Life Sciences Insight

Checkmate’s single asset bet will be up to new CEO as Labinger exits

Checkmate Pharmaceuticals President and CEO Barry Labinger is out the door at the clinical-stage cancer biotech without an explanation, and financial operations veteran Alan Fuhrman will take on his duties in an interim role. 

Fuhrman knows the company through his work on the board and audit committee for the past two years. He’s also on the boards of SpringWorks Therapeutics and Esperion Therapeutics. He was previously CFO of Amplyx Pharmaceuticals from December 2017 to June 2020 and before that was CFO at Mirna Therapeutics, Ambit Biosciences and Sonus Pharmaceuticals. 

Labinger has departed the company without any context as to why. No further details were offered in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing disclosing the leadership shuffle. Board Chair Mike Powell thanked Labinger for his contributions in a statement after-market Wednesday.

The outgoing CEO joined the biotech in late 2018 and oversaw an $85 million series C last June. Checkmate made its way onto Wall Street with a $75 million initial public offering two months later at an initial price of $15. The biotech is now trading at $3.90 per share as of 10:05 a.m. ET Thursday.

Fuhrman will hold the top post while Checkmate searches for a permanent CEO. That process has already begun, the company said Wednesday.

The interim leader and his permanent successor will run a biotech with one asset: vidutolimod, a differentiated toll-like receptor 9 (TLDR9) agonist. 

The drug is being tested in multiple midstage trials. One is a phase 2 trial investigating vidutolimod in combination with Bristol Myers Squibb’s cancer med Opdivo, or nivolumab, in anti-PD-1 refractory advanced melanoma. Another phase 2/3 trial is studying the drug in combination with Opdivo versus Opdivo alone for first-line metastatic or unresectable melanoma. 

The single asset is also being investigated in a phase 2 trial in combination with Merck’s Keytruda in recurrent or metastatic squamous cell head and neck cancer.  

Further yet, the Cambridge, Massachusetts, biotech wants to test the drug in phase 2 trials in various forms of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, or squamous cell skin cancer, in a combination with Regeneron’s PD-1 monoclonal antibody Libtayo. Those midstage trials are on tap for the second half of this year, according to the company’s pipeline.