Stephen Eck leaves Aravive CEO job to join Immatics

Cancer cells in electron microscope scan
Former Astellas exec Stephen Eck has left his CEO role at one cancer firm to join as CMO at another. (Max Pixel/CC0)

A year after taking the helm at Fierce 15 winner and cancer startup Aravive Biologics, former Astellas executive Stephen Eck, M.D., Ph.D., has jumped ship to Immatics US as its new chief medical officer.

Eck, formerly VP and global head of oncology medical sciences at Astellas and also a former holder of senior roles at both Pfizer and Eli Lilly, joins the German T cell specialist (which has its U.S. ops in Houston) after the company got off a $58 million (€49 million) funding round last year with the help of Amgen.

That series E came around 10 months after Amgen put $1 billion in biobucks on the table to bring together both Immatics’ and its cancer drug development platforms in a bid to create a new generation of cancer immunotherapies.

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RELATED: Amgen helps Immatics to $58M round to fund cancer trials

That deal was yet another endorsement for Immatics' platform, which has already resulted in a $1 billion tie-up with Roche and collaborations with MorphoSys and cancer specialist center MD Anderson.

Its partners, however, are keeping the faith despite an early setback for the company: At the end of 2015, its IMA901 cancer vaccine candidate for metastatic renal cell carcinoma failed to show any additional benefit when added to treatment with Pfizer's Sutent (sunitinib) in a phase 3 trial.

This does not seem to have dampened enthusiasm for Immatics' platform from its partners.

The biotech says in its press release that Eck takes up the role immediately. It doesn’t, however, mention his previous role at Aravive, which he became CEO of just 12 months ago.

Aravive is working on powering down the GAS6/AXL pathway in cancer, which could help stop the spread of the disease and lessen side effects of treatment, and the company believes research with immuno-oncology medications could help create a new generation of cancer combos.

It's not clear why Eck left the young cancer company, and the biotech is yet to make a formal release about his departure.

Harpreet Singh, CEO and president of Immatics US, said: “Stephen’s appointment will further strengthen our cell therapy programs and global development capabilities. He brings significant experience in both early and late-stage development, as well as new drug approvals, in oncology and cancer immunotherapies, which will be invaluable to us as we progress our clinical and pre-clinical programs.”

Eck added: “Immatics has truly impressed me as having one of the most innovative approaches in immuno-oncology. I am thrilled to be joining the company at this very exciting time in its history, and as T-cell therapies move to become more widely used in cancer therapeutics. Immatics’ unique approach gets at the root cause of prior failures in the treatment of solid cancers by addressing novel, highly-specific cancer targets and mobilizing billions of activated T cells against these.”