Former Teva CEO Heads Startup Focused on Neurological Diseases

South African-born Jeremy Levin left Teva in 2013 amid widely publicized disputes with the board.

Tomer Appelbaum

Former Teva chief executive Jeremy Levin has been appointed CEO of a startup focused on developing drugs for rare neurological disorders, the company announced on Thursday.

New York-based Ovid Therapeutics also announced that it had signed its first deal with Danish drug manufacturer Lundbeck, in terms of which it gains a compound that it plans to test for two rare conditions.

"My goal is very, very, very straightforward," Levin said in a telephone interview with CNBC. "To build a highly focused neurology company whose goal is, hopefully, to become one of the best neurology companies in the world over time."

South African-born Levin left Teva abruptly in 2013 amid widely publicized disputes with the board. He has served as chairman of Ovid since 2014 and also serves on the boards of Biocon Ltd. and privately-held ZappRx.

Before joining Teva, he was a senior executive at Bristol-Myers Squibb, where he had global responsibilities for strategy, alliances and transactions. In this role, he devised and led BMY’s “String of Pearls” strategy, which resulted in the transformation of the company.

Ovid's strategy is to identify compounds shelved by other drug companies that could be beneficial in rare brain diseases and bring them in for development. The plan is to target only disorders that are well understood but not well served, Levin explained.

He decided to focus on neurology after seeing several large drug makers back away from the field following large-scale disappointments with drugs for Alzheimer's disease. "There are new ways of measuring brain deterioration, new assays, new mouse models that have been developed," Levin said. "All of this is really, really encouraging."

In the Lundbeck deal, Ovid gains gaboxadol, a pill it plans to test in two rare conditions called Angelman syndrome and Fragile X syndrome. Ovid, now calling the compound OV101, plans to start the mid-stages of trials next year.

Ovid was founded by neurologist Matthew During, now chief scientific officer, who pores over disease physiology and the mechanisms of thousands of compounds to find potential matches.

"The science of older medicines that had been around for some time was now becoming clearer and clearer as to how they worked on the brain," Levin explained. "Some that had been discarded were interesting molecules but weren't being applied to the right disease. Science caught up with some of the medicine-making that was going on."

Ovid's investors include both major institutional funds from the DoubleLine and TradeLink families of funds and private investors, including Levin himself.

He declined to disclose how much Ovid has raised in total.