Immune Design, Developer of New Vaccines, Adds Former Elan President as New CEO

Xconomy Seattle — 

Immune Design aspires to become a bigger company, and now it has recruited a CEO from a bigger company.

The Seattle-based vaccine developer is announcing today that its new chief executive is Carlos Paya, the former president of Elan, the Ireland-based biotech company which has significant operations in South San Francisco. Paya is replacing Immune Design’s founding CEO, Steve Reed, who will continue to serve on the company’s executive management team and board. Bruce Carter, the executive chairman, is staying in his position.

“We are fortunate to have someone of Dr. Paya’s caliber joining Immune Design,” Reed said in a statement.

Paya’s prior job was at Elan, the company known for developing the hit multiple sclerosis drug natalizumab (Tysabri). He oversaw commercial, marketing, R&D, and clinical operations there since November 2008. Before that, he was with Indianapolis-based pharma giant Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY), as vice president of Lilly Research Laboratories. Paya, an immunologist by training, was a member of the faculty at the Mayo Clinic before going into the pharmaceutical industry.

Immune Design was founded in 2008 with technology from the Caltech lab of Nobel Laureate David Baltimore, and from Reed’s team at the Seattle-based Infectious Disease Research Institute. The technology is based on a vector from Baltimore’s lab that makes it possible to specifically stimulate dendritic cells of the immune system, which are known for sending sentinel warning signals about pathogens to other cells of the immune system. That targeting ability is being combined with synthetic chemical compounds called adjuvants, which are used to boost the effectiveness of vaccines.

The adjuvants from Reed’s lab, when combined with Baltimore’s precise delivery system, offer an opportunity to trigger highly potent, more specific immune responses in the body than vaccines from the past, according to Rick Klausner, a partner with The Column Group, one of the company’s founding investors.

The company has raised $50 million in two rounds of venture financing, and last year struck its first major partnership with AstraZeneca’s MedImmune unit to develop new vaccine candidates.