U.K. cancer biotech Immunocore digs into AstraZeneca’s biologics arm for new CEO

Xiaomi has officially entered the UK market (Image enigma_images / iStockPhoto)
Medimmune's former president heads to the British biotech after a tumultuous year for Immunocore (enigma_images/iStockPhoto)

Nearly a year after its former chief Eliot Forster stepped down, Immunocore has a new full-time CEO in Medimmune’s president Bahija Jallal.

She had been at Medimmune for 12 years, and joined around the same time it was bought out by AstraZeneca, although Medimmune has had its problems: Over the past few years it lost Dr. Yong-Jun Liu, one of the world's most prolific researchers in immunology, to Sanofi, and has also faced reductions in staff and a series of cuts to R&D programs that haven’t panned out.

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Now, Jallal heads to Immunocore, a 2013 Fierce 15 winner and a company working on T cell receptor tech, which recently got a $100 million boost from a pact with Roche.

The biotech’s ImmTAC platform is designed to redirect T cells to attack tumors and is one of the prominent players in the British biotech world.

But there has been trouble for Immunocore: Forster’s departure last February came amid multiple other senior people leaving the company, with social media reports also abounding about redundancies.

Immunocore originally made waves around the world in 2015 when it raised a $320 million series A round. Since then, the British biotech has taken its lead candidate IMCgp100 into a pivotal trial in uveal melanoma and advanced other internal and partnered assets.

Immunocore’s interest in MAGE-A4, the focus of its Roche pact, puts it in the same field as sister company Adaptimmune, which is running a phase 1 trial of a T cell therapy that targets the antigen. Both companies are going after a range of solid tumors, including non-small cell lung cancer.

The company will now hope for some stability with its new and highly experienced CEO. Sir John Bell, its chair, said: “Bahija is the ideal candidate to lead Immunocore at this transformational point in its development. A champion for science and diversity, Bahija is a highly seasoned pharmaceutical executive with considerable experience in biologics R&D and immuno-oncology.

“Her appointment will significantly strengthen Immunocore as we advance our lead candidate, IMCgp100, towards commercialisation, and our growing pipeline of TCR candidates through clinical development. I would like to extend my thanks also to Andrew Hotchkiss, who has been a highly capable interim CEO of Immunocore, for his support.”

She adds: “I am excited to have the opportunity to head Immunocore, the leader in cutting-edge TCR bispecifics. With its strong platform, with potential to be applicable in multiple therapy areas, Immunocore has successfully translated its innovative science into the clinic with ongoing pivotal trials in uveal melanoma and clinical and pre-clinical stage programs in other disease areas.”