Former Athira Pharma exec says company fell below ‘scientific ethics’ in handling of ex-CEO – GeekWire

Xue Hua, former VP of scientific improvement, analysis at Athira Pharma. (Markus Dreyer Picture)

The previous head of scientific improvement and analysis at Athira Pharma criticized the corporate’s dealing with of an investigation that led to the resignation of longtime CEO Leen Kawas in October.

Xue Hua printed a weblog publish Tuesday describing her departure from the Seattle-area biotech firm. Hua first joined Athira in 2015 from the College of Southern California, the place she was an assistant professor of neurology.

“I left Athira in February 2022, as I strongly disagree with the Board’s determination to dismiss Leen Kawas because the CEO, the rationale Athira offered to the general public to purportedly justify her dismissal, and the shortage of transition that resulted in rising management gaps,” she wrote.

Kawas resigned and departed the board after an unbiased particular committee concluded that she had altered data-containing photos in scientific papers as a graduate scholar. These papers had been central to the founding of the Bothell, Wash.-based neurosciences firm, then known as M3 Biotechnology, in 2011.  

“For my part, the dealing with of Athira’s investigation concerning Leen Kawas and her subsequent dismissal fell under what scientific ethics known as for and raises many unanswered questions,” Hua stated within the publish.

Reached through e mail, Kawas declined to touch upon Hua’s publish. GeekWire reached out to Athira for remark and we’ll replace once we hear again.

The publish is the newest addition to ongoing drama at Athira, which this week was hit with one other lawsuit filed by a shareholder accusing the corporate of withholding details about the picture alteration earlier than Athira’s IPO in 2020. Athira is dealing with comparable lawsuits from different shareholders.

Hua stated the picture manipulation was disclosed to the board in 2015, and {that a} latest firm presentation on its scientific candidate for neurological illness didn’t correctly attribute Kawas. Hua has retained paperwork from the corporate associated to invention and authorship, she stated.

Former Athira Pharma CEO Leen Kawas (Athira Pharma Picture)

Athira is performing 4 scientific trials on a compound known as fosgonimeton (additionally known as ATH-1017) for neurological situations, together with Alzheimer’s illness. However the firm has not but printed its preclinical findings on that compound in a peer-reviewed journal. The corporate’s knowledge, stated Hua, present that underlying conclusions of Kawas’ graduate work are legitimate.  

The corporate launched its preclinical knowledge in a presentation at a convention in March.

Hua additionally criticizes the board for distancing the corporate from Kawas’ unique papers. As an example, she famous that firm’s latest annual report with the SEC said, “the conduct that was the topic of the allegations will not be associated to any of our present product candidates or ongoing scientific analysis.”

Hua disagrees with that characterization. She notes that Kawas’ unique papers assessed a compound associated to fosgonimeton, known as dihexa. Fosgonimeton is a “prodrug” of dihexa, which means that it breaks down within the physique into dihexa. Dihexa “will not be solely associated to fosgonimeton it’s the core energetic drug that delivers the therapeutic potential.”

By stating that Kawas’ analysis will not be associated to the corporate’s present candidate, the corporate additionally will not be offering correct attribution, stated Hua.

As a substitute of pushing Kawas out of the corporate, Athira ought to have proven the scientific validity of dihexa and “integrity of the prior analysis,” Hua stated.

“Doing so wouldn’t solely have been the proper factor to do, nevertheless it additionally would have averted the pricey and disruptive ousting of the CEO,” stated Hua in her publish.

Hua stated “not one of the inventors of dihexa” had been listed as co-authors on the latest convention presentation, which assessed dihexa in and rats and cells. Kawas’ identify was not listed, nor was that of her advisor at Washington State College, fellow co-founder Joseph Harding.

In her publish, Hua stated that she has an “ongoing dispute” with Athira as a result of she retained paperwork from the corporate.  “I noticed how Leen’s authorship was dealt with and the inventorship was managed, I retained paperwork to assist the contributions,” she added in an e mail.

Hua is one in every of a number of of Kawas’ associates to weigh in with assist. In April, Harding wrote a letter on LinkedIn praising her work as a graduate scholar and CEO. He wrote that he raised the difficulty of information “embellishment” by Kawas with then-board chair John Fluke and different people throughout the firm, when he first discovered about it in 2015.

Hua added in her publish: “Leen Kawas made a mistake over ten years in the past as a younger and inexperienced graduate scholar. She acknowledged and stuck her mistake with the assist of her advisor and colleagues to the very best extent potential, with correct disclosure to the college, Athira board, and different key stakeholders greater than 5 years in the past.”

Kawas has since co-founded an funding agency with one other supporter, Athira investor Richard Kayne. Kayne has criticized the board for changing Kawas and has launched an effort to switch the present CEO, Mark Litton, with the previous chief medical officer of GlaxoSmithKline, Ronald Krall.

Athira is anticipated to report early knowledge on a section 2 scientific trial for fosgonimeton this quarter.

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