Health/Life Sciences

Newest drama at Athira: Investor requires CEO alternative and needs two board seats

Richard Kayne. (Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors Photograph)

A billionaire investor of Athira Pharma is asking for the ouster of the Seattle firm’s CEO and nominated himself and the previous chief monetary officer at Novartis for the board of administrators.

Richard Kayne, who owns 4.8% of Athira, issued an open letter to shareholders Wednesday criticizing the corporate’s present CEO, Mark Litton, who he stated has “little to no operational, medical trial or scientific expertise, having spent considerably all of his profession in enterprise growth roles.”

“Merely put, Dr. Litton shouldn’t be the precise CEO for Athira, and I imagine the Board erred in rapidly changing Dr. Kawas,” Kayne wrote.

Kayne not too long ago co-founded a life sciences fund with former Athira CEO Leen Kawas, who resigned from the corporate final 12 months and left the board within the wake of an investigation into the integrity of information in papers she co-authored that helped to kind the preliminary foundation for the corporate. An investigation by an impartial board appointed by the corporate concluded she had altered data-containing pictures in her papers.

Kawas was changed by Litton, who holds a Ph.D. within the life sciences and is the previous chief enterprise officer at Alder Biopharmaceuticals and VP of enterprise growth at Celltech. Litton joined Athira in 2019 as its COO earlier than changing into CEO this previous October.

The inventory value of the corporate, which is conducting medical trials for Alzheimer’s illness, slid after the investigation into Kawas’ papers. In his letter, Kayne blames present administration. “I can not sit idle and permit this inexperienced Board and administration staff to destroy the worth of the corporate,” wrote Kayne, who’s founder and co-chair of Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors.

Kayne was crucial of the composition of the corporate’s board, saying its members don’t have any “pores and skin within the sport” past director grants. He additionally criticized board chair Kelly Romano, writing that she “has restricted to no drug growth, scientific or biotechnology expertise.” Romano was beforehand founder and CEO of BlueRippleCapital, a consultancy agency for world expertise firms, and was appointed chair final summer season.

Athira issued a proper assertion in response. “Mr. Kayne has rejected our makes an attempt to search out frequent floor,” stated Athira. “Mr. Kayne has pushed Athira to renew a proper relationship along with his present enterprise accomplice and the corporate’s former CEO.”

Kayne nominated himself to the board together with George W. Bickerstaff, III, Novartis’ former CFO and present board chair of well being firm Innoviva and the nonprofit Worldwide Vaccine Institute. Kayne additionally stated that Athira provided him a board seat in March, “however that supply was rescinded with little rationalization.”

Athira not too long ago introduced two new appointments to its board, Wave Life Sciences’ chief medical officer Michael Panzara and Kronos Bio’s COO and normal counsel Barbara Kosacz; Vaxcyte CEO Grant Pickering was added earlier this 12 months. In its assertion, Athira stated that Kayne and Bickerstaff’s skillset is “already effectively represented amongst our present administrators.”

The corporate expects to announce top-line knowledge subsequent quarter on a section 2 medical trial of its experimental remedy for Alzheimer’s illness, and is anticipating section 3 knowledge from one other Alzheimer’s trial early subsequent 12 months. The corporate additionally not too long ago dosed its first affected person in a section 2 trial for Parkinson’s illness dementia and one other type of dementia.

“The board of administrators is assured Athira has the precise technique and the precise staff to guide the corporate via this pivotal chapter,” the corporate added in its response.

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