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Pharmaceutical Industry Frenzy Mints New Law Department Leaders

May 14, 2020, 3:42 PM

From initial public offerings to mergers and acquisitions, pharmaceutical companies across the U.S. have been busy bringing on in-house legal chiefs since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak two months ago.

Atara Biotherapeutics Inc. May 6 confirmed its hire of senior vice president and general counsel K. Amar Murugan. He joined the immunotherapy company after more than seven years at Assertio Therapeutics Inc., a Newark, Calif.-based specialty pharmaceutical outfit formerly known as Depomed. Murugan spent the past two years as Assertio’s general counsel.

In March, Assertio merged with Wayne, Pa.-based Zyla Life Sciences in a $17.5 million all-stock deal forming Assertio Holdings Inc. Megan Timmins, Zyla’s general counsel, is now head of legal for the combined company, according to securities filings related to the merger, which show she earned $971,153 in total compensation from Zyla in 2019. Zyla emerged from bankruptcy last year.

Murugan, who spent nearly a dozen years in private practice at now-defunct Heller Ehrman and McDermott Will & Emery, brings his corporate finance, life sciences, and securities expertise to Menlo Park, Calif.-based Atara. His predecessor as legal chief, Mina Kim, left Atara to join Zymergen Inc., a molecular biology startup backed by Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp., as its new chief legal officer.

Atara’s most recent proxy statement shows that Kim received nearly $2.33 million in total compensation last year. Murugan now owns roughly $468,000 in Atara stock, according to Bloomberg data. He wasn’t one of Assertio’s top paid executives in 2019.

IMARA’s Legal Ties

IMARA Inc., a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company that raised $75.2 million through an IPO in early March at the start of the U.S. coronavirus pandemic, May 4 announced its addition of Stephen Migausky as general counsel and senior vice president of legal.

Migausky joined Boston-based IMARA after serving as general counsel at ArQule Inc., a Woburn, Mass.-based subsidiary of global pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Inc.

ArQule hired Migausky in late 2018 after he spent more than four years in-house at Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. The latter hired Migausky as a corporate counsel in 2014 from WilmerHale, where he began his legal career in 2010.

Securities filings show that WilmerHale incurred $2.2 million in legal fees and expenses advising IMARA on its public listing this year.

Tricida’s New Tune

Robert McKague has joined South San Francisco-based biotechnology startup Tricida Inc. as general counsel and chief compliance officer, after more than a decade in-house at Jazz Pharmaceuticals plc.

Tricida, which raised $222 million via an IPO in 2018, March 9 said it added McKague to its executive team.

He takes over from Edward Hejlek, who spent three years as the company’s general counsel until transitioning in March to the role of executive vice president of intellectual property, according to Tricida’s 2019 proxy, which shows Hejlek earned $2.1 million in total compensation last year.

Hejlek also owns nearly $549,000 in Tricida stock, according to Bloomberg data. McKague, his replacement as legal chief, will now counsel Tricida on the potential commercial rollout later this year of veverimer, a drug it’s developing to fight chronic kidney disease.

More Moves

  • Personalis Inc., a Menlo Park, Calif.-based cancer genomics company, said May 5 it added Stephen Moore as its first-ever general counsel from Pacific Biosciences of California Inc., a biotech company where he spent the past decade as legal chief. Moore previously served as general counsel for Navigenics Inc., a consumer genomics company now part of Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.
  • Repertoire Immune Medicines, a Cambridge, Mass.-based clinical-stage biotech company, said April 23 it hired Codiak Biosciences Inc. general counsel Andrea DiFabio as chief legal and administrative officer. DiFabio reunites at RIM with several former colleagues at Bioverativ Inc., where she was once chief legal officer, and Biogen Inc., where she spent over a decade as an in-house counsel.
  • Bicycle Therapeutics Inc. announced April 23 its appointment of former Covington & Burling associate Zafar Qadir as general counsel. Qadir joined Bicycle, which is based in Boston and Cambridge, England, after spending almost five years as head of legal at London-based Cell Medica Ltd. and three months as a legal consultant to Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, a U.K. innovation center.
  • Zogenix Inc., an Emeryville, Calif.-based pharmaceutical company, April 20 touted its recruitment of Shawnte Mitchell as general counsel and corporate secretary. Mitchell spent nearly the past four years as in-house legal chief at Aptevo Therapeutics Inc., a Seattle-based biotech company.
  • Rallybio LLC, a Farmington, Conn.-based biopharmaceutical company, announced April 7 its addition of Michael Greco as head of legal operations. Greco, a former platoon leader in the U.S. Army with two decades of in-house and private practice expertise, previously served as general counsel for Stamford, Conn.-based SpringWorks Therapeutics Inc. The latter hired former Lowenstein Sandler life sciences vice chair Herschel Weinstein as its new legal chief earlier this year.
  • Gritstone Oncology Inc., an Emeryville-based, clinical-stage biotechnology company, April 6 said it hired Rahsaan Thompson as general counsel. Thompson comes from Opiant Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Santa Monica, Calif.-based company working on drug addiction and overdose treatments that he joined as general counsel last year. He has 20 years of experience in the medical arena.
  • ORIC Pharmaceuticals Inc. announced April 2 it snagged former Synthorx Inc. general counsel Christian Kuhlen as its new legal chief. Kuhlen replaces former general counsel and head of business development Krystilyn Corbett, who left the South San Francisco-based clinical stage oncology company last year to become vice president of alliance management at Lyell Immunopharma Inc.
  • Krystal Biotech Inc., a Pittsburgh-based gene therapy company, announced March 10 its addition of chief legal officer J. Christopher Naftzger, who spent the past three years as deputy general counsel at King of Prussia, Pa.-based Nabriva Therapeutics plc.

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

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