Together again: Celgene A-team reunites

By Megan Brodie 3 years ago | In Companies, People, Products
  • 3 years ago
Tom Karalis, Michele Robbins, Julia Leng, Dr Tamara Etto and Dr Dirk Hoenemann from Antengene

7 April 2021

Six former Celgene stars have gradually reformed their executive A-team in recent months, taking up leadership roles with new kid on the block Antengene and skyrocketing its local profile in the haematology oncology space through their decades of combined experience and extensive local networks.

Celgene’s former Asia Pacific (APAC) Clinical Development and Medical Affairs Vice President Dr Kevin Lynch is the latest from the old gang to sign on with Antengene, officially joining in March as its Chief Medical Officer (CMO).

Dr Lynch joins Tom Karalis, who was Celgene’s ANZ General Manager before its acquisition by BMS. Karalis now heads up Antengene’s Asia Pacific Markets office based in Melbourne and is joined by another former Celgene executive, Early Clinical Development and APAC Medical Affairs VP Dr Dirk Hoenemann.

Also in Antengene’s Melbourne office are two more from the disbanded Celgene crew, Commercialisation Senior Director Michele Robbins and ANZ Medical Director Dr Tamara Etto, who focus on the Australian market, working with Clinical Project Director Julia Leng – the only team member who did not work at Celgene.

Together, the executives have over three decades of experience at Celgene alone, along with many years at other companies, and are now focused on bringing Antengene’s six in-licenced and six pipeline assets to market.

“There is a lot of experience and it’s great that we’ve been able to reconnect with all our stakeholders like Rare Cancers Australia, Myeloma Australia, Lymphoma Australia and the Leukaemia Foundation,” Robbins told MedNews. “We’ve all fallen on our feet and it is so exciting.

“You don’t often get the opportunity to work in a company starting from scratch, to be in at the grassroots. It’s so exciting to think of where we can head and what we can do in Australia. It’s great that we’ve been able to progress so well and so quickly.”

A biopharma with a difference

Founded by Dr Jay Mei just four years ago, Antengene listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2020 and, unlike most other pharma companies, has its focus locked squarely on the Asia Pacific market with offices and personnel in Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Melbourne, Sydney and the United States.

“We are thinking of the AsiaPac region and the patients within it first and foremost, and then we will expand beyond that,” Robbins says. “That’s probably the main difference, which is really exciting as you don’t usually have companies that are dedicated and focused on this region. We really want the APAC region to innovate and take this to the rest of the world.”

Antengene filed its first product XPOVIO (selinexor) with the TGA in December and the first-in-class haematology newcomer made a formal appearance in Australia last week when it appeared on the PBAC‘s July agenda for not one but three separate indications.

“I’m not sure how often people put in three major submissions – it’s a great achievement for what is really a start-up biopharma,” said Robbins. “Part of our philosophy is that we only research first-in-class, best-in-class drugs, focusing on research and development into new assets. We are pretty proud of getting this far.

“A new mechanism of action is absolutely an imperative in haematology oncology and that is what’s really exciting. We are not recycling classes here, we are a fully active agent. It works in a different mechanism of cell replication so is another way of attacking the myeloma or lymphoma, which is great.”

Although it is unlikely to appear on the ARTG before December or be funded on the PBS until 2022, Robbins says Xpovio is just the beginning, with Antengene determined to bring all its assets to Australia, should they make it through the clinic.

“We are establishing ourselves as a really dedicated haematology oncology company where we bring as many assets to Australians as possible.”

While the company is looking to launch its products in the Asia Pacific market first and then expand to European and US markets, Robbins says this makes little difference from an internal perspective.

“I don’t think it’s any different as you always work across markets and we all work together sharing strategy and tactics as you would in any other company,” she said. “The real difference is because we are Asia Pacific focused, we really want to meet the needs of patients in this region, which is very different to how companies usually think.”

The company is growing rapidly and is currently on the hunt for two Medical Science Liaisons (MSL) to work with healthcare professionals in the haematology oncology space as it expands its presence in Australia.

Robbins says the Health Technology Assessment (HTA) environment in Australia is challenging but companies like Antengene need to “keep working with the HTA or formulary systems in each market because, at the end of the day, you have to bring new mode of action drugs to patients”.

“We’ve got great drugs; we’ve got to find a way to bring them to market and that’s a huge challenge but it’s what we have to do,” she says.

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