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Charles River Labs Recruits Recently Retired Varian Legal Chief

June 10, 2020, 9:59 PM

Charles River Laboratories International Inc. has a new top lawyer for the first time in over a decade.

John Kuo joined the suburban Boston-based company this month as corporate executive vice president, general counsel, corporate secretary, and chief compliance officer. He replaces David Johst, who retired in late May from Charles River after nearly three decades at the company, which provides clinical laboratory services to clients in the biotechnology, medical device, and pharmaceutical sectors.

Kuo, who retired May 22 after 17 years in-house at Varian Medical Systems Inc., where he most recently served as general counsel, confirmed to Bloomberg Law his new role but declined further comment.

Johst didn’t respond to a request for comment about his departure or retirement plans. He currently owns $42.59 million in Charles River stock, per Bloomberg data. Bloomberg Law reported in April that Johst received a $6.57 million pay package—including $1.35 million in cash—from Charles River in 2019.

Charles River hired Johst as corporate counsel in 1991 and he was promoted to corporate executive vice president in 2005 following the departure of former general counsel Dennis Shaughnessy, who was initially succeeded by the late Joanne Acford before Johst took over the company’s top legal role. At the time, Johst also served as Charles River’s chief administrative officer and head of human resources.

On July 30, 2019, Charles River said in a securities filing that Johst would step down in May 2020. An employment agreement filed in tandem with that disclosure states that Johst will continue to receive his $682,745 base salary while providing consulting services to Charles River through Dec. 31 of this year.

Kuo, Johst’s successor as Charles River’s legal chief, had been general counsel at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Varian since 2005. He earned almost $2.26 million in total compensation last year from the cancer treatment company, according to its 2019 proxy statement. Kuo currently owns $5.19 million in Varian stock, according to Bloomberg data, which values his Charles River stock holdings at $602,000.

Health Care Hiring Continues

Bloomberg Law reported in May on a spate of notable in-house appointments in the pharmaceutical and health care industries, a pace that has not slowed amid the Covid-19 pandemic. At least a dozen other companies have also made key additions in recent weeks:

  • Angion Biomedica Corp., a San Francisco-based biopharmaceutical company, announced June 4 its addition of general counsel, chief compliance officer, and corporate secretary Jennifer Rhodes. She spent nearly the past four years as general counsel at Adamas Pharmaceuticals Inc., an Emeryville, Calif.-based specialty pharmaceutical company now in the market for a new in-house legal chief.
  • Prevail Therapeutics Inc., a New York-based biotechnology company working on treatments for neurogenerative diseases, announced June 4 its hire of Kira Schwartz as general counsel. Schwartz, a former associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, most recently spent the past six years as an associate general counsel and assistant secretary at Allergan plc.
  • IFM Therapeutics LLC, a Boston-based biopharmaceutical company that in December raised $55.5 million in financing, touted June 3 its addition of Maegan Deare as its new vice president of legal. Deare, a former Ropes & Gray associate, spent the past year as corporate counsel at Foundation Medicine Inc.
  • Outset Medical Inc., a San Jose, Calif.-based medical technology company, said June 3 it hired John Brottem as its new chief legal officer. Brottem was most recently vice president of law and deputy general counsel at Omnicell Inc., a Mountain View, Calif.-based company that provides pharmacy and medication management solutions to health care clients.
  • Alachua, Fla.-based biotechnology company AxoGen Inc. announced June 1 the immediate retirement of general counsel Gregory Freitag and appointed former MicroPort Orthopedics Inc. general counsel and chief administrative officer Bradley Ottinger to replace him. Securities filings show Ottinger received a $25,000 signing bonus; $50,000 relocation reimbursement; and $369,000 base salary to join AxoGen. Freitag will serve as special counsel to the company through October and remain a board member at AxoGen, which focuses on human tissue repair and beat back a derivative lawsuit in April.
  • Skyhawk Therapeutics Inc., a Waltham, Mass.-based biopharmaceutical startup, welcomed aboard W. John McKeague this month as its new vice president of legal. McKeague comes to Skyhawk from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Boston, where he joined the firm’s patents and innovation practice as an of counsel last year after nearly five years at Porzio, Bromberg & Newman in Washington.
  • SurModics Inc., an Eden Prairie, Minn.-based medical device and diagnostics company, announced May 13 its hire of CHF Solutions Inc. general counsel Gordon Weber as its new legal chief. Weber replaces Bryan Phillips, who left SurModics in December for Cerevel Therapeutics LLC. Phillips earned $899,521 in total compensation from SurModics last year, according to securities filings.
  • NovoCure Ltd., an Israeli oncology company, hired Hogan Lovells partner Jennifer Agraz Henderson in Washington in May as a vice president and lead regulatory counsel. Henderson spent nearly 15 years at Hogan Lovells, where she was promoted to counsel in 2011 and made partner in 2017.
  • Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc., which in May agreed to pay $1.4 billion to buy drug maker Portola Pharmaceuticals Inc., hired Katherine Dyson last month as a director of market access and patient services. Dyson joined Boston-based Alexion from White & Case, where she spent four years as a partner in its litigation group, having previously been a partner at McDermott Will & Emery.
  • Biogen Inc. brought on Holland & Knight health care and life sciences partner Jenna Bigornia in Boston as a commercial counsel in May, the same month that the Cambridge, Mass.-based drug giant recruited McDermott patent litigation partner K. Nicole Clouse as an intellectual property counsel.
  • Kite Pharma Inc., now part of Gilead Sciences Inc. following their $11.9 billion merger in 2017, hired Douglas Peterson as senior counsel last month in Santa Monica, Calif. Peterson was most recently of counsel at Steptoe & Johnson in Los Angeles, where he spent more than a dozen years at the firm handling patent prosecution and IP litigation work.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at