Life Sciences Insight

Rhythm, without missing a beat, installs Shapiro to replace departing CMO

A series of chief medical officers have hit the exits over the past month, with biotechs such as Black Diamond Therapeutics, Replimune and Avidity Biosciences all disclosing departures in recent weeks. Rhythm Pharmaceuticals joined the club on Thursday—but unlike others it had a successor in place and ready to take on the job.

Murray Stewart, a GlaxoSmithKline veteran, joined Rhythm late in 2018 and served as CMO through a period in which it generated late-phase data on setmelanotide and won approval as a treatment for weight management in people with certain rare genetic conditions. Stewart also oversaw a push to study setmelanotide in additional indications through a basket trial.

Now, Stewart is set to resign effective Sept. 10. Immediately after leaving, Stewart will start providing advisory services to Rhythm for up to one year in return for consulting fees of $12,000 a month and the chance to continue exercising his vested stock options.
When Stewart starts the consulting gig, Linda Shapiro Manning, M.D., Ph.D., will take up the newly vacated CMO post. Rhythm hired Shapiro as SVP, clinical in July. Shapiro landed the role after spending most of the previous decade at Boehringer Ingelheim, Merck and Novo Nordisk. Just before joining Rhythm, Shapiro did a short stint as executive clinical research director at Applied Therapeutics. 

In statements disclosing the appointment and promotion of Shapiro, Rhythm CEO David Meeker highlighted the clinical experience of obesity she gained as a practicing physician before joining the industry. Shapiro used that experience at Novo, where she worked on GLP-1 and obesity global development programs, and will now apply it again at Rhythm.

The CMO transition comes ahead of the expansion of Rhythm’s slate of clinical trials. Last month, the biotech disclosed plans to start five new phase 2 and 3 studies in the second half of the year. The wave of activity includes a phase 3 study that will assess setmelanotide in patients with a handful of genetic markers that cause obesity.