Search Specialism in Immuno-Oncology

The Fourth Cornerstone of Anti-Cancer Treatment

Immuno-Oncology – Search Specialism

The Fourth Cornerstone of Anti-Cancer Treatment.

Coulter Partners photography 2018. Use for Coulter Partners only, strictly no other use permitted.

Immuno-oncology is a relatively new area of medicine that focuses on the development of therapies which improve the body’s intrinsic potential for generating an effective immune response against cancer.  Until recently, immunotherapeutic agents have provided limited evidence of clinical success.  However, in the past few years, the immuno-oncology area has truly gained momentum.  In addition to the large companies that have entered the space, several biotech companies have emerged and, within a very short period of time, have generated multi-billion USD market capital valuations on the basis of pre-clinical and early clinical data with next-generation products.

With immunotherapy now considered alongside surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy as the fourth cornerstone of anti-cancer treatment, we are seeing a massive increase in the search for talent in this rapidly expanding area.  From Research leaders who further our understanding of the fundamentals of cellular and molecular tumour immunology, through to Translational specialists and Chief Medical Officers who take these novel assets through into the clinic, the demand for experts in immuno-oncology has exploded in both the US and Europe.

At Coulter Partners we have worked with multiple immuno-oncology organisations, from early stage biotechs through to small-cap publicly funded companies, to build their leadership teams.  Product types have ranged from cancer vaccines and immune checkpoint inhibitors through to next-generation CAR-T cell and NK cell products. Here is a selection of case studies to demonstrate the specialist expertise that Coulter Partners is developing as leadership advisors in this area:

Case Study 1

Identifying rare expertise to add value  

Key Players: Irene

Chief Medical Officer needed for European headquartered oncology vaccine company:

A leading clinical stage biopharmaceutical company headquartered in Europe, our client is focused on the development of innovative immunotherapies designed to fight infectious diseases and cancer. The company’s immunotherapeutic pipeline is at the forefront of novel cancer treatment strategies that aim to prevent the development of potentially life-threatening tumours at the earliest possible stage.

Following the success of their lead product’s phase I trial there was an urgent need to appoint a Chief Medical Officer who had the credibility to gain acceptance for their new drug among key opinion leaders when the phase II trial was initiated. This needed to be someone who was a gynaecologist, had experience of running an international Phase II trial, was fluent in both English and French and who could be both hands-on and comfortable in such an entrepreneurial environment.

There are not many new gynaecological products in early research and development so this was going to be a very tough challenge and we were searching in a very small pool of likely candidates.

We have a strong track record, however, of finding translational medics for small emerging entrepreneurial biotechs. Our ability to target and identify specific sector expertise particularly where talent is scarce, as in oncology and women’s health, is a strength we have developed through our global networks and rigorous research processes.

The Impact of Strong Leadership Hires

We recruited a French speaking gynaecologist with complimentary skill sets who also had experience in the oncology and vaccines sector. This appointment enabled the company to complete an IPO a few months after the appointment was made and begin their Phase II trial on time. We have since placed the Director of Corporate Communications and Investor Relations and the CSO for this client.

The company’s immunotherapeutic pipeline is at the forefront of novel cancer treatment strategies that aim to prevent the development of potentially life-threatening tumours at the earliest possible stage.

Case Study 2

Rarity of candidate type for Board appointment

Key players: Geoff and Irene

Sometimes, even after long review and discussion, the decision on which candidate to take is difficult. This is particularly true when the requirements for a candidate are broad and the pool of potentials is slim. Wherever possible we present a range of profiles so the client has several options, all high quality and suitable. Sometimes there are very few who fit the bill.

A Canadian biotechnology company focused on the development of oncolytic viruses presented just such a problem to us. They had developed a proprietary formulation of the human reovirus as a potential therapeutic for use in a broad range of cancers. The company was already listed on NASDAQ and aiming for registration and partnering/commercialisation. The Board composition lacked oncology expertise, biotech experience and international breadth. Moreover, they were facing the imminent retirement of 2 of their existing board members.

Leveraging our strong track record in oncology and our previous success in recruiting their VP Clinical Development, we began to align the stakeholders to help them define their ideal board composition, while accessing both our North American and European networks. After presenting a broad spectrum of profiles we were informed by the CEO & President that both chosen candidates “have been invited to sit on our board and have accepted. Job well done!”. We enabled the swift appointment of 2 accomplished oncology biotech CEOs with significant board experience. The company appointed one Board member in the US, West Coast based, and a second on the US East Coast, in this case a German. Each had a strong biotech and pharma track record in Europe and the US.

Since then their clinical program has included a number of human trials at a variety of stages including a Phase III trial in head and neck cancers. Currently the company is conducting clinical trials in six of the ten most common cancers diagnosed in men and five of the ten most diagnosed in women. The company has advanced its product manufacturing and intellectual property initiatives in parallel with its clinical development program to support development of a commercial product.


Case Study 3.

Attracting competed-for talent to drive expansion

Key players: Bianca, Nick, David

We worked in partnership with a European-headquartered, privately-financed biotech company with a broad pipeline of cancer immunotherapies in clinical and pre-clinical development for the treatment of a range of solid tumor types.  The company has a world-leading platform technology that enables the discovery of targets from cell-surface and intra-cellular proteins expressed by a cancer cell.

Having already recruited a Chief Medical Officer and Chief Business Officer, we were retained to find a Chief Finance Officer, with the remit of securing access to US financing. The company was poised for a very exciting few years ahead, involving some significant diversification and evolution of the business, which would mean setting up US operations. The ideal candidate needed to have recent biotech sector experience and have been the right hand to a CEO/leadership team of a company that had gone through growth and relevant transitions, including an IPO, and deal making/partnering deals. They needed to bring thorough understanding of the US market, including US legal and regulatory compliance experience. A global search to identify candidates with this profile was successfully conducted and the new CFO was appointed in September 2015.


Case Study 4

Research lead to drive pipeline development strategy


Key players: Bianca, Kay

Through the recent acquisition of an Immunotherapies company, our client gained excellent access to comprehensive knowledge on mechanisms relating to T cells in the human immune system, together with three innovative platforms in this pioneering field of immunotherapy.  A publicly listed biotech company, headquartered in Martinsried near Munich in Germany, the team is currently working on the development of these complementary personalised immunotherapy strategies and building a pipeline of innovative new products for the treatment of different types and stages of cancer.


To help our client achieve its goal of becoming a leading player in the highly-competitive and fast-moving immunotherapy area, Coulter Partners worked with them to appoint an SVP Research & Preclinical Development. The appointed candidate would strategically lead the company’s current and future research programmes, together with its platform technologies, through discovery and preclinical development, with the aim of building a differentiated and compelling R&D pipeline.


Coulter Partners conducted a global search, focusing on the identification of outstanding scientific leaders with experience in the discovery and early phase development of oncology products, and a focus on cancer immunology. The appointed candidate started in March 2016.


Case study 5


Complex biological product development experience sought


Key players: Kay and Zubair

Our client is an exciting new immuno-oncology company focused on the development of novel immune-modulating therapeutics based on an in-depth understanding of NK cell biology.  The company is founded on academic work from the University of Stanford in which stimulation of both validated and novel targets on Natural Killer cells has been shown to boost the immune system in animal models of cancer.  A key area of their research has been the identification and validation of immunomodulatory antibodies targeting immune effector cell subsets, including Natural Killer cells, to enhance the anti-tumour activity of tumour-targeting antibodies.  Based on this work, they are building a promising portfolio of immune-modulating mAbs, for use as monotherapies or in combination with other therapies.


With the Series A financing in place, the company was looking to build its senior leadership team with the appointment of a Chief Development Officer and VP Regulatory Affairs.  Coulter Partners worked with the leadership team to identify highly experienced individuals, with experience in the development of complex biological products, who could build the R&D pipeline and push the lead assets through pre-clinical and into clinical development.  Both roles were successfully filled, with the latter starting work in March 2016.