March 20, 2020 – Executive recruitment firm Klein Hersh International has placed James Burns as the new chief executive officer for San Diego, CA-based Locana Inc., a leading RNA-targeting gene therapy company. Dr. Burns had been serving as CEO for biotechnology company Casebia Therapeutics, where he led the team in discovering and developing new CRISPR/Cas9-based breakthrough therapeutics to treat blood disorders, blindness and heart disease. Josh Albert, managing partner, and Jared Kaleck, client partner, led the assignment for the search firm.
The hiring of Dr. Burns is a key step in expanding Locana’s leadership team and part of a planned transition of director and recent CEO Jeffrey M. Ostrove to continue service as director, the company said.
Dr. Burns, an accomplished company builder and biopharmaceutical product developer, joins Kathie Bishop, Locana’s chief scientific officer, in a pairing of two industry leaders who have succeeded in carrying early product concepts through to approval and advancing product candidates in the gene therapy space.
An Accomplished Leader
“Jim’s long list of career leadership accomplishments is capped by his recent success in building Casebia Therapeutics, where his focus on delivering emerging gene editing science to patients led to advancing product candidates in multiple indications,” said Tom Daniel, Locana’s chairman of the board. “We are inspired by Jim’s experience, leadership and patient focus. We are also exceedingly grateful for Jeff’s capable leadership in bringing the company to this stage.”
“Jeff’s work on building this company and its leadership team has accelerated the advancement of our foundational science into an impressive preclinical data set,” said Dr. Burns. “It is a privilege to be at the helm of a company with a platform of this caliber that presents the opportunity to realize its full potential in dozens of diseases with first- and best-in class therapeutics.”
Prior to Casebia, Dr. Burns spent the bulk of his career at Sanofi-Genzyme, where he held several leadership roles with increasing responsibility, including North America site head for R&D where he coordinated R&D operations across key therapeutic areas. Dr. Burns is a former board member of MassBio, a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and is a member of the external advisory committee for the BioMedical Engineering Department at Boston University. He also served as the industry representative for the Food and Drug Administration General Plastic Surgery Panel.
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Dr. Burns earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Purdue University and master’s and doctorate degrees in bioengineering from the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his thesis work focused on drug delivery. Following his graduate studies, he was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Florida.
Founded in 2016, Locana Inc.is a spin-off from the University of California in San Diego, and the computational biology and neuroscience lab of Eugene Yeo, a scientific co-founder of the business. Locana’s platform directly addresses the central role dysfunctional mRNAs play in human diseases. The company’s platform has reassembled elements of nature’s evolutionary repertoire of RNA engagement functions, including binding, degradation, splicing, editing and translational control to target pathogenic RNAs implicated in expansion repeat and other specific genetic diseases. This powerful approach is orthogonal to gene editing and provides tractable and durable therapeutic advantage over other gene therapy approaches currently deployed.
Klein Hersh International, based in Horsham, PA, focuses solely on delivering strategic leadership placement solutions to the healthcare and life sciences industries. Specialization areas include the life sciences (biotech, pharma), healthcare (managed care, health plans), and industry services (CROs, CMOs, CSOs, software companies, consulting organizations). The firm was founded in 1998.
Mr. Albert joined Klein Hersh in 2002 and became managing partner within three years. He has since helped the company grow from an office of five to an industry leading executive search firm dedicated to the life science industry with a team of more than 35 people.
Mr. Kaleck, who joined the search firm in 2006, co-leads the CEO and board practice. He has successfully partnered with clients on CEO, CBO, CFO and COO searches. Mr. Kaleck works closely with clients including life science focused venture capital firms, seed-stage companies, small to medium size biotech, and big pharma companies.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media