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Zymeworks founder Ali Tehrani to step down as CEO by February

Former QLT chief financial officer to take over as CEO of B.C. biotech
Zymeworks co-founder Ali Tehrani is due to step down as CEO by February 1 | Submitted

Add one more name to the 2022 CEO shuffle.

Zymeworks Inc. (NYSE:ZYME) co-founder founder Ali Tehrani is stepping down from the top job of the Vancouver-based biotech firm best known for developing platforms that help other drugs more accurately identify and target cancerous cells.

Former board member Kenneth Galbraith is set to take over as chairman and CEO no later than February 1, while Tehrani will stick around as an adviser to help with the transition, according to the company.

Galbraith traces his B.C. biotech roots back to the later 1980s, when he began working for former pharmaceutical powerhouse QLT Inc. There, he served as chief financial officer before departing in 2000.

He later served on Zymeworks’ board from 2009-13 and most recently held the position as executive-in-residence at British life sciences investment trust Syncona Ltd. (LON:SYNC). Meanwhile, Zymeworks CFO Neil Klompas is also taking on the additional role of chief operating officer, effective immediately.

The latest shake-up of executive ranks in Vancouver’s tech scene comes after GeoComply Solutions Inc. co-founder Anna Sainsbury revealed on Tuesday she’s back as the cybersecurity firm’s CEO, a position she originally held from 2011-18. 

And Technologies Inc. (TSXV:BILD) – often described as the Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) of homebuilding supplies – days ago named David Lazar as interim CEO after Dan Park announced in October 2021 he was leaving the top job due to personal reasons.

“We've had to have that uphill battle to really showcase why we belong on a world stage,” Tehrani told BIV last spring, referring to B.C.’s reputation as a hub for the natural resources and entertainment industries.

“Fast forward to 2020 and 2021, we show that we have more above-billion-dollar market cap biotech companies in British Columbia than we have in the rest of Canada. In totality, between Zymeworks between up AbCellera [Biologics Inc. (Nasdaq:ABCL)], between Aurinia [Pharmaceuticals Inc. (Nasdaq:AUPH)] — we have three north-of-a-billion-dollar market cap companies in biotech.”

Zymeworks went public in 2017, raising nearly US$60 million in its initial public offering.

Shares debuted at US$13 each and rose to a high of US$57 in January 2021. 

It then went on to raise another US$320 million in January 2020 as part of an underwritten public offering.

Shares were trading at US$13.92, as of 7:30 a.m. PT on January 6, after a previous close of $15.10 a day earlier.

“There are investors and shareholders that really see what we're doing, and how we're going to change the landscape of cancer, specifically in breast cancer and stomach cancer to begin with followed by a number of different tumour types,” Tehrani said last spring.

He said he envisions as many as seven more US$1-billion unicorns emerging from the West Coast life sciences sector in the near future.

This comes as the industry has managed to stem the tide on the brain drain of talent heading south of the border, according to Tehrani.

“Now we have companies, now we have critical mass that is enabled to hire [local talent], give them a chance to shine, give them a chance to grow,” he said. 

“At the same time, because of our success, we've been able to bring talent … that historically has stayed in the United States or in Europe. Our friends south of the border, American citizens, European citizens now feel like that's where I want to go.”

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Zymeworks co-founder Ali Tehrani talks to BIV about the state of B.C.'s biotech sector