Theraclone Names Cliff Stocks, Vet of Icos & Calistoga, as New CEO

12/6/11Follow @xconomy

Theraclone Sciences has been searching for more than a year for a new CEO, and it found one close to home in Cliff Stocks.

The Seattle-based biotech company is announcing today that Stocks, a veteran biotech dealmaker with experience at Icos and Calistoga Pharmaceuticals, is taking over as CEO at Theraclone. Stocks is replacing Steve Gillis, the company’s chairman, who had been interim CEO since Dave Fanning died suddenly in June 2010.

Even without a full-time CEO, Theraclone has made significant strides this year. It raised a little more than $10 million in venture capital, made a splash with the discovery of some broadly neutralizing antibodies for HIV, formed a sizable partnership with Pfizer, and moved its first new drug candidate into clinical trials against the flu. Now the company is looking to continue its growth, partly by leveraging its technology through working with partners that Stocks surely knows well from his many years in business development.

“The idea is to do some select collaborations,” Stocks says. “We’re not going to do a lot and become a service entity. We’re going to have a few partnerships with strong partners, and structure them to allow Theraclone to maintain or keep a substantial portion of the value we develop with our partner.”

Theraclone, founded in 2005 at the Seattle-based Accelerator, specializes in the discovery of novel antibodies. The company works by starting with blood or tissue samples from patients, and identifying antibodies that are made by people’s immune systems against foreign invaders like viruses, bacteria, or cancer cells. Mother Nature has evolved pretty efficient defense mechanisms against these rogue cell types, so Theraclone’s scientists figured it was a good idea to listen to what nature is saying, and then make genetically engineered copies of these antibodies as drugs.

Besides the flu antibody program, Theraclone is moving ahead toward its first clinical trial with an antibody for another infectious disease—cytomegalovirus. And further in the future, the company has its sights on the most lucrative market for today’s antibody drugs—cancer.

Stocks, 53, was previously the chief business officer of Seattle-based Calistoga, which was acquired earlier this year by Gilead Sciences for as much as $600 million. Before that, he spent 15 years at Bothell, WA-based Icos, where he helped craft the joint venture with Eli Lilly that developed and marketed tadalafil (Cialis) for erectile dysfunction.

This is Stocks’ first go-round as a CEO, although he’s quick to add that he learned a lot from his experience working for Carol Gallagher at Calistoga and both George Rathmann and Paul Clark at Icos.

Stocks says he was drawn to the Theraclone job because of the combination of the science, and the people he’ll be working with. Gillis called him back in August to see if he might be interested in the Theraclone job, and after discussing it for about 10 minutes, he said he would be interested in hearing more.

“After meeting some of the folks in the company, I decided these are the kinds of folks I want to spend my days working with,” Stocks says.

So where does Stocks see things going for Theraclone? In a couple of years, it should have proof-of-concept data from a couple of different antibody drugs in clinical trials, he says. It should have “a portion” of the ownership of its drugs on a worldwide basis, or it could be in position to develop one of its drugs internally for a rare disease niche market, he says. The IPO market “doesn’t appear to be open now,” but he didn’t want to completely rule out that idea.

Russ Hawkinson, who has carried a lot of the business load at Theraclone’s chief financial officer, sounded pretty happy to join Stocks on a conference call with his interview as CEO.

“It’s going to mean a lot to have someone here day-to-day,” Hawkinson says. “It’s been wonderful to work with Steve (Gillis) and all the experience he brings, but to take Theraclone where we want to go, we have to have somebody here full-time. A core part of our business plan is to partner our platform technology and key programs, and Cliff brings a ton of experience in that area.”

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