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Vir taps Bayer dealmaker Marianne De Backer as its next CEO

January 29, 2023
Life sciences

Vir Biotechnology is tapping a veteran pharma dealmaker—and one of 2021’s Fiercest Women in Life Sciences—to helm the ship as the company’s long-time captain George Scangos, Ph.D., eyes retirement.

On April 3, Scangos, who’s been chief executive officer at Vir since the start of 2017, will hand over the reins to Marianne De Backer, Ph.D. De Backer comes over from Bayer, where she currently heads up pharmaceutical strategy, business development and licensing. Alongside her CEO appointment, De Backer is set to join Vir’s board of directors, the company said Wednesday.

While Scangos is set to retire, the biopharma veteran—who served as Biogen’s chief before landing at Vir—will stick around in an advisory role through June 2 to smooth De Backer’s ascension to the throne. He’s also set to “continue providing strategic counsel to Vir as a member of the Board of Directors,” the company explained in a release.

Infectious disease-focused Vir entered the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic, courtesy of its GSK-partnered antibody sotrovimab. After a solid run in which the partners’ med initially stood up to the omicron variant, the FDA ultimately revoked sotrovimab’s emergency authorization in April, citing waning effectiveness.

Aside from sotrovimab in COVID-19, Vir is working on a number of other therapies to tackle diseases like hepatitis, HIV and flu.

Scangos’ time at the immunology company kicked off in January 2017, following a six-year run at Biogen. At the time, Biogen—now somewhat infamous for its Aduhelm launch fiasco in Alzheimer’s disease—was embroiled in a sparring match with activist investor Carl Icahn, Stat News points out.

By the time Scangos announced his departure from Biogen in 2016, the company was crediting him for helping lead a “remarkable transformation,” as well as boosting its revenues, earnings and stock price.

Before his run at Biogen, meanwhile, Scangos served as president and CEO of Exelixis for 14 years, Vir pointed out in its release.

“Having the opportunity to bring life-saving medications to patients around the world has been the greatest privilege of my career,” Scangos said in a statement.

De Backer, for her part, will come on board with more than two decades of global leadership know-how. She joined Bayer in 2019, coming off more than two decades at Johnson & Johnson. At the German conglomerate, De Backer was tasked with rejuvenating Bayer’s drug pipeline with external innovation to guard against looming losses of exclusivity on eye injection Eylea and heart med Xarelto.

The next two years at Bayer proved to be what De Backer called “an incredible climb.” In a 2021 interview with Fierce Pharma, she pointed to a number of recent deals under her belt like Bayer’s acquisition of women’s health specialist KaNDy Therapeutics and gene therapy aficionado Asklepios, also known as AskBio.

Over the span of her career, De Backer has been directly responsible for over 200 strategic alliances, but she wasn’t always a pharma dealmaker. She holds a Ph.D. in Biotechnology from Ghent University in Belgium and started off as a lab scientist working on drug discovery at J&J’s Janssen. She also once led a commercial operation and oversaw the launch of two drugs in Austria and Switzerland.

De Backer was selected as one of Fierce Pharma’s Fiercest Women in Life Sciences in 2021.

By Fraiser Kansteiner


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