DURHAM – An interim CEO and other executive changes have been made at Durham based biopharma startup Aerami Therapeutics in the wake of the death of CEO Lisa Yanez.

Joshua Zeil was named interim CEO as well as chief operating officer on Monday.


In other moves, Gary Burgess was named chief medical officer and Sarah Fritchley is the new senior vice president for clinical operations.

Yanez died in a car crash on May 2.

The changes come as the company prepares for further development of its first product.

“The Board and I are proud of the world-class management team we have assembled to lead Aerami and oversee initiation of Phase 2 development for AER-901, with the ultimate goal of bringing new therapeutic options to the patients with pulmonary hypertension that we serve,” said Anne Whitaker, Executive Chairwoman of the Board of Directors at Aerami, in a statement. “Josh brings an impressive background and familiarity with the pulmonary hypertension space, having worked closely with Lisa Yañez, Aerami’s late CEO, and he has been a driving force behind Aerami’s clinical strategy and execution in PH-ILD and PAH.”

Bios of the new execs as provided by Aerami:

  • Dr. Ziel spent the past five years focused on strategic planning for potential reverse remodeling agents in pulmonary hypertension, including PAH, PH-ILD, and pulmonary hypertension due to left heart disease. He joined Aerami in 2022 as Vice President for Program Development with oversight on strategy and execution for the AER-901 pulmonary hypertension program. Prior to joining Aerami, he held senior executive positions at Syneos Health and the WPP agency network. Dr. Ziel holds a PhD in biology from Duke University, a BS in cell and molecular biology from the University of Michigan, and completed his postdoctoral fellowship in immunology at New York University.
  • Dr. Burgess brings more than 20 years of experience leading clinical development in the pharmaceutical industry with a focus on pulmonary hypertension, beginning his career as clinical lead for the development of sildenafil in PAH at Pfizer. He was instrumental in conceptualizing the AER-901 development program and oversaw the clinical aspects of the completed Phase 1 study as a consultant to Aerami. Prior to joining Aerami, Gary led clinical development for multiple companies, including as Chief Medical Officer for Conatus. Dr. Burgess completed his undergraduate and post graduate medical training at the University of Stellenbosch and Tygerberg Hospital in South Africa where he specialized in Internal Medicine. He subsequently worked at II Military Hospital and at Milnerton Mediclinic in Cape Town.
  • Dr. Fritchley also brings more than 20 years of experience from both pharmaceutical and contract research organizations (CROs), most recently as Chief Development Officer for Exvastat, a company focused on developing imatinib as a potential treatment for acute respiratory distress syndrome. Throughout her career, Sarah has directed clinical trials for various clinical development programs in a variety of therapeutic areas, including oncology, acute respiratory distress syndrome, allergy, pain, various inflammatory disorders, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. She has worked in small start-up biotechnology companies through mid-sized global biopharmaceutical organizations and directed several programs within the CRO sector. Dr. Fritchley received her BSc degree in pharmacology from the University of Sheffield, followed by a PhD in immunology from Newcastle University.