Tessa Taps Ex-Takeda Exec to Propel CAR-T Assets Foward


Tessa Therapeutics has tapped former Takeda executive Thomas Willemsen as the man to take its CAR-T portfolio forward.

In his new role as president and CEO of Tessa, Willemsen is expected to lead the corporate, business and development strategy, focusing on the company’s proprietary programs, including the ongoing clinical studies involving autologous CD30-CAR-T therapy (TT11) and allogeneic CD30.CAR EBVST therapy (TT11X). The appointment goes into effect on Oct. 1.

“Tessa is at the forefront of developing the next generation of CAR-T therapies, including our allogeneic ‘off-the-shelf’ EBVST technology, which has demonstrated very encouraging safety and efficacy data in the ongoing Phase I/II clinical trial in CD30 positive lymphomas,” Willemsen said in a statement Monday. He added that he looks forward to "...continuing the positive progress" of Tessa's CAR-T programs.

The new CEO brings 25 years of experience to the role. Willemsen started out at EMD Serono, a Merck subsidiary, where he worked his way up to head of the oncology business unit.

He then moved on to GlaxoSmithKline, where he began as vice president and general manager in Taiwan in 2009. After four years, he became the vice president and head of commercial operations in China for GSK. In 2018, he received the Magnolia Silver Award from the City of Shanghai for his contribution to the city's development. 

In 2017, Willemsen was named the company’s general manager for pharmaceuticals and vaccines before taking over as the vice president of oncology and intercontinental and emerging markets in 2019. Willemsen held the position for four months before joining Takeda for a three-year stint.

Scoring Willemsen from Takeda was a big move for the company. John Ng, who served as Tessa’s acting CEO since November, will now serve as the company’s chief technical officer.

Tessa is a clinical-stage biotech company developing cell therapies for the treatment of hematological cancers and solid tumors. In June, Tessa secured $126 million in Series A financing to advance the development of TT11 and TT11X.

The Series A was led by Polaris Partners. Existing investors, including Temasek, EDBI, Heliconia Capital and Heritas Capital also participated in the financing.

At the time, Ng said Tessa was poised to emerge as a “true leader in the cell therapy industry given the significant potential of our autologous and allogeneic cell therapy platforms combined with the scale and sophistication of our technical operations.”

On Thursday, Tessa dosed the first patient in a Phase Ib trial assessing TT11, an autologous CD30 chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy. TT11 is being paired with Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo as a potential second-line treatment for patients with relapsed or refractory CD30-positive classical Hodgkin's lymphoma.

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