Former Novartis AG CAR-T Scientist Jumps to TxCell to Lead CAR-Treg Research Programs

Published: Oct 17, 2016

Former Novartis CAR-T Scientist Jumps to TxCell to Lead CAR-Treg Research Programs October 14, 2016
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

PARIS – A Novartis executive from the now dissolved Cell and Gene Therapy Unit has surfaced in a new role—at a company an ocean away. This morning, TxCell announced Li Zhou, the former Lab Head and Investigator at the Novartis Biologics Center in Cambridge, Mass., is the French company’s vice president of cell engineering.

In his new role, Zhou will lead the discovery and engineering activities on Chimeric Antigen Receptor in Treg cells (CAR-Treg) for immunotherapy of severe chronic autoimmune and inflammatory diseases as well as organ transplantation, the company said. TxCell is targeting a range of autoimmune diseases (both T-cell and B-cell-mediated) including Crohn’s disease, lupus nephritis, bullous pemphigoid and multiple sclerosis, as well as transplantation-related inflammatory disorders. It’s the Treg cell work that is drawing Zhou. Tregs are a recently discovered T cell population for which anti-inflammatory properties have been demonstrated. TxCell said it is developing antigen-specific Tregs.

“TxCell has strong Treg expertise as well as great partnerships with world-leading scientists. What we are doing here with CAR-Tregs to treat autoimmune diseases and transplantation-related disorders is truly unique. Everything is in place to rapidly build a solid cell engineering capacity and deliver on the Company’s goals,” Zhou said in a statement.

While at Novartis, Zhou led the discovery and engineering activities on Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cells (CAR-T) for cancer immunotherapy, with lead candidates now in clinical trials.

Zhou left Novartis in March, six months before that company shut down its Cell and Gene Therapy Unit. Before joining TxCell, Zhou held a brief post as chief science officer at ZMKS International Cancer Therapy Biotechnologies Co., LTD, a Chinese immuno-oncology company. He held that position for six months, from April to September, according to his LinkedIn profile.

In August, Novartis announced it was shuttering its Cell and Gene Therapy Unit, and terminating about 400 employees. Although the company dissolved the unit, the work being done is planned to be reintegrated into other departments of Novartis. Novartis’ decision to eliminate the Cell and Gene Therapy division is in line with the company’s integrated development model, which includes three focused, customer-facing divisions.

Zhou is just the latest in a number of big staffing moves made by TxCell. In August, the company appointed Biogen’s Olivier Danos, once the senior vice president of the now-defunct Cell and Gene Therapy Unit, to its scientific advisory board. The board is advising the company on which CAR programs to follow, Fierce Biotech noted this morning.

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