Xencor nabs new CMO from Jazz Pharma

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Yang succeeds Paul Foster, M.D., who retired this year after leading Xencor’s clinical development for 10 years. (Pixabay)

Antibody specialist Xencor has a new chief medical officer: Allen Yang, M.D., Ph.D., who joins the company from Jazz Pharmaceuticals. As a senior vice president at Jazz, Yang headed clinical development and served as acting CMO. 

He will now oversee clinical development and operations as Xencor pushes a suite of bispecific antibodies through the clinic. An oncologist by training, he practiced medicine and ran a translational cancer research lab at the University of Southern California before jumping into industry. His first destination was Amgen, where he worked on bispecific T-cell engager Blincyto. 

Yang moved onto Spectrum Pharmaceuticals, where he oversaw clinical research, and then to Jazz, where he led hematology and oncology work before being promoted to head of clinical development. At Jazz, he worked on several cancer treatments, including leukemia meds Erwinaze and Vyxeos and Defitelio, which is approved for the treatment of a life-threatening liver condition that patients can develop after a stem cell transplant. 

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RELATED: As Xencor ramps up, Chief Medical Officer Paul Foster exits

“As our bispecific oncology pipeline matures and as we continue to explore novel target combinations in the clinic, Xencor will benefit immensely from Allen’s leadership and expertise,” said Xencor CEO Bassil Dahiyat, Ph.D., in a statement.

Yang succeeds Paul Foster, M.D., who retired this year after leading Xencor’s clinical development for 10 years. 

His appointment comes after a year full of ups and downs for Xencor. The company started 2019 with a bit of a damper as Novartis handed back the rights to a bispecific antibody it licensed in a 2016 deal worth $150 million upfront but that was backloaded with up to $2.41 billion in milestones. A month later, a second asset from that deal ran into a clinical hold from the FDA due to a pair of patient deaths that were “at least possibly” treatment-related. 

RELATED: Genentech pays Xencor $120M for rights to IL-15 cancer pipeline 

That program, XmAb14045, got back on track in April after Xencor worked with the FDA to change the protocol for the phase 1 study. It is testing the drug, which targets CD3 and CD123, in patients with relapsed or refractory acute myeloid leukemia and other blood cancers expressing CD123. 

Although Xencor lost Novartis as a partner on one of its programs, it picked up a couple of new partners. It licensed its preclinical-stage IL-15 cytokine therapeutics to Genentech for $120 million upfront in February and struck an R&D deal with Astellas in April. 

Since then, the company has started phase 1 studies for two more bispecific antibodies in advanced solid tumors: XmAb2314, which targets PD-1 and ICOS, and XmAb22841, which targets CTLA-4 and LAG-3. The latter treatment is being tested in combination with Keytruda in an effort to block three checkpoints at once.

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