Ex-AstraZeneca PLC CMO Takes Helm at Tiny Syndax

Published: Jun 16, 2015

Ex-AstraZeneca PLC (AZN) CMO Takes Helm at Tiny Syndax
June 15, 2015
By Alex Keown and Riley McDermid, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

WALTHAM, Mass. – Privately-held Syndax Pharmaceuticals Inc. tapped AstraZeneca PLC ’s outgoing chief medical officer to take the company to the next leveling developing cancer drug entinostat, the company announced Monday morning.

Briggs W. Morrison, the former head of global late-stage drug development at AstraZeneca, was named chief executive officer of Syndax, following his abrupt departure from the Britain-based pharmaceutical company.

Arlene Morris, former president and CEO of Syndax, left the company in May to “pursue other endeavors,” company spokesperson Jennifer LaVin said.

His colleagues had been notified prior to last week's unexpected announcement, said the company.

"It's a great opportunity for him," a spokeswoman told media outlets last Wednesday, though she declined to name Morrison’s new company at the time.

During his tenure at AstraZeneca, Morrison played a crucial role in fighting off a takeover by Pfizer Inc. last year, during which AstraZeneca rejected a $118 billion bid on the strength of its own independent pipeline and culture.

Because he’d worked at Pfizer for five years as an executive, he said at the time he believed he had a unique insight into why the two companies wouldn’t be a great fit. He came to AstraZeneca in 2012 with a focus on streamlining and updating its drug portfolio. He also played a role in boosting the company’s R&D efforts to a budget of $5.6 billion in 2014, a major jump from the $4.8 billion it spent in 2013.

In addition to Morrison, Syndax also announced Michael A. Metzger, former president of Regado Biosciences, Inc. s, assumed the role of president and chief operating officer at Syndax. Before his stint at Regado, Metzger served as chief operating officer at Mersana Therapeutics, Inc., a privately held biopharmaceutical company, from 2011 to 2013, as well as a mergers and acquisitions specialist at Forest Laboratories, Inc. .

Morrison said Syndax is “at the forefront” of an exciting phase for immuno-oncology medicine. He said the company’s lead product entinostat “could become a cornerstone combination therapy for a broad range of cancers.”

Entinostat is an oral, highly selective histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation in combination with hormone therapy in advanced hormone receptor positive (HR+) breast cancer and currently in Phase III testing in this indication.

In January Syndax entered into a $125 million licensing agreement with Kyowa Hakko Kirin to market entinostat in Japan and Korea. Kyowa Hakko Kirin, known for its oncology, nephrology and immunology/allergy pipeline, said it is planning to initiate clinical trials in 2015.

In March Syndax and Merck & Co. entered into a clinical trial collaboration to evaluate the safety and efficacy of combining entinostat, an investigational epigenetic therapy, with Merck’s Keytruda. The study will evaluate this novel combination regimen in patients with either advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) or melanoma. The study is expected to begin enrolling patients in the second half of 2015.

In March Syndax and Merck entered into a clinical trial collaboration to evaluate the safety and efficacy of combining entinostat, an investigational epigenetic therapy, with Merck’s Keytruda. The study will evaluate this novel combination regimen in patients with either advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) or melanoma. The study is expected to begin enrolling patients in the second half of 2015.

“In 2015, we expect to build on the momentum generated from Syndax's recent collaborations with Merck and Kyowa Hakko Kirin, with additional partnerships and multiple, near-term clinical milestones.

Michael and I look forward to working with the executive team at Syndax to help realize entinostat's and the company's full potential,” Morrison said.

“Briggs is a pre-eminent drug developer with an impressive track record of bringing cutting-edge medicines to patients and provides Syndax with the depth and vision to deliver on the promising data with entinostat,” Dennis G. Podlesak, chairman of the Syndax Board of Directors, said in a statement.

Before coming to AstraZeneca, Morrison held a number of positions at Pfizer Inc. from 2007 to 2012 that culminated in his appointment as Head, Medical Affairs, Safety and Regulatory Affairs for Pfizer's human health business. Before Pfizer he worked at Merck Research Laboratories from 1995 to 2007, where he was ultimately appointed to the role of vice president of clinical sciences and oncology.

There was no information provided as to the role of Arlene Morrie, former president and CEO of Syndax.

Morrison played a crucial role in fighting off a takeover by Pfizer Inc. (PFE) last year, during which AstraZeneca rejected a $118 billion bid on the strength of its own independent pipeline and culture. Because he’d worked at Pfizer for five years as an executive, he said at the time he believed he had a unique insight into why the two companies wouldn’t be a great fit.

“At every one of our senior executive meetings here, a third of the agenda is pipeline, science, and business development,” Morrison told the New York Times when speaking about AstraZeneca. “I didn’t have a feeling at Pfizer that every layer of the company was science based.”


After AstraZeneca CMO Abruptly Quits, Where Could He Be Headed?
This week the chief medical officer of British drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC abruptly quit his post to become the chief executive officer of an unnamed, smaller biotech company. That’s lead BioSpace to wonder, with his background in R&D and in large companies like Pfizer Inc. , where will Briggs Morrison wind up? We want to know your thoughts.

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