Daniel J. O'Connor said promising technology and first-rate personnel is what attracted him to joining Princeton biotech Advaxis Inc. in January. So when O'Connor was named CEO Tuesday seven months after joining the company as a vice president, he was grateful for the board of directors' endorsement.
"I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to lead Advaxis and the challenge it represents," O'Connor said in a telephone interview.
Advaxis, an early-stage life science company, is focused on developing immunotherapies that stimulate the body's immune system to fight cancer. O'Connor said the company's technology holds promise because the intravenously injectable medicine can be an alternative to chemotherapy.
Advaxis' lead drug candidate, ADXS-HPV, is being evaluated in clinical trials of for human papillomavirus-associated cancers, including cervical cancer, head and neck cancer, and anal cancer.
The product has been granted orphan drug status — a federal designation that provides grants and incentives to develop drugs that affect 200,000 or fewer people — for anal cancer. Advaxis is also seeking orphan drug status for invasive cervical cancer as well as head and neck cancer.
Advaxis also is developing ADXS-PSA, a drug in pre-clinical stages, for treatment of prostate cancer. O'Connor said the company plans to file for Investigational New Drug status with the U.S. Food Drug in Administration in early 2014. The designation enables a company to ship an investigational drug to clinical investigators across state lines to determine whether it is safe for humans.
O'Conner said the quality of workforce provides reason for optimism about Advaxis prospects, citing Bristol-Myers Squibb veterans Dr. Robert Petit, Advaxis chief science officer, and Chris French, the company's executive director of medical staff.
Advaxis employs about 15 total workers in Princeton, mostly scientists. The clinical stage company does not yet report revenue.
"We have an excellent team in place, and together we will be focused on continuing to fundamentally transform the company on multiple fronts, including the preparation of the registration studies for ADXS-HPV and continuing to strengthen our balance sheet," O'Connor said.
O'Connor replaces Thomas Moore as part of a succession plan. Moore is staying with the company as a consultant, member of the board and directors and stockholder. O'Connor came to Advaxis after 15 years of biopharmaceutical experience, including management stints at ImClone Systems, PharmaNet and Bracco Diagnostics.
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