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


Xue Ha, former VP of scientific development, investigate at Athira Pharma. (Markus Dreyer Photograph)

The previous head of scientific improvement and investigate at Athira Pharma criticized the company’s handling of an investigation that led to the resignation of longtime CEO Leen Kawas in Oct.

Xue Ha printed a site article Tuesday describing her departure from the Seattle-location biotech business. Ha initial joined Athira in 2015 from the University of Southern California, the place she was an assistant professor of neurology.

“I still left Athira in February 2022, as I strongly disagree with the Board’s selection to dismiss Leen Kawas as the CEO, the rationale Athira furnished to the public to purportedly justify her dismissal, and the deficiency of transition that resulted in growing management gaps,” she wrote.

Kawas resigned and departed the board immediately after an unbiased distinctive committee concluded that she had altered info-made up of images in scientific papers as a graduate scholar. Those people papers had been central to the founding of the Bothell, Wash.-dependent neurosciences enterprise, then named M3 Biotechnology, in 2011.  

“In my impression, the handling of Athira’s investigation with regards to Leen Kawas and her subsequent dismissal fell below what scientific ethics identified as for and raises several unanswered issues,” Ha said in the write-up.

Arrived at by using e-mail, Kawas declined to remark on Ha’s write-up. GeekWire reached out to Athira for remark and we’ll update when we hear back.

The post is the most recent addition to ongoing drama at Athira, which this week was strike with one more lawsuit filed by a shareholder accusing the business of withholding information about the impression alteration ahead of Athira’s IPO in 2020. Athira is going through comparable lawsuits from other shareholders.

Ha reported the image manipulation was disclosed to the board in 2015, and that a the latest enterprise presentation on its scientific prospect for neurological ailment did not appropriately attribute Kawas. Ha has retained files from the organization connected to creation and authorship, she reported.

Previous Athira Pharma CEO Leen Kawas (Athira Pharma Photograph)

Athira is doing four clinical trials on a compound referred to as fosgonimeton (also named ATH-1017) for neurological circumstances, including Alzheimer’s illness. But the company has not still released its preclinical findings on that compound in a peer-reviewed journal. The company’s facts, said Ha, exhibit that underlying conclusions of Kawas’ graduate work on a equivalent compound are legitimate.  

The company introduced its preclinical information on fosgonimeton in a presentation at a meeting in March.

Ha also criticizes the board for distancing the firm from Kawas’ unique papers. For occasion, she famous that company’s recent annual report with the SEC stated, “the conduct that was the topic of the allegations is not relevant to any of our existing product candidates or ongoing clinical research.”

Ha disagrees with that characterization. She notes that Kawas’ authentic papers assessed a compound very comparable to fosgonimenton, referred to as dihexa. Fosgonimeton is a “prodrug” of dihexa, this means that it breaks down in the system into dihexa. Dihexa “is not only linked to fosgonimeton it is the main lively drug that provides the therapeutic probable.”

By stating that Kawas’ analysis is not similar to the company’s present-day candidate, the corporation also is not supplying good attribution, reported Ha.

As a substitute of pushing Kawas out of the enterprise, Athira really should have demonstrated the scientific validity of dihexa and “integrity of the prior study,” Ha stated.

“Doing so would not only have been the ideal thing to do, but it also would have prevented the pricey and disruptive ousting of the CEO,” claimed Ha in her write-up.

Ha explained “none of the inventors of dihexa” ended up outlined as co-authors on the latest convention presentation. Kawas’ identify was not outlined, nor was that of her advisor at Washington Condition College, fellow co-founder Joseph Harding.

In her article, Ha said that she has an “ongoing dispute” with Athira for the reason that she retained documents from the corporation.  “I noticed how Leen’s authorship was dealt with and the inventorship was managed, I retained documents to assist the contributions,” she included in an electronic mail.

Ha is a single of various of Kawas’ associates to weigh in with support. In April, Harding wrote a letter on LinkedIn praising her get the job done as a graduate college student and CEO. He wrote that he raised the concern of information “embellishment” by Kawas with then-board chair John Fluke and other folks inside the business, when he initially uncovered about it in 2015.

Ha added in her write-up: “Leen Kawas created a mistake around ten decades in the past as a younger and inexperienced graduate pupil. She acknowledged and mounted her miscalculation with the support of her advisor and colleagues to the best extent probable, with suitable disclosure to the university, Athira board, and other critical stakeholders far more than five years ago.”

Kawas has since co-launched an financial investment business with yet another supporter, Athira trader Richard Kayne. Kayne has criticized the board for replacing Kawas and has launched an energy to substitute the latest CEO, Mark Litton, with the former main professional medical officer of GlaxoSmithKline, Ronald Krall.

Athira is anticipated to report early facts on a phase 2 medical demo for fosgonimeton this quarter.


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