Moderna Executive Heads to Oncorus as New President/CEO

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Oncorus, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, announced that Theodore (Ted) T. Ashburn had been chosen as the company’s new president and chief executive officer. He will also serve on the company’s board of directors.

Ashburn was most recently the head of Oncology Development for Moderna Therapeutics. Moderna focuses on developing vaccines and therapeutics based on messenger RNA.

The Boston Business Journal notes that Ashburn is leaving just as Moderna is completing construction of its new personalized cancer vaccine unit in Norwood, Massachusetts, and is expected to push almost two dozen mRNA programs through clinical trials. It has 11 preclinical programs and another 10 in clinical trials. One has made it into Phase II trials.

There has been a number of high-level exits at Moderna over the last couple years. Stephen Kelsey, director of Moderna’s oncology division left in March 2017 to Revolution Medicines and Joseph Bolen, who headed research-and-development activities, left to be chief scientific officer of PureTech Health.

Ashburn told the Boston Business Journal that he hadn’t been intending to leave Moderna, but liked Oncorus’ “game-changing” virus programs. “Overall, when you look at oncology and think about the next game changer, Oncorus and its virus work is very attractive. This company really has a strong chance of being a leader in the space.”

Ashburn is replacing Mitchell Finer, Oncorus’ co-founder and MPM Capital’s Managing Director, who will take on the helm of executive chairman. In a statement, Finer said, “It has been a tremendous honor to serve as CEO of Oncorus since co-founding the company, and I am incredibly proud of everything our team has accomplished together in just three years. Ted brings a wealth of experience and proven track record of strategic business and development accomplishments including in the field of immuno-oncology.”

Oncorus’ approach is to use oncolytic viruses to treat cancer by arming the viruses with “multiple immunomodulatory payloads to kill both primary and metastatic cancer cells while leveraging proprietary strategies for preventing viral replication in healthy tissues.”

If that’s not completely clear, in March, the company presented preclinical data about its oncolytic Herpes simplex virus (oHS) immunotherapy platform at the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) 2018 Annual Meeting. The presentation described how the company engineered oHSVs that contained micro-RNA-binding cassettes (miR-T) in genes vital to viral replication. These would replicate in tumor cells, but not in healthy tissue. The idea is that the viral payloads would infect cancer cells and kill them, while not affecting normal healthy cells.

In a statement, Ashburn said of joining the company, “The oncolytic virus space is rapidly maturing and has the potential to usher in the next step change in improved outcomes for cancer patients. I am honored to be selected as Oncorus’ next CEO and look forward to partnering with Mitch, our board and our exceptionally talented team, to continue our momentum and urgently drive our best-in-class, locally and systemically administered product candidates to the bedside.”

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