The neurosciences comeback: After a lengthy chill, Big Pharma is warming back up to neuro

Neurosciences became the stepchild of the pharma industry after a series of ugly setbacks in the clinic drove away the major players. But now, considering the advances in genetics and some new work on old ideas, some of the biggest outfits are driving a comeback of sorts as they team up or buy out some of the upstarts in this space. Endpoints examines the trend, and where it appears we’re headed now.

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Sarah Sheikh

Sarah Sheikh

Head of the Neuroscience Therapeutic Area Unit, Takeda

Sarah Sheikh, M.Sc., B.M. B.Ch., is the Head of the Neuroscience Therapeutic Area Unit at Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Ltd. and a member of the R&D Management Committee (RMC). In her role, she is responsible for the definition of the neuroscience therapeutic area R&D strategy as well as its operational execution including registration and life cycle management.

Sarah joined Takeda from Celgene where she was responsible for leading translational and early clinical development efforts across a pipeline of internal molecules and external partnerships focused on neurology and neurodegeneration, and also contributed to the successful acceptance of ozanimod for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. During her time at Celgene, Sarah helped to develop a strategic plan for neurosciences and was intimately involved with the formation of the Neuroscience and Imaging Thematic Center of Excellence.

Prior to Celgene, Sarah held key positions at Biogen where her experiences spanned Phase 1 to Phase 3 and into the post-marketing space, across multiple therapeutic areas including neuromuscular disease, neuroinflammatory and immunologic conditions and tissue regeneration. She also made important clinical development contributions for two disease-modifying therapies for relapsing multiple sclerosis globally: Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate) and Plegridy (peginterferon beta-1a).

Sarah received her M.Sc. in cell physiology and medical degree (B.M. B.Ch.) at the University of Oxford, Corpus Christi College. After senior house jobs at the John Radcliffe Hospital and as Clinical Lecturer and Tutor at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, she became a member of the Royal College of Physicians. She subsequently moved to Boston where she completed a residency in neurology and fellowship in neuromuscular diseases at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Jason Uslaner

Jason Uslaner

Vice President, Head of Discovery Neuroscience, Merck

Dr. Jason Uslaner is Vice President, Head of Discovery Neuroscience at Merck. The department is focused on discovering novel treatments for Central Nervous System Diseases, including Neurodegenerative and Psychiatric Diseases, as well as pain using various modalities including small molecule and biologics approaches. The department also collaborates both within and outside of Merck to identify and validate novel targets, as well as to develop biomarkers to help enable and improve clinical execution.

Prior to heading the department, Jason has led multiple drug discovery programs, including co-chairing clinical programs. Jason’s team has also been responsible for providing scientific support for Merck’s Neuroscience marketed products, such as Belsomra.

Prior to joining the Neuroscience group, Jason was in charge of establishing Merck’s world-class non-human primate lab supporting various Neuroscience projects. He has published over 70 manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters and in his 15 years at Merck has been impactful in the advancement of multiple different mechanisms from discovery to the clinic. Prior to joining Merck, Jason received a B.A. from University of California Berkeley, and completed his Ph.D. and postdoctoral studies in Biopsychology at The University of Michigan.

Jeremy Levin

Jeremy Levin

CEO, Ovid Therapeutics

Dr. Jeremy Levin is the Chairman and CEO of Ovid Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ: OVID) a public company developing novel medicines for orphan and rare diseases of the brain. Dr. Levin has deep experience in the global biopharmaceuticals industry, leading companies and people to develop and commercialize medicines that address medical needs worldwide. He has been voted one of the 25 most influential people in the biopharmaceutical industry.

Prior to Ovid, Dr. Levin served as President and CEO of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. (NYSE: TEVA) the world’s largest generics drug company. Previously, he was a member of the Executive Committee of Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) where he had global responsibilities for strategy, alliances and transactions. In this role, he devised and led the BMS “String of Pearls” strategy, which resulted in the transformation of the company. Prior to BMS, he was Global Head of Strategic Alliances at Novartis (NYSE: NVS). In this role, he established and managed strategic collaborations with multiple companies around the world. Dr. Levin has served on a number of public and private company boards over the years, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of BIO and Lundbeck (OMX: LUN).

Dr. Levin is the recipient of a number of awards including the Kermode Prize for work on novel hypertension drugs, the Albert Einstein Award for Leadership in Life Sciences, the B’nai B’rith Award for Distinguished Achievement for commitment to improving global health care.

Dr. Levin holds a Bachelors Degree in Zoology and was awarded a Masters of Arts in the structure of Chromatin from the University of Oxford in 1978. He also received degrees of Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Cambridge in 1981. He has practiced internal medicine at University Hospitals in England, Switzerland and South Africa. Born on a farm, Dr. Levin farms cattle in Connecticut in his spare time.

Jeff Jonas

Jeff Jonas

Chief Innovation Officer, Sage Therapeutics

Dr. Jeff Jonas was hired as CEO of Sage in 2013, and in December 2020, took on the role of Sage’s Chief Innovation Officer, a position that allows him to focus on his well-recognized expertise — neuroscience, development, and pipeline expansion — bringing to bear in the role his creative thinking and extensive drug development experience. Jeff led Sage through tremendous growth, which has amassed a market cap of over $6.5B. Jeff brings Sage more than 20 years of experience on both the scientific and business sides of the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, particularly in the CNS field. Before joining the Sage team, Jeff served as President of the Regenerative Medicine Division of Shire plc and previously as Senior Vice President of Research and Development, Pharmaceuticals at Shire.

Jeff has published over 70 scientific papers and chapters, authored more than 100 books (including “Everything You Need to Know About Prozac,” the first book about the drug), scientific articles and abstracts, and has received numerous awards. Jeff received his B.A. from Amherst College and M.D. from Harvard Medical School. He completed a residency in psychiatry at Harvard and then served as Chief Resident in psychopharmacology at McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School.

Kyle Blankenship

Kyle Blankenship

Senior Editor, Endpoints News

A native of Austin, Kyle previously worked as an associate editor at another leading biopharma publication and has held editor roles at two daily newspapers in Texas. In addition to a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University, Kyle holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Texas in Denton. At Endpoints, Kyle leads the company’s manufacturing coverage as well as running point on virtual events, editing and content strategy. An avid cook and history nerd, you can find Kyle hovering over the stove—spatula in one hand and a World War II tome in the other.