Athira Pharma CEO on leave following alleged ethics violations

By Jenni Spinner

- Last updated on GMT

(libre de droit/iStock via Getty Images Plus)
(libre de droit/iStock via Getty Images Plus)

Related tags Ethics neurodegeneration Neurology Alzheimer's disease Dementia

The current COO will assume leadership of the neuro-focused pharma firm while the company board investigates questions on Leen Kawas’s doctoral research.

The chief operating officer of Seattle-based Athira Pharma (a late-clinical-stage pharmaceutical company focused on developing small-molecule therapies to stop neurodegeneration) has been placed on leave in the wake of ethical questions about her doctoral research. In the interim, Leen Kawas will be replaced by chief operating officer Mark Litton in assuming day-to-day leadership responsibilities.

The Athira Pharma board determined Kawas should be placed on temporary leave, in light of reported accusations about doctoral research she conducted while at Washington State University. Kawas (also president of the company) will remain on the board during the review.

Tachi Yamada, chair of the board of Athira Pharma, said, “Athira is committed to the integrity of scientific research in its mission to restore neuronal health for those suffering from neurological diseases, so that patients can regain their memories, lives, and family relationships. ATH-1017 was discovered, developed, and patented by Athira on the basis of novel data generated within the company; the company is confident in the therapeutic potential of ATH-1017 for treating dementia​.”

Athira Pharma leadership has declined to comment about the investigation or the nature of the accusations. However, a news site​ reportedly uncovered an investigation by Washington State University looking into claims that images in Kawas’s doctoral research had been altered.

The mechanism of ATH-1017, Athira’s lead therapeutic candidate, is to enhance HGF/MET. According to the company, data appears to support HGF/MET’s role in maintaining neuronal health and function. In preclinical research and clinical studies, Athira Pharma reports, the candidate was shown to increase levels of the frequency band associated with learning, memory, and cognitive function.

Litton has acted in the role of COO since July 2019. Prior to joining Athira Pharma, his roles include serving as president and chief operating officer of Alpine Immune Sciences; chief business officer, treasurer, and secretary of Alder BioPharmaceuticals; and vice president of business development for Celltech Group.

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