Troubled Northwest Bio adds Merck alum to management team

Chutes & Ladders
Kevin Duffy, Ph.D., served as the liaison between medical professionals and Merck’s R&D team for various Keytruda studies, including those in first-line non-small cell lung cancer, metastatic prostate cancer and breast cancer. (Pixabay)

To say that Northwest Biotherapeutics is a troubled cancer vaccines company might be an understatement. Its many trials and tribulations involve allegations of financial impropriety, a shady relationship with its chief medical officer, a long-delayed study for a brain tumor vaccine and, most recently, Stat News reported, the revelation that it borrowed millions from its CEO Linda Powers—at a 10% interest rate. 

Hiring a new vice president of medical affairs and external collaborations may seem like a Band-Aid in the face of all of Northwest’s problems, but it could be a start. The company has recruited Kevin Duffy, Ph.D., for that role, on the strength of his experience working in cancer immunotherapy. 

Duffy joins Northwest from Merck, where he spent the last five years working on the anti PD-1 med Keytruda at the director level. He worked on Keytruda from its beginnings through commercialization, picking up experience with clinical trial designs and strategies and forming a “nationwide network of key opinion leaders in clinical and scientific arenas” along the way, Northwest said in a statement. 

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He also served as the liaison between medical professionals and Merck’s R&D team for various Keytruda studies, including those in first-line non-small cell lung cancer, metastatic prostate cancer, triple-negative breast cancer and ER-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer. 

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"Dr. Duffy's experience with immune therapies for cancer and one of the most successful product development programs in the field will be an invaluable addition to our team. We at NW Bio could not be more excited about Dr. Duffy's choice to join us and help realize the broad potential of DCVax,” Powers said in the statement. 

It should be noted that Northwest has dragged its feet on DCVax, registering the phase 3 study for its DCVax-L vaccine in 2002 and only reporting interim data from the 300-patient trial in May 2018. When an investor asked in 2017 where the data were, Northwest’s answer, made public in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, was unsatisfying, saying that it had some of the data but not all from this test before it shut down for the Christmas holidays. And the company was unable to pick right back up after the holidays as its "key management" had been hit with "a major case of the flu."

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