Athira Pharma CEO Leen Kawas placed on leave, shares sink more than 30%

Leen Kawas, CEO of Athira Pharma, at the 2018 GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Leen Kawas, CEO of Athira Pharma, has been given a temporary leave of absence until the Seattle area biotechnology company completes a review that “emerged from Dr. Kawas emerges during his time at Washington State University ”.

In after-hours trading, stocks fell sharply, losing more than 30%.

The ten-year-old company that develops drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease said Chief Operating Officer Mark Litton will take over day-to-day duties while Kawas is on vacation. She will stay on the board.

The company, which set up a special committee to investigate the matter, issued a statement from chief executive officer Tachi Yamada.

“Athira is committed to the integrity of scientific research to restore the neural health of people with neurological disorders 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 in the company. The company is convinced of the therapeutic potential of ATH-1017 for the treatment of dementia. “

The company said it did not comment on the matter until after the review was complete, and Kawas was not immediately available for comment.

Last summer, Kawas told GeekWire that the potential of Athira’s technology was “huge”. She co-founded Athira – formerly known as M3 Biotechnology – together with WSU researchers Joseph Harding and Jay Wright, with WSU promising initial studies in an article from 2012.

The story made no mention of Kawas and referred to the technology as a “WSU drug,” with Harding and Wright and other colleagues reporting initial results in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

Athira went public last September and raised $ 204 million after its shares were valued at $ 17. The stock traded around $ 12 on Thursday afternoon.

At the time of going public, Kawas was the first woman to head a corporate exchange in Washington state in more than two decades.

“I’ve been mistaken for the cloakroom girl more times than I can count,” Kawas told Forbes in the 2016 profile. “But people who thought I was the coat girl at the beginning of the meeting were willing to invest a lot of money in my company in the end.”

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