Chutes & Ladders—Novartis’ Sandoz chief exits, fueling spinoff and sale rumors

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Welcome to this week’s Chutes & Ladders, our roundup of hirings, firings and retirings throughout the industry. Please send the good word—or the bad—from your shop to Conor Hale, and we will feature it here at the end of each week.

Novartis’ Sandoz chief exits, fueling spinoff and sale rumors


Sandoz
CEO Richard Francis will step down March 31.

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan said in January that the Big Pharma is focused on the “de-integration” of copycat drugmaker Sandoz from the rest of its operations, but Francis’ early departure has renewed speculation around a potential spinoff or sale—rumors Novartis has repeatedly tried to squash. After serving as Sandoz’s CEO since 2014, Richards said he’s excited about the overhaul, but that its “a multi-year journey which I cannot commit to,” and is leaving for personal reasons. On a quarterly earnings call earlier this year, Narasimhan said the company considers the generics franchise “an integral part of Novartis.” But that to “transform the business,” Novartis aims to make Sandoz an autonomous entity over the next 18 months. FiercePharma

NCI Director Ned Sharpless to be interim FDA commissioner


FDA
NCI Director Ned Sharpless, M.D., will fill in as FDA chief.

Following FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s announcement last week that he will step down from the post in early April, the biopharma industry has breathed a sigh of relief with the Trump administration’s pick of Sharpless to serve in the interim. In a note to investors titled “Disaster Averted,” Piper Jaffray analysts described Sharpless as a long-time insider and physician/scientist, and said they believe he will continue the FDA on its course of increased efficiency. Additionally, Sharpless is no stranger to the FDA, working closely on several initiatives as head of the NCI. His appointment could mean additional interagency cooperation between the federal government’s main medical research and innovation arm and its industry regulator. FierceBiotech | FiercePharma

C4 poaches new CMO after signing $900M clinical development deal with Roche


C4 Therapeutics
Adam Crystal, M.D., Ph.D., will be its new chief medical officer.

Formerly a senior director at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, Crystal will help carry the former Fierce 15 winner’s targeted protein degraders closer to the clinic. C4 has inked collaborations with Roche, Calico and most recently Biogen, which have mostly focused on preclinical work. However, in January, Roche re-upped its earlier $750 million discovery deal to a potentially $900 million project that could see C4 take its own small-molecules into early clinical development. FierceBiotech 

Karuna hires another ex-Lilly scientist in quest to resurrect CNS drug


Karuna Pharmaceuticals
Christian Felder joined as VP of discovery research.

Felder’s appointment reunites him with xanomeline, a once-failed Alzheimer’s disease drug he helped through early development at the Big Biotech, which had brought the M1 agonist deep into the clinic in the 1990s. Though its toxicity eventually consigned it to the scrapheap, Karuna has hatched a plan 20 years on to pair it with a drug that may counteract its effects outside the brain. At Lilly, Felder spent 21 years as a research fellow, publishing tens of papers on muscarinic receptors and drugs that target them, including xanomeline. FierceBiotech

> Tiburio Therapeutics has poached Avrobio’s former chief medical officer, Nerissa Kreher, M.D., to serve as its own CMO just two months after raising $31 million in a series A. Tiburio was unveiled in January with two clinical-stage compounds licensed from Ipsen, aimed at inhibiting cell proliferation as well as several rare endocrine conditions. FierceBiotech

> Francine Kaufman, M.D., former president of the American Diabetes Association and most recently CMO for Medtronic Diabetes, has joined continuous glucose monitor developer Senseonics as its CMO. The company hopes to bolster the U.S. commercialization of its implantable, 90-day Eversense CGM system, which kicked off last summer. FierceMedTech

> Immusoft’s chief scientific officer, Jason Fontenot, Ph.D., has joined Sangamo Therapeutics as its senior VP of cell therapy, to oversee its CAR-T immunology pipeline and its partnerships with Sanofi and Gilead’s Kite Pharma. Before Immusoft, Fontenot headed up exploratory research at Juno Therapeutics, and was as a group leader in the immunology department at Biogen. Release

> Long-time head of cardiovascular medicine at the Ohio State University, William Abraham, M.D., has joined early-stage devicemaker V-Wave as chief medical officer. V-Wave is developing an minimally invasive, implantable shunt that treats advanced heart failure by linking the two atria of the heart, and regulating atrial pressure. Release

> William Hodder has joined targeted-drug startup Escient Pharmaceuticals as chief business officer. Hodder was previously senior VP for corporate development at Protagonist Therapeutics, business development VP at FibroGen and co-founder and CEO of Trenovus. Release 

> iOnctura has named Michael Lahn to be its chief medical officer and promoted its head of translational research and early development, Zoë Johnson, to chief scientific officer. Lahn joins iOnctura from Incyte where he headed up clinical development for Europe. Release

> Type 2 diabetes program developer Virta Health has brought on Derek Newell as head of commercial and Lucia Guillory as head of people. Newell was formerly director and president of Castlight Health and CEO of Jiff, while Guillory lead human resources at Patreon. Release

> Neurodegenerative disease devicemaker EnClear Therapies has hired Kevin Kalish as VP of R&D, alongside about $2 million in new seed funding. Kalish has held multiple roles at Medtronic, Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson. Release