Founding CRISPR CEO to Step Down for Personal Reasons, New Leader Named

Published: Oct 04, 2017

Founding CRISPR CEO to Step Down for Personal Reasons, New Leader Named October 2, 2017
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Rodger Novak, the cofounder and chief executive officer of CRISPR Therapeutics , is stepping down and handing the reigns over to Samarth Kulkarni.

Kulkarni, the current company president, will take over the top spot on Dec. 1 of this year. Novak is stepping down from his role for personal reasons, the company said, but did not expand on those reasons. Although Novak is stepping away from the CEO position, he will continue to serve as a member of the company’s board of directors. He will also continue to serve as an officer in CRISPR’s Zug, Switzerland-based parent company, CRISPR AG.

Novak built CRISPR Therapeutics from a startup in 2013 to a company with more than 100 employees. He leaves the helm of the company ahead of its goal of entering the clinic for its lead program in ß-thalassemia. CRISPR is hoping to be the first company in the U.S. to start human trials using CRISPR-Cas9 ahead of rivals Editas Medicine and Intellia . The company intends to be in the clinic next year. In a statement, he said Kulkarni “has been instrumental in the maturation of the company” since he first joined in 2015. Novak said he is confident Kulkarni will successfully guide the company through its next “evolution.”

Last year, researchers in China became the first to inject cells that contained edited genes using CRISPR-Cas9 technology into a human patient. At the end of October, an oncology team at Sichuan University in Chengdu dosed a patient with an aggressive form of lung cancer with the edited genes.

Kulkarni first joined CRISPR as chief business officer before becoming company president. During his time with the company, Kulkarni has played a role in the establishment of its key collaborations with Vertex and Bayer , financing the company’s operations through its IPO, and overseeing U.S. operations.

Novak’s decision to leave CRISPR as its head follows a blistering pace of collaborative projects the company has entered over the past year. Most recently, CRISPR and Massachusetts General Hospital forged a partnership to research cancer therapies using CRISPR-Cas9 on T Cells. The goal will be to address unmet needs in hematologic and solid tumors. In July, the company struck a deal with Switzerland-based Neon Therapeutics to also combine CRISPR-Cas9 with T Cell therapies.

Kulkarni isn’t the only executive change CRISPR has made recently. In August, the company named Tony Ho as the head of the company’s research and development division. He joined CRISPR from pharma giant AstraZeneca , where he served as head of oncology integration and innovation.

Shares of CRISPR were trading at $17.62 as of 9:53 a.m.

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