Lehmann leaves GSK to head up immuno-oncology at Celyad

Frédéric Lehmann has joined the ranks of R&D executives to swap life at a Big Pharma for a starring role at a biotech. The move sees Lehmann walk away from a 12-year stint at GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) to take charge of the burgeoning immuno-oncology operation at Celyad ($CYAD).

Mont-Saint-Guibert, Belgium-based Celyad has appointed Lehmann to the recently created position of VP of immuno-oncology. The creation of the role and hiring of a veteran of GSK's cancer vaccine programs to fill it is a reflection of the rejigged priorities at Celyad, which only bought its way into the immuno-oncology race in January. Back then, Celyad put consultant and ex-GSK SVP Vincent Brichard in charge of the immuno-oncology unit. Now, the Belgian biotech has gone back to GSK to poach Lehmann, who will receive support from Brichard on a consultancy basis.

On paper, Lehmann is well equipped to guide Celyad through what are unchartered territories for the company. For the past 18 months, Lehmann has headed up GSK's R&D and Early Clinical Development Business Unit for Cancer Immunotherapeutics, a role that gave him responsibility for ushering drugs, biomarkers and companion diagnostics from discovery and into the clinic. Prior to taking up the post, Lehmann spent 11 years rising through the ranks of GSK's immunotherapeutics unit, culminating in him holding the title of VP and head of early clinical development in the field.

Lehmann's experience of translating promising preclinical immuno-oncology programs into the clinic meshes well with the needs of Celyad today. Having bought its way into the CAR-T race through the acquisition of OnCyte in January and restocked its coffers with a Nasdaq IPO in June, Celyad has a clutch of encouraging preclinical data and a Phase I trial in the recruitment stage. Celyad has set aside $5 million (€4.4 million) for a Phase I trial of its natural killer cell-targeting CAR-T cells in people with acute myeloid leukaemia or multiple myeloma, but the bulk of the IPO haul is for other assets.

Around $40 million is earmarked for the advancement of new programs against blood cancers and solid tumors. The responsibility for overseeing this work, the outcome of which will decide whether Celyad's expansion into immuno-oncology is a success, will now fall on Lehmann.

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