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C-suite changes at Biogen, Bluebird, Klick Health give insight into 2023 business plans

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Biogen restructures R&D division as FDA approves second Alzheimer’s drug

Who: After over a year without a permanent R&D head, Biogen announced last week that it’s dividing the position into two roles. Under the new structure, Priya Singhal, current global safety and regulatory science leader and interim head of R&D, will take on development duties full-time and will temporarily oversee research as the company searches for her permanent co-executive. 

Professional headshot of Priya Singhal

Priya Singhal, EVP, head of development, Biogen

Permission granted by Biogen


Background: Singhal has a long history at Biogen. She first joined the company in 2012 fresh off a stint at Vertex Pharmaceuticals and served as senior vice president of global safety and benefit-risk, helping steer five drugs to launch. After over four years in the role, she left briefly for a position as head of research at Zafgen, a clinical-stage biotech focused on metabolic disorders, but returned to Biogen in 2020 to lead global safety and regulatory science. 

When the company’s former R&D chief Al Sandrock left the position in late 2021 as controversy related to Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm intensified, Singhal took the wheel. 

Why it matters: The past year — which started with the implementation of Biogen’s $500 million cost-saving restructuring plan and ended with a congressional review concluding that FDA’s Aduhelm decision was “rife with irregularities” — has no doubt been rocky for Singhal. But the FDA’s recent approval of Eisai and Biogen’s second Alzheimer’s drug Leqembi, likely brings a sigh of relief.

The drug, scientifically known as lecanemab, directly targets amyloid plaques, thought to be a cause of Alzheimer’s. A late-stage trial found the treatment slowed Alzheimer’s-related physical and mental declines by 27% over 18 months.

Singhal’s official appointment as head of development, and the C-suite restructure, are also notably among the first major moves Biogen’s newly-crowned CEO Christopher A. Viehbacher has made since entering the role in November. 

“We believe having two dedicated leaders will enhance productivity in bringing to patients worldwide medicines to treat some of the most challenging diseases, while assuring better risk management and resource stewardship,” Viehbacher said of the decision to divide the role. 

Learn more: The FDA’s decision also marks the start of what is bound to be a big year for Alzheimer’s drugs. PharmaVoice spoke with top execs at Eli Lilly and Co. about its candidate donanemab, which is expected to report confirmatory phase 3 results later this year. 

Longtime Novavax CEO set to retire at month’s end

Who: John Jacobs will take the helm of the vaccine-focused biotech Novavax later this month, upon the retirement of current CEO and president Stanley Erck.

Professional headshot of John Jacobs

John Jacobs, incoming CEO, president, Novavax

Permission granted by Novavax


Background: Jacobs previously served as CEO and president of Harmony Biosciences, leading the neurological disease company through its IPO, first FDA product review and drug launch. During his two-and-a-half decades in the pharma industry, Jacobs has gained a breadth of experience across commercial operations and disease areas, notably leading the generics-maker Teva Pharmaceuticals’ respiratory business unit and business-related positions at Cephalon, Wyeth and Pfizer.

Why it matters: Erck led Novavax through numerous milestones during his 12 years as head honcho, including bringing its COVID-19 vaccine to market in over 40 countries and developing a manufacturing network to support its global distribution. Unlike other vaccines on the market, Novavax’s shot uses more traditional technology that was seen as enticing for skeptics of mRNA options.

“Erck led Novavax from a clinical development organization to a global commercial vaccines company during a worldwide pandemic,” James Young, chair of Novavax’s board said. “This foundation puts Novavax in a strong position to execute on its long-term strategy.”

Learn more: The company’s regulatory head, Dr. Henrietta Ukwu is a 2022 PharmaVoice 100 honoree. Here, she discusses her leadership style, the companies plans for seasonal influenza, respiratory syncytial virus and more vaccines, and the importance of collaboration.

With extra cash in its coffers, Bluebird brings on new head of business

Who: Amid the launches of its two recently approved gene therapies, Bluebird Bio appointed Joseph Vittiglio as its new chief business and legal officer Jan. 3.

Background: Before joining Bluebird, Vittiglio served in a similar role at Finch Therapeutics, a Boston-based microbiome company, where he helped initiate an IPO in 2021 and raised over $130 million in capital. Vittiglio is well-versed in pharmaceutical and biotechnology operations, having spent the better part of his career in legal roles at various Massachusetts biotechs, including Flexion Therapeutics, AMAG Pharmaceuticals and AVEO Pharmaceuticals. 

Why it matters: 2022 was tumultuous for Bluebird, to say the least. But, with two FDA approvals and an influx of cash to start off the new year, the biotech’s situation is looking brighter. 

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