Ex-Roche, Novartis, AstraZeneca leaders appointed to biotech roles

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Three more big pharma R&D names have made the jump to biotech as Voyager Therapeutics, ImmunSYS and Immunocore announce they have appointed former execs from Roche, Novartis and AstraZeneca.

Voyager Therapeutics, which is focused on developing gene therapies for severe neurological diseases, has poached Roche’s global head of neuroscience translational medicine and global head of rare diseases, Omar Khwaja, to be its new chief medical officer.

During his seven years at Roche, Khwaja established an integrated discovery and development rare disease unit with clinical development in neuroscience. Within these groups, Khwaja led the initiation of Roche's first clinical programmes in gene therapy and delivered into pivotal trials multiple programmes across various therapeutic modalities and indications including spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and Huntington's disease (HD).

Before joining Roche, Khwaja was director of the clinical neurogenetics programme at Boston Children's Hospital and on the faculty of Harvard Medical School.

“Voyager is at the forefront of developing AAV gene therapy and its potential to deliver, with a one-time administration, the transgenes that address the underlying causes of many severe neurological diseases,” said Khwaja. “Translating this type of incredible science into therapies is something that I am passionate about, and I am thrilled to be joining the Voyager team.”

Meanwhile, T-Cell Receptor firm Immunocore has appointed AstraZeneca’s David Berman as its new head of research and development.

Berman joined Immunocore in September 2018 to advance the company’s lead candidate, IMCgp100, towards commercialisation and progress Immunocore’s growing pipeline of TCR candidates through clinical development.

Previously, he was senior vice president and head of the AstraZeneca Immuno-oncology (IO) franchise, where he was responsible for the strategy and execution of the company’s late stage I-O programme. He has also held senior development roles at MedImmune and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Berman is one of several high-profile recent departures from AZ following the company's organisational shakeup, not least of which was president of MedImmune Bahija Jallal, who earlier this month also left to join Immunocore, in this case as CEO.

Meanwhile AZ’s product and portfolio strategy chief Mark Mallon left to join biotech Ironwood and chief medical officer Sean Bohen left earlier this week for undisclosed reasons.

Finally, immuno-oncology company ImmunSYS has appointed the former CEO of Novartis Corporation, Douglas Watson, to its Board of Directors as lead independent director.

“ImmunSYS has developed a unique, innovative, outpatient immunotherapy that has demonstrated very impressive early clinical results in the treatment of late stage metastatic prostate cancer,” commented Watson. “By applying IP-protected technology and following a rigorous development program, I believe that the ImmunSYS technology can generate clinical results that will dramatically improve late stage metastatic prostate cancer patients’ quality and quantity of life and reduce healthcare costs.”

Watson is the founder of Pittencrieff Glen Associates, which he established in June of 1999 after taking retirement from Novartis Corporation, the US subsidiary of Novartis AG. He currently serves as a member of the Board of BZL, and a member of the Advisory Board of Cancer Expert Now. Prior Board memberships include OraSure, Novartis, Engelhard, Summit Bank, Wright Medical Group and BioMimetic Therapeutics.