Ramaswamy loses another key executive as Fouse jumps ship to Agios

Vivek Ramaswamy
Vivek Ramaswamy loses another leader from his Roivant family of biotechs. (Roivant.com)

It has not been a great 12 months for Vivek Ramaswamy’s constellation of biotechs—seeing a major meltdown at Axovant with failures and a fleeing CEO—and now it’s losing another star biotech player in Jackie Fouse, Ph.D.

Last year, Fouse was tapped by Ramaswamy in a shock move that saw her ditch Big Biotech Celgene to join Dermavant, one of the Roivant family of biotechs that focuses on a pipeline of dermatology assets, as its executive chair.

Fouse had, in the last few weeks, been rumored as the possible next in line for the recently vacated Gilead CEO role, but has now in fact decided to lead Agios, a former Fierce 15 winner that this year got off FDA approval for its cancer drug Tibsovo, an oral drug to treat r/r AML patients with the IDH1 mutation.

Here, she will also take a step back toward Celgene, as the Big Biotech and Agios partner on Idhifa, another blood cancer treatment the pair gained U.S. approval for back in 2017. She will take over from long-time Agios lead David Schenkein, who will become its chair. But there will also now be one less attachment to her old company as, separately, Agios and Celgene announced today that they are killing off a 2015 research collaboration on blood cancer hopeful and selective inhibitor of IDH1 and IDH2 AG-881, with the former getting the rights handed back to it.

“From and after the AG-881 Agreement Termination Date, the Company will obtain sole global rights to AG-881 and no party will have a financial obligation to the other parties, including milestones, royalties or other payments, except that (a) Celgene shall be eligible to receive royalties from the Company at a low single-digit percentage rate on worldwide net sales of products containing AG-881 and (b) the Company and Celgene shall split certain agreed-upon worldwide development costs for AG-881 until Dec. 31, 2018,” the pair noted in an SEC form.

She said of her departure: “It has been a pleasure to help Dermavant grow into a leading biopharmaceutical company in medical dermatology. Dermavant has built a broad and diverse portfolio of novel oral and topical therapies targeting some of the greatest areas of unmet need in medical dermatology, including atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, acne, hyperhidrosis and rare dermatologic diseases.

“I have enjoyed collaborating with the Roivant Pharma and Dermavant teams as they have driven this pipeline forward.”

Frank Torti, M.D., who serves as Vant Investment Chair for Roivant Pharma and has been a partner at New Enterprise Associates, was named as the new chairman of Dermavant.

Just a few months back, Dermavant poached former GlaxoSmithKline executive David Rubenstein, M.D., Ph.D., as its new chief medical officer, and also nabbed the rights to the British drugmaker's dermatology drug tapinarof in a deal worth up to £250 million ($330 million).

The asset is poised to enter phase 3 in psoriasis and atopic dermatitis and is also in preclinical development in a "back-up" program.

RELATED: Dermavant hires CSO from GlaxoSmithKline, buys excessive sweating drug

This latest departure comes after another Roivant subsidiary, Axovant, which had focused on Alzheimer’s disease, imploded late last year when its in-licensed drugs failed to move the needle in this tough-to-treat disease and saw its once major start CEO David Hung, of Medivation fame, walk out the door. This prompted a rethink of its focus, and a pivot into gene therapies.

And back in June we learned that Roivant was going to layoff around 10% of its employees as it undertook a restructuring that saw other staffers moved around its subsidiaries, although the company noted this has since risen again.

A company spokesperson also told FierceBiotech: “This [Fouse’s departure] is something we’ve discussed and been planning with her for quite some time. She accomplished what she set out to do at Dermavant: the company brought in three additional drugs over the past year and is now in a position to focus on advancing their portfolio (including initiating Phase 3 program for tapinarof)."