Bloomberg Law
Sept. 11, 2020, 9:41 AM

Former Celgene, Portola Lawyers Land New Big Pharma Roles

Brian Baxter
Brian Baxter

Pharmaceutical mergers and acquisitions activity has made up a large percentage of global deals even during the pandemic, the fallout from which has several top lawyers in the industry finding new homes.

Olema Pharmaceuticals Inc., a privately held biopharmaceutical startup doing business as Olema Oncology, announced Thursday its addition of several executives, including John Moriarty as general counsel and corporate secretary.

Moriarty spent the past two-and-a-half years as legal chief at Portola Pharmaceuticals Inc., which in May sold itself for $1.4 billion to Boston-based Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. The deal, which was opposed by some investors, closed in July, the same month that Olema raised $54 million in Series B financing.

In an email to Bloomberg Law, Moriarty confirmed he’s the first general counsel at San Francisco-based Olema, which is pursuing various treatments for women’s cancers. Moriarty received more than $2.8 million in total compensation from Portola last year, the bulk of it in stock, per its 2019 proxy statement. Prior to joining Portola in 2018, Moriarty was Alexion’s top lawyer.

In January, Alexion closed on its $930 million acquisition of Blue Bell, Pa.-based Achillion Pharmaceuticals Inc., whose former legal chief Martha Manning resurfaced in mid-June as the new general counsel at Marinus Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Radnor, Pa.-based company developing treatments for rare seizure disorders.

Two former top lawyers for Celgene Corp., the Summit, N.J.-based biotechnology giant that sold in late 2019 to Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. for $74 billion , also landed new C-suite roles this month.

Agios Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based biopharmaceutical company that hired Celgene’s former general counsel Jonathan Biller in November, promoted him to CFO as of Sept. 11. Biller will retain his top legal role at Agios and also serve as the company’s new head of corporate affairs.

Alexis Pinto, a former vice president and corporate secretary at Celgene, was announced Sept. 1 as chief legal officer for Zentalis Pharmaceuticals Inc. The New York-based cancer treatment developer turned to Cooley for legal work on a $165 million initial public offering in April that yielded $1.5 million in legal fees and expenses, according to securities filings.

Arcturus Therapeutics Holdings Inc., a San Diego-based company that has received funding from Singapore in its quest to develop a vaccine for Covid-19, announced Aug. 6 its hire of Lance Kurata as chief legal officer.

Kurata served as chair of the West Coast technology transactions practice at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, whose San Diego office he helped open in 2006 after coming aboard with a group of lawyers from Fish & Richardson.

Arcturus forged a partnership last year with Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical Inc., a deal that saw the latter become its largest shareholder. Ultragenyx general counsel Karah Parschauer sits on Arcturus’ board.

In-House Inclusion

The pharmaceutical sector has made some diversity gains through the hire of new Black law department leaders.

Codiak BioSciences Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based biotechnology company, announced July 1 its hire of Mintz Levin partner Yalonda Howze in Boston as chief legal officer. Howze was involved in the creation of Move the Needle, a $5 million diversity initiative centered on collaboration between several firms and corporate legal departments

MyoKardia Inc., a Brisbane, Calif.-based heart drug developer, announced July 6 its hire of general counsel and corporate secretary Denelle Waynick, a longtime diversity advocate who spent the past half-dozen years as U.S. legal chief for Belgian biopharmaceutical company UCB Inc. Waynick replaced Cynthia Ladd, who retired but remains a senior adviser to MyoKardia.

Verily Life Sciences LLC, a health care technology startup owned by Google parent Alphabet Inc., said July 22 it hired Cynthia Patton as general counsel. Patton spent the past 15 years in-house at Amgen Inc., where she was most recently chief compliance officer for the Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based drug company and worked on its diversity and inclusion efforts.

More New Recruits

Other notable in-house appointments in the pharmaceutical space this summer include:

  • UroGen Pharma Ltd., a Princeton, N.J.-based biopharmaceutical company that in April received FDA approval for the first therapy to treat upper tract urothelial cancer, announced Sept. 9 its hire of Pfizer Inc. chief counsel for oncology Jason Smith as general counsel and chief compliance officer. Smith spent over a decade in-house at Pfizer.
  • PMV Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Cranbury, N.J.-based oncology company that raised $70 million in Series D financing in August, announced Tuesday its hire of general counsel Robert Ticktin from Tesaro Inc., where he was an associate general counsel for corporate. Ticktin spent more than three years at Tesaro, which was sold to global drug giant GlaxoSmithKline PLC in a $5 billion deal that closed last year.
  • VelosBio Inc., a San Diego-based cancer drug startup, also announced Sept. 8 its addition of general counsel Paul Bavier, who most recently served in that role and as chief compliance officer for Avedro Inc. The latter was acquired in late 2019 by Glaukos Corp. Bavier joins VelosBio after it raised $137 million through a Series B fundraising in July.
  • Metacrine Inc., a San Diego-based biopharmaceutical company seeking to raise $85 million through an IPO to further its fight against liver disease, announced Sept. 2 its hire of Omnione Inc. general counsel Catherine Lee as its new legal chief. Cooley is counseling Metacrine on its stock listing, which will generate $838,000 in legal fees and expenses, per securities filings.
  • Zai Lab Ltd., a Shanghai-based biopharmaceutical company with an office in Cambridge, Mass., announced Aug. 17 it had brought on Biogen Inc. chief corporation counsel and assistant secretary F. Ty Edmondson as its new chief legal officer. Ropes & Gray advised Zai Lab on an IPO in 2017 that raised $173 million and generated nearly $2.1 million in legal fees and expenses, per securities filings.
  • Opiant Pharmaceuticals Inc. said Aug. 6 it had recruited former Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc. assistant general counsel Brian Gorman as general counsel. Gorman replaced Rahsaan Thompson, who left Opiant earlier this year to become general counsel at Emeryville, Calif.-based biotech Gritstone Oncology Inc.
  • Provention Bio Inc., an Oldwick, N.J.-based biopharmaceutical company, announced Aug. 3 its hire of Heidy Abreu King-Jones for its newly created chief legal officer and corporate secretary role. King-Jones will receive $400,000 per year in base salary, according to securities filings. She joined Provention Bio from Axcella Health Inc., where she was general counsel and corporate secretary.

Editor’s Note: Bloomberg LP general counsel David Levine is one of the Move the Needle Fund’s founding GCs and is an adviser to the Move the Needle Fund. Bloomberg Law is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer in New York at
Chris Opfer at