Life Sciences Insight

Roche’s gene therapy unit finds a new Spark as co-founding CEO makes way for new leader

Roche’s gene therapy outfit Spark Therapeutics will get a fresh face April 1 as co-founding CEO Jeffrey Marrazzo steps down. Chief Operating Officer Ron Philip, a 10-year Pfizer veteran who joined Spark in 2017, will be Marrazzo’s successor.

The FDA’s approval of retinal disease gene therapy Luxturna is likely to be the biggest part of Marrazzo’s legacy at the Roche subsidiary. Luxturna marked the first FDA nod for a gene therapy for a genetic disease in December 2017.

The outgoing chief executive’s resume includes more than Spark’s sole approved product. Since founding the biotech in 2013, Marrazzo has helped secure more than $1 billion in venture funding, which entailed a $161 million IPO in 2015. He also helped land a $4.8 billion exit to Roche in 2019, spearhead a gene therapy manufacturing center in Philadelphia and ink partnerships with Pfizer, CombiGene, Senti Bio and other biopharmas.

Marrazzo, who transitioned Spark from an idea at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to a startup, will depart less than two months after Roche culled a phase 2 Spark program in choroideremia, a progressive vision loss condition.

He leaves behind a biotech with four clinical-stage programs, comprising a late-stage Pfizer-partnered asset in hemophilia B, a phase 3 in hemophilia A and early-stage gene therapies in hemophilia A and Pompe disease.

The phase 3 hemophilia B study was slated for an interim analysis this year, but the Big Pharma scrapped that time frame in favor of a delayed pivotal data readout in the first quarter of 2023. Pfizer is running the trial of the gene therapy, dubbed fidanacogene elaparvovec, after taking responsibility for further development of the asset in July 2018.

Come April 1, Philip will take over Marrazzo’s duties. He joined Spark in 2017 as head of global commercial, was promoted to chief commercial officer a year later and then reached his current post of chief operating officer 12 months ago.

“When I think about Spark’s future, I’ve long viewed Ron as the next person to take over at the helm—not only is he a steadfast leader, he’s been instrumental in developing Spark’s gene therapy pipeline and has a deep understanding of Spark’s unique culture,” Marrazzo said. Philip will oversee an 800-employee unit of Roche.