Agios Lands Genentech Cancer Drug Leader as New CEO

Xconomy Boston — 

Agios Pharmaceuticals has landed a big fish in the world of cancer drug development. The Cambridge, MA-based company has hired David Schenkein, the senior vice president in charge of cancer drug development at Genentech, to be its first permanent CEO, starting in August. He will replace Kevin Starr, a partner with Third Rock Ventures, who has been serving as its interim CEO in the company’s early days.

It’s a coup for Agios, which debuted with a $33 million initial round of venture capital last Fourth of July weekend. Schenkein will join Duncan Higgons, formerly the president and chief operating officer of Cambridge, MA-based Archemix, who has recently signed on as the chief operating officer at Agios. As I explained in earlier stories about the company last July and November, the idea at Agios is to throw a wrench into the overactive metabolic enzymes that allow cancer cells to grow and thrive. Essentially, the startup hopes to starve cancer cells to death.

Schenkein, 52, has been responsible for clinical development and regulatory work on numerous cancer therapies at South San Francisco-based Genentech over the past three years, as it asserted itself as the largest U.S. maker of cancer drugs. He has worked on efforts to expand usage of top-selling antibody drugs like bevacizumab (Avastin), rituximab (Rituxan), and trastuzumab (Herceptin). Schenkein also has roots in Boston. He played a key role at Millennium Pharmaceuticals in the development of bortezomib (Velcade), and prior to that was the director of the cancer center at Tufts Medical Center.

“David is one of the most sought after executives in the biotech/pharma industry. This speaks volumes about the science and vision of Agios,” Starr says.

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