Avacta in CEO change for ‘next stage of development’

Christina Coughlin

Wetherby-based life sciences company Avacta Group announced that Christina Coughlin has been appointed as its new CEO, effective May 1, 2024, and that after 19 years as CEO, Alastair Smith will step down immediately.

Avacta also published its 2023 results showing that revenue increased to £23.25 million from £9.7 million in 2022 and reported loss from continuing operations was cut to £24.95 million in 2023 from £37 million in 2022.

Avacta shares fell about 6% and are down about 60% year to date, reducing the firm’s stock market value to about £163 million.

On the CEO appointment, Avacta said: “Dr Coughlin has served as a board member since March 2022, consultant in clinical development and as Head of Research & Development since February 2024, driving the development of the pre|CISION platform from the bench to the bedside.

“After 19 years as CEO, Dr. Alastair Smith will be stepping down today.

The Avacta board of directors has been preparing for CEO succession, supported by a third-party recruitment specialist. As part of this process, it has considered a wide range of candidates as a potential new CEO for the group, reviewing both external and internal candidates. 

“Dr. Coughlin emerged from these activities as the outstanding candidate for CEO. The board also plans a broader evolution in order to meet the increased demands of being a clinical stage oncology company, alongside the need to more clearly communicate with shareholders and other key stakeholders.

Dr. Coughlin trained as an oncologist and immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania and her career in industry has included roles with increasing seniority at major biopharmaceutical companies including Wyeth, Pfizer and Novartis. 

“She has since held several senior leadership roles in biotech companies including Immunocore (NASDAQ: IMCR), Tmunity and Rubius where she served as Chief Medical Officer. 

“More recently, Dr Coughlin served as the Chief Executive Officer of Cytolmmune Therapeutics. At Avacta, Dr Coughlin has been pivotal in driving the clinical development strategy for AVA6000, the lead pre|CISION peptide-drug conjugate, and the broader drug pipeline strategy at the company.”

Avacta chairman Eliot Forster said: “At this pivotal time, with AVA6000 having achieved clinical Proof of Concept and with a broad platform of assets in oncology, Avacta needs leadership that will drive the company through the next stage of clinical development, lead commercialisation around the platform and shape the exciting future direction of this business.

“I am confident that Chris is the right person to lead Avacta’s next chapter. Her deep understanding of drug development and the urgent unmet needs in oncology, her extensive scientific and clinical experience and her many years in leadership roles in this industry make her the ideal person to drive our strategy and present the company’s truly innovative technology to the specialist healthcare investor audience, especially in the US. 

“We are confident she has the broader skillset, experience and insight to position the Company correctly to achieve value for patients and shareholders alike. I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to Alastair for the huge role he has played in the foundation and development of this company. On behalf of the entire board, we wish him the best for the future.”

Coughlin said: “Avacta is delivering a truly innovative next generation of highly targeted, potent and well-tolerated cancer therapies directly to the tumour microenvironment, supported by our recent proof-of-concept data for AVA6000.

“As an oncologist, I saw first-hand the effects of these therapies in patients and I couldn’t be more excited to be stepping into the role of chief executive to drive this innovative platform forward and to shape the future of this company.”