Sangamo R&D chief hits the exit as it splits R&D into separate units

Sangamo CEO Sandy Macrae
Sangamo's new R&D heads will report to CEO Sandy Macrae. (Sangamo)

A week after presenting updated data from its Pfizer-partnered bleeding disorder gene therapy, Sangamo is making some big changes to its R&D.

First up, the biotech will be splitting its research and development into two “separate functions,” it said in a statement, and will seek out a new head of development to lead the latter. The former will in the interim be led by Jason Fontenot, senior vice president of cell therapy.

This change leads no room at the inn for ex-Pfizer exec Adrian Woolfson, Ph.D., who is leaving the company as its EVP of R&D as part of the change. He joined last January.

In a brief statement, Sandy Macrae, CEO of Sangamo, said: “The changes we are announcing today are designed to increase the speed and efficiency of the clinical translation of our ground-breaking science into genomic medicines.

“Managing research and development separately will allow us to industrialize zinc finger protein engineering, to retain our strength in basic research that has led to our broad and growing pipeline of genomic medicine candidates, and to add new capabilities in late-stage clinical and product development.”

Macrae gave no details on why Woolfson was leaving nor why he wasn't taking up a new role within the reorganized R&D units. He did say: “Adrian contributed a great deal to Sangamo. With endless energy and excitement, he inspired many with his scientific understanding and his belief in the potential of our technology. We wish him every success as he pursues his next endeavor.” He gave no word on what that endeavor will be.

Sangamo’s in-house clinical-phase assets include genome-editing therapies designed to treat hemophilia B and inherited metabolic diseases MPS I and II. Other candidates in Sangamo’s in-house and partnered pipelines include a cell therapy treatment for beta thalassemia and a gene therapy designed to correct Fabry disease.

Last week, Pfizer and Sangamo released longer-term updates for its hemophilia A gene therapy, showing its highest dose of the treatment helped patients make functioning blood-clotting factors for a sustained period, underlining its potential to free hemophilia A patients from lifelong treatment.

A more important phase 3 lead-in study to gather baseline data for the standard of care, factor VIII replacement, is underway, and the companies plan to start a pivotal phase 3 study later this year.

The partners are chasing BioMarin's hemophilia A gene therapy, which snagged a speedy review tag from the FDA. The agency is expected to make a decision on valoctocogene roxaparvovec, or valrox, later this year.

Shares in the biotech were down more than 2% on the news midweek.