Longtime Cowen analyst Eric Schmidt is joining Arie Belldegrun's latest CAR-T startup, Allogene, as its chief financial officer. The announcement comes six weeks after Schmidt confirmed that he was considering a job offer from the company, which is working on off-the-shelf CAR-T therapies.
“Eric is an enormously talented individual with a rare blend of insight into multiple facets of the industry and deep relationships within the financial community. We are very fortunate to have him join the Allogene executive team and look forward to him applying his expertise to our vision for allogeneic cell therapy,” said Allogene CEO and President, David Chang, M.D., Ph.D, in a statement.
Schmidt joined Cowen in 1998, where he served as managing director and senior biotechnology analyst. Though he's leaving his post at Cowen, he will stay on as a senior advisor to the company.
After creating the first CAR-T for non-Hodgkin lymphoma and selling their company off to Gilead, the former Kite Pharma executives Belldegrun and Chang returned for chapter two—allogeneic, or off-the-shelf CAR-T. They launched the startup in April, with $300 million in series A capital and a suite of early-stage allogeneic CAR-T assets, licensed from Cellectis, by way of Pfizer.
Pfizer licensed 16 CAR-T assets from Cellectis in 2014 for $80 million up front and another $185 million per product up for grabs, making the deal potentially worth as much as $2.9 billion. A year later, Pfizer and Servier gained the rights to another CAR-T candidate, UCART19, which has now become Allogene's lead asset, with phase 2 trials slated to start in 2019.
While Kite and Novartis earned the first approvals for CAR-T treatments in 2017, there remains much room for improvement. Their therapies, Yescarta and Kymriah, are both indicated for blood cancers, with most CAR-Ts seeing limited success in solid tumors. Moreover, CAR-T cells are made by collecting a patient's T cells, modifying them to better target and destroy cancer and then putting them back into the patient. This makes manufacturing complex and time-consuming. An allogeneic approach uses donor cells, which can be stored and used off the shelf.
“I’ve watched and analyzed dozens of companies as they worked to bring innovative and transformative new therapies to the market,” Schmidt said. “I have greatly admired the team and investors behind Allogene and consider myself very fortunate to be in a position to help make a difference in the lives of patients who are facing cancer.”