Xcovery hires CEO, CMO to lead assault on ALK NSCLC market

Xcovery CEO Li Mao. (Xcovery)

Xcovery has hired a CEO and CMO with Big Pharma experience to lead its efforts to challenge Pfizer, Roche and others for a lung cancer market. Li Mao, M.D., formerly of Johnson & Johnson, has taken the top job at Xcovery as the biotech heads toward phase 3 readouts on an ALK inhibitor.

Florida-based Xcovery has quietly moved in on the crowded ALK inhibitor space, relying largely on money from Chinese company Betta Pharmaceuticals to get ensartinib into phase 3 trial in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Along the way, Xcovery generated data suggesting that ensartinib is highly active against central nervous system metastases in ALK-positive NSCLC patients.

That could give Xcovery an edge over the incumbents in the ALK sector. Starting with Pfizer’s Xalkori in 2011, a succession of ALK inhibitors have come to market in NSCLC. The ability to treat metastases in the brain has emerged as a key battleground as competition has intensified.

Now, Xcovery has hired Mao as CEO to oversee efforts to build on the promise shown by lorlatinib. Mao moved into the industry in 2016 by joining J&J, where he led the company’s China Lung Cancer Center, but left less than two years later to take up the CMO post at Betta, the majority shareholder in Xcovery.

Xcovery unveiled the appointment of Mao alongside news it has hired Giovanni Selvaggi, M.D., as CMO. Selvaggi has spent the past decade moving between positions at Big Pharma companies, starting at GlaxoSmithKline before going on to Novartis and ultimately to Bristol-Myers Squibb. Selvaggi’s spell at Novartis, during which he worked on ALK inhibitor Zykadia, is of particular relevance to Xcovery. 

The new hires join Chris Liang, Ph.D., the co-developer of multikinase inhibitor Sutent, in the C-suite at Xcovery. Liang co-founded Xcovery with Sheridan Snyder, the co-founder and early CEO of Genzyme.

Liang and his collaborators have built Xcovery into a company with two clinical-phase assets. The second drug, vorolanib, is a small molecule VEGFR/PDGFR dual kinase inhibitor. Xcovery is testing the drug in combination with Keytruda and Opdivo in the belief it can overcome the resistance that stops checkpoint inhibitors from working in some patients with gastrointestinal cancers.