Christopher Austin

Christo­pher Austin makes his re­turn to in­dus­try, jump­ing ship from NIH over to CEO-part­ner role at Flag­ship

Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing has plucked its lat­est hire straight from the ranks of the NIH.

Af­ter near­ly two decades at the NIH and al­most 10 years as found­ing di­rec­tor of the Na­tion­al Cen­ter for Ad­vanc­ing Trans­la­tion­al Sci­ences (NCATS), Christo­pher Austin is pack­ing his bags for Cam­bridge, MA. There he’ll be­come Flag­ship’s newest CEO-part­ner — an es­teemed role that the VC has been test­ing for the last year or so.

“Chris has been an in­no­va­tor, a col­lab­o­ra­tor, a prob­lem solver, and a chal­lenger of the sta­tus quo,” NIH di­rec­tor Fran­cis Collins said in a state­ment. “These char­ac­ter­is­tics have been cru­cial to his work in over­com­ing long-stand­ing sci­en­tif­ic and op­er­a­tional is­sues that ham­per the process of turn­ing promis­ing bio­med­ical ad­vances in­to new di­ag­nos­tics and health in­ter­ven­tions.”

Austin grad­u­at­ed with a de­gree in bi­ol­o­gy from Prince­ton in 1982 then stud­ied brain stem-cell de­vel­op­ment while pur­su­ing his MD at Har­vard Med­ical School. Af­ter com­plet­ing his clin­i­cal train­ing in in­ter­nal med­i­cine and neu­rol­o­gy at world-renowned Mass­a­chu­setts Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal, he prac­ticed pri­ma­ry care in rur­al Alas­ka and Swazi­land in Africa.

“I went to Kotze­bue, Alas­ka, about 100 miles north of Nome, in the mid­dle of win­ter, where the hos­pi­tal was re­spon­si­ble for an enor­mous area, with vil­lages of 50 or so peo­ple liv­ing 200 miles apart from each oth­er,” Austin — who’s al­so known to sing opera — told Prince­ton’s Alum­ni Week­ly. “Lat­er, I spent time at a 30-bed hos­pi­tal in rur­al Swazi­land where pa­tients un­able to walk were of­ten pushed to the hos­pi­tal in a wheel­bar­row, and there was on­ly one doc­tor on du­ty.”

A stint at Mer­ck fol­lowed, where Austin di­rect­ed pro­grams on genome-based dis­cov­ery of new tar­gets and drugs, with a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on schiz­o­phre­nia and Alzheimer’s.

In 2002, Austin was hired as a se­nior ad­vi­sor at Na­tion­al Hu­man Genome Re­search In­sti­tute’s Cen­ter for Trans­la­tion­al Ther­a­peu­tics. And in 2012, he be­came NCATS’ first per­ma­nent di­rec­tor. Since then, he’s led the cen­ter’s pur­suit of speed­i­er drug de­vel­op­ment, us­ing new plat­forms like the “tis­sue chip,” which was de­vel­oped as a bet­ter way of screen­ing for safe­ty.

“His dri­ve to im­prove the trans­la­tion­al process has been fu­eled by his ex­pe­ri­ence as a ge­neti­cist, drug de­vel­op­er, neu­ro­sci­en­tist, and med­ical doc­tor, when treat­ments couldn’t come soon enough for his pa­tients who need­ed them,” Collins wrote.

The NIH is tap­ping NCATS deputy di­rec­tor Joni Rut­ter, who for­mer­ly helmed the neu­ro­science and be­hav­ior di­vi­sion of the Na­tion­al In­sti­tute on Drug Abuse (NI­DA), to take Austin’s place as act­ing di­rec­tor.

Flag­ship hired Fab­rice Chouraqui as its first CEO-part­ner last May, for­mer pres­i­dent of No­var­tis’ US phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals busi­ness. Oth­er hires in­clude Tuyen Ong, Bio­gen’s for­mer se­nior VP and head of their oph­thal­mol­o­gy fran­chise; Guil­laume Pfe­fer, who was pre­vi­ous­ly SVP and glob­al vac­cine leader for Shin­grix, Glax­o­SmithK­line’s block­buster vac­cine for the pre­ven­tion of shin­gles; and ex-Vi­vid­ion chief Diego Mi­ralles.

Com­par­ing Flag­ship to the “Dream Team in the Olympics of ‘92” — which went down in his­to­ry as one of the best sports teams ever as­sem­bled — Mi­ralles de­scribed the new gig as a “once in a life­time op­por­tu­ni­ty” up­on be­ing hired last month.

Bob Bradway, Amgen CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Am­gen bel­lies back up to the M&A ta­ble for an­oth­er biotech buy­out, this time with a $2.5B deal for an an­ti­body play­er fo­cused on PS­MA

Five months after Amgen CEO Bob Bradway stepped up to the M&A table and acquired Five Prime for $1.9 billion, following up with the smaller Rodeo acquisition, he’s gone back in for another biotech buyout.

This time around, Amgen is paying $900 million cash while committing up to $1.6 billion in milestones to bag the privately held Teneobio, an antibody drug developer that has expertise in developing new bispecifics and multispecifics. In addition, Amgen cited Teneobio’s “T-cell engager platform, which expands on Amgen’s existing leadership position in bispecific T-cell engagers by providing a differentiated, but complementary, approach to Amgen’s current BiTE platform.”

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How one start­up fore­told the neu­ro­science re­nais­sance af­ter '50 years of shit­show'

In the past couple of years, something curious has happened: Pharma and VC dollars started gushing into neuroscience research.

Biogen’s controversial new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm has been approved on the basis of removing amyloid plaque from the brain, but the new neuro-focused pharma and biotechs have much loftier aims. Significantly curbing or even curing the most notorious disorders would prove the Holy Grail for a complex system that has tied the world’s best drug developers in knots for decades.

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Ryan Watts, Denali CEO

De­nali slips as a snap­shot of ear­ly da­ta rais­es some trou­bling ques­tions on its pi­o­neer­ing blood-brain bar­ri­er neu­ro work

Denali Therapeutics had drummed up considerable hype for their blood-brain barrier technology since launching over six years ago, hype that’s only intensified in the last 14 months following the publications of a pair of papers last spring and proof of concept data earlier this year. On Sunday, the South San Francisco-based biotech gave the biopharma world the next look at in-human data for its lead candidate in Hunter syndrome.

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Why is On­col­o­gy Drug De­vel­op­ment Re­search Late to the Dig­i­tal Bio­mark­ers Game?

During the recent Annual ASCO Meeting, thousands of cancer researchers and clinicians from across the globe joined together virtually to present and discuss the latest findings and breakthroughs in cancer research and care. There were more than 5000+ scientific abstracts presented during this event, yet only a handful involved the use of motion-tracking wearables to collect digital measures relating to activity, sleep, mobility, functional status, and/or quality of life. Although these results were a bit disappointing, they should come as no surprise to those of us in the wearable technology field.

Art Levinson (Calico)

Google-backed Cal­i­co dou­bles down on an­ti-ag­ing R&D pact with Ab­b­Vie as part­ners ante up $1B, start to de­tail drug tar­gets

Seven years after striking up a major R&D alliance, AbbVie and Google-backed anti-aging specialist Calico are doubling down on their work with a joint, $1 billion commitment to continuing their work together. And they’re also beginning to offer some details on where this project is taking them in the clinic.

According to their statement, each of the two players is putting up $500 million more to keep the labs humming.

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Busi­ness­es and schools can man­date the use of Covid-19 vac­cines un­der EUAs, DOJ says

As public and private companies stare down the reality of the Delta variant, many are now requiring that their employees or students be vaccinated against Covid-19 prior to attending school or to returning or starting a new job. Claims that such mandates are illegal or cannot be used for vaccines under emergency use authorizations have now been dismissed.

Setting the record straight, the Department of Justice on Monday called the mandates legal in a new memo, even when used for people with vaccines that remain subject to EUAs.

Ugur Sahin, BioNTech CEO (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP Images)

BioN­Tech is spear­head­ing an mR­NA vac­cine de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for malar­ia, with a tech trans­fer planned for Africa

Flush with the success of its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, BioNTech is now gearing up for one of the biggest challenges in vaccine development — which comes without potential profit.

The German mRNA pioneer says it plans to work on a jab for malaria, then transfer the tech to the African continent, where it will work with partners on developing the manufacturing ops needed to make this and other vaccines.

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Luciana Borio (Susan Walsh/AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Bob Nelsen's ARCH adds FDA, biode­fense ex­per­tise with ap­point­ment of Lu­ciana Bo­rio

Once vetted by the Biden team to lead the FDA as commissioner, Luciana Borio is now compiling quite the résumé.

Borio has now been named a venture partner at Bob Nelsen’s ARCH Venture Partners, and Nelsen told Endpoints News, “She will be involved in projects across the portfolio, including ongoing projects in manufacturing, clinical trials, gene therapy and gene editing, cell therapy, and delivery. We are exploring multiple projects in infectious disease, and next generation manufacturing.”

No­var­tis reshuf­fles its wild cards; Tough sell for Bio­gen? Googling pro­teins; Ken Fra­zier's new gig; and more

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If you enjoy the People section in this report, you may also want to check out Peer Review, my colleagues Alex Hoffman and Kathy Wong’s comprehensive compilation of comings and goings in biopharma.

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