People, Pharma, R&D

Biotech scientist/entrepreneur Saurabh Saha makes an unusual return to the arms of a big — and excessively discreet — R&D group

Over the past few years we’ve seen a growing exodus of R&D experts out of big biopharma groups and into the rapidly growing ranks of biotech startups. Now, one of the biggest players in the oncology field is getting at least one successful biotech scientist and entrepreneur to make an unusual return trip and come back into the fold of a major research organization.

Saurabh Saha

This morning Bristol-Myers Squibb $BMY put out word that the company had hired Saurabh Saha to run the translation science group for the company, which is responsible for triaging preclinical work of interest and steering the most promising programs toward the clinic.

Saha — a 40-year-old Johns Hopkins grad, where he worked in Bert Vogelstein’s lab — once upon a time labored inside Novartis’ global ops, before leaving for a string of new jobs in biotech. Nine years ago he set up a translational research and development organization called BioMed Valley Discoveries. Then his role as a venture partner at the prolific Atlas Venture led him to become chief medical officer at Synlogic, followed by a brief but wildly successful stint as CEO of Delinia.

Back at the beginning of this year Celgene stepped up with a $775 million deal to acquire Delinia — with $300 million of that in cash — just four months after Saha lined up a $35 million round to back a preclinical autoimmune drug that showed promise in controlling regulatory T cells, restoring immune tolerance and homeostasis.

Oddly, Bristol-Myers has decided to keep Saha under wraps for this announcement, not allowing interviews. That’s too bad, as companies like Bristol-Myers could use all the fresh, intelligent faces it can get to persuade investors that there’s reason to believe new stuff is coming along to whip up some excitement.

As big biopharma offers repeated evidence of the kind of cash-constrained, slow moving environments that researchers have chafed against, high-risk biotechs with opportunity for rapid rewards and cash windfalls have offered a compelling beacon for some high profile execs. Whatever Saha’s reasons, anything he says that might persuade scientists to reconsider that could only benefit an industry where the trends have so far pointed in only one direction.

That’s particularly true for the translational side of the business.

Saha is staying in the Boston area, where Bristol-Myers is building a new R&D center.

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