iPierian Shakeup Continues, as Chairman Corey Goodman, Scientist Doug Melton Exit Stem Cell Startup

6/15/11Follow @xconomy

Two of the leaders at iPierian, the high-profile stem cell startup in South San Francisco co-founded by scientists at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, have left the company in the wake of its strategic shift this spring, Xconomy has learned.

Corey Goodman, the prominent neuroscientist and biotech executive, has resigned his position as chairman of the board at iPierian, according to sources familiar with the situation. Doug Melton, a star scientist at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and a co-founder of iPierian, has also left his role as a scientific advisor to the company, sources say. iPierian CEO Peter Van Vlasselaer and director Beth Seidenberg of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers didn’t respond to requests for comment, but both Goodman and Melton’s biographies have been removed from iPierian’s website. Neither Goodman nor Melton commented yesterday afternoon.

The departures are the latest chapter in the ongoing shakeup at iPierian, which Xconomy first reported on a month ago. iPierian’s former CEO, Mike Venuti, was terminated by the board in late April, and the company’s heads of finance, business development, and legal/intellectual property were all dismissed within days. Numerous institutions have a stake in this turnover at the top, since iPierian has raised more than $50 million from some of the biggest names in Big Pharma and venture capital, including Kleiner Perkins, Highland Capital Partners, MPM Capital, Google Ventures, GlaxoSmithKline’s SR One, and Biogen Idec New Ventures.

The company was put together in July 2009, when Pierian, a company co-founded by world-renowned stem cell researchers at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, was merged with iZumi Bio, a San Francisco startup. iZumi Bio focused on reprogramming adult cells to become “pluripotent,” so they could have the potential, like that of a stem cell, to morph into most any cell type in the body. The business plan, until Venuti was terminated, was based on using the induced pluripotent stem cells as a tool for screening new drug candidates, and offering the technology to Big Pharma companies through partnerships.

Corey Goodman

iPierian was in position to execute its first partnership at the time of Venuti’s termination, but the board decided to change its plan—by reducing the number of scientific programs it is pursuing, and lowering its cash burn rate to position itself for an acquisition, former iPierian CEO John Walker said in an interview last month.

Goodman, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, is well-known for his past roles as a neuroscientist on the Stanford University and UC Berkeley faculty and as an entrepreneur who co-founded Exelixis and Renovis before becoming an executive heading up a biotech drug unit within Pfizer. He now serves on the boards of several companies, and is involved in San Francisco-based venBio, an investment firm.

Melton is known for developing a number of different stem cell lines, through private financing, that have been made available to scientists around the world. His lab’s research has focused on coaxing stem cells to become insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells, with an eye toward strategies to someday treat diabetes. He’s a member of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and serves as co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

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