After Alzheimer’s trial woes, Biogen’s R&D chief quits to head up biotech VC

Michael Ehlers is to quit as head of Biogen’s troubled R&D outfit, taking a role as chief executive of New York-based venture capitalist Apple Tree Partners.

Biogen is licking its wounds after its big bet on amyloid-targeting Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab ended in yet another phase 3 trial failure, wiping billions from the company’s value in March.

This was followed only last month with another Alzheimer’s flop, this time from the BACE inhibitor elenbecestat that Biogen was developing with Eisai.

In the aftermath Ehlers has decided to quit after three years in the role, according to a “leadership update” issued by the company yesterday.

Taking Ehlers’ place as executive vice president of R&D will be Dr Alfred Sandrock, who will also continue in his current role as chief medical officer when Ehlers officially leaves on October 11.

Another long-serving Biogen exec, Alphonse Galdes, has been appointed as executive president, pharmaceutical operations and technology, a promotion from his former role as president of asset development and portfolio management.

Michel Vounatsos, who has himself only been CEO of Biogen since January 2017, said of the newly promoted duo: “I’m pleased we have the benefit of their long standing experience and proven track-record, which will be instrumental as we aim to sustain leadership in our core (multiple sclerosis) business and our neuroscience portfolio.”

At the same time, Ehlers has been named as CEO, chief scientific officer and venture partner at the life sciences venture capital fund, Apple Tree Partners (ATP).

He will also serve as CEO of one of the fund’s portfolio companies, Limelight Bio, described in ATP’s press statement as an “emerging biotech company developing novel gene therapies”.

Limelight is developing treatments for debilitating inherited diseases of the eye, brain, muscle and liver, including treatments for diseases that cannot be addressed by current gene therapy methods.

As CEO of ATP Ehlers will be in charge of around $2.5 billion in assets and available funding.

Other companies in ATP’s investment portfolio include Akero Therapeutics, which is focused on developing a drug for fatty liver disease non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, and Stoke Therapeutics, which aims to treat diseases by stimulating expression of certain proteins.

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