to create long-term, durable treatments that wouldn’t have been possible five years ago,” Connolly said in a statement.

Connolly’s decision to pursue those opportunities at PICI contributes to a period of change at the top of Tessa. In May, Jeffrey Buchalter replaced Tessa co-founder Andrew Khoo as CEO. Tessa disclosed the change alongside news that Göran Ando had replaced Teo Ming Kian as chairman of the board.