Novartis loses another NIBR exec as neuro expert Shanker joins a gene therapy biotech

Novartis' Gopi Shanker, Ph.D., is the latest R&D leader to exit the Swiss pharma giant as he takes up the helm of chief scientific officer at gene therapy startup Tevard Biosciences.  

Shanker follows the exit of Jeff Engelman M.D., Ph.D., who left the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research (NIBR) in late-April to form a new cancer biotech, Treeline Biosciences. Days later, Peter Hammerman, M.D., Ph.D., exited to start as chief scientific officer of “molecular machines” biotech MOMA Therapeutics. Both Engelman and Hammerman focused on oncology R&D for the Big Pharma.

RELATED: Novartis loses 2nd oncology R&D exec as Hammerman leaves through the door left open by Engelman 

Shanker, who was head of neuroscience at the NIBR, will now lead the transfer RNA-based gene therapy startup’s preclinical scientific programs, with an eye to moving these into the clinic. Tevard, focused on gene therapies for rare and severe genetic diseases, will also task Shanker with broadening research into new therapeutic areas.  

“Gopi brings deep expertise and an impressive track record in translating pioneering science into transformative new therapies," said Daniel Fischer, Tevard co-founder, president and CEO, in a statement.  

“I share Tevard's passion and commitment to transforming the lives of patients with serious genetic disorders," Shanker said of his hiring. This now leaves Novartis with another hole in its NIBR research team, as it continues to hemorrhage talent from the unit, which Novartis dubs its "innovation engine."  

Shanker’s appointment comes half a year after the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech entered into a collaboration with Zogenix to seek out and work on gene therapies for Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy, and other genetic epilepsies. Under that pact, Tevard receives a payment of $10 million and is in line for biobucks worth between $70 million and $100 million for each program.