Syntimmune picks up Vertex VP for CMO as leadership changes continue

Boardroom
Saltarelli takes over for acting CMO Donald Johns, following positive proof-of-concept data from Syntimmune's lead candidate for skin autoimmune disorders. (Pixabay)

Syntimmune has brought on Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ Mario Saltarelli, M.D., Ph.D., as its new chief medical officer. The move follows several leadership changes at the company over the past year and a half as it looks to further research into its neonatal Fc receptor antibody in autoimmune diseases.

Saltarelli will lead development of the company’s primary candidate, SYNT001, currently in phase 1b/2a trials. As Vertex’s senior VP for early development and neurology, Saltarelli helped lead the company’s work in clinical pharmacology and biomarkers, and supported submissions for Symdeko, a combination treatment that received FDA approval in February for an underlying cause of cystic fibrosis.

He takes over for acting CMO Donald Johns, M.D., who will become Syntimmune’s executive VP of medical and scientific affairs. Johns previously held positions at Biogen and the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research.

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“Mario’s deep expertise in drug development and strong leadership skills will be a tremendous asset to Syntimmune as we advance our pipeline of novel therapies targeting a broad range of autoimmune diseases,” said Syntimmune President and CEO Jean-Paul Kress, M.D., who joined the company himself in January after the previous CEO, Boehringer and Pfizer alum David de Graaf, Ph.D., stepped down after 13 months.

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Kress served on Sarepta’s board and formerly led Sanofi-Genzyme’s North American business, after holding positions at Sanofi Pasteur, Gilead and Eli Lilly.

Before joining Vertex in 2017, Saltarelli served as CMO of Annexon Biosciences and as chief science officer at Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals. He also directed Shire’s clinical development, medical affairs and innovation groups, and held neuroscience development positions at Pfizer and AbbVie progenitor Abbott Laboratories.

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Boston, Massachusetts-based Syntimmune announced positive preliminary results from SYNT001 in May from a phase 1b proof-of-concept trial in pemphigus vulgaris and foliaceus, rare autoimmune skin disorders that can lead to painful blistering.

In seven patients, treatment with the monoclonal antibody, which blocks FcRn interactions with immunoglobulin G, saw reductions in blistering and skin damage, with average IgG levels reduced by 59% after 30 days.

Syntimmune’s pipeline also includes SYNT002 in preclinical development, which targets FcRn-albumin interactions to help the body clear out albumin-bound toxins.