Fabrice Chouraqui, Cellarity CEO-partner (LinkedIn)

Drug de­vel­op­er, Big Phar­ma com­mer­cial ex­ec, now an up­start biotech chief — Fab­rice Chouraqui is ready to try some­thing new as a ‘CEO-part­ner’ at Flag­ship

Fab­rice Chouraqui’s ca­reer has tak­en some big twists along his life jour­ney. He got his Phar­mD at Uni­ver­sité Paris Descartes and jumped in­to the drug de­vel­op­ment game for a bit. Then he took a sharp turn and went back to school to get his MBA at In­sead be­fore re­turn­ing to phar­ma on the com­mer­cial side.

Twen­ty years lat­er, af­ter steadi­ly ris­ing through the ranks and jour­ney­ing the globe to nab a top job as pres­i­dent of US phar­ma for the Basel-based No­var­tis, Chouraqui ex­it­ed in an­oth­er ca­reer switch. And now he’s head­ed in­to a hy­brid po­si­tion as a CEO-part­ner at Flag­ship, where he’ll take a shot at lead­ing Cel­lar­i­ty — one of the VC’s lat­est par­a­digm-chang­ing com­pa­nies of the ground­break­ing mod­el that as­pires to de­liv­er a new plat­form to the world of drug R&D.

Noubar Afeyan

In the lat­est switch-up, he’s chang­ing a top ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tion in a Swiss-based glob­al or­ga­ni­za­tion su­per­vis­ing thou­sands of staffers for a role run­ning a team of 50 en­gaged in deep sci­ence that mar­ries new in­sights in­to cel­lu­lar bi­ol­o­gy and AI in Cam­bridge, MA. And he’s com­mit­ted to a dual role as ven­ture part­ner, con­tribut­ing his own ideas to shap­ing the strat­e­gy and ex­e­cu­tion at Flag­ship.

It’s all a bit head-spin­ning, but Chouraqui ap­pears to be tak­ing it all in stride.

It’s time, he says, to “get back to val­ue cre­ation … I’m some­one who is pas­sion­ate about pro­gress­ing med­ical sci­ence.” And right now, he says, sci­ence has nev­er been pro­gress­ing as fast as it is now.

Flag­ship chief Noubar Afeyan has en­joyed bring­ing in ex-phar­ma ex­ecs, in­clud­ing top play­ers at No­var­tis like David Ep­stein. They fit well in­to a world where the Flag­ship team builds plat­forms and com­pa­nies from scratch, helped by record set­ting funds and a de­vot­ed group of in­vestors.

Avak Kahve­jian

Avak Kahve­jian, Flag­ship gen­er­al part­ner and found­ing CEO at Cel­lar­i­ty, says they’re try­ing some­thing new with this dual role of biotech chief and VC part­ner. As he ex­plains it, it’s an op­por­tu­ni­ty to bring some­one in to help guide the com­pa­ny at an ear­ly stage, while join­ing the Flag­ship team to help sharp­en the ven­ture group’s think­ing — “mean­ing that we’re all work­ing to­geth­er to think about strat­e­gy and vi­sion, ex­e­cute that to­geth­er.”

Chouraqui has no trou­ble bal­anc­ing strat­e­gy and vi­sion.

“We need to think dif­fer­ent­ly,” he says, point­ing to the same gris­ly stats on de­vel­op­ment risk — with a soul-killing 90% clin­i­cal fail­ure rate — that dom­i­nates dis­cus­sions on ROI.

“Thanks to the in­te­gra­tion of tech­nol­o­gy and bi­ol­o­gy,” says the new­ly-mint­ed CEO, “we are able to op­er­ate at a new lev­el. That lev­el is the cell, where we can dig­i­tal­ly map cell be­hav­ior and de­vel­op drugs that can in­flu­ence cell be­hav­ior.”

Now he just needs to get in­to the clin­ic and give it a whirl — though time­lines are one top­ic Chouraqui is steer­ing well clear of.

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President Trump (left) and NIAID chief Anthony Fauci in the White House press room, April 22, 2020 (Michael Reynolds/Sipa via AP Images)

White House tries to dis­cred­it An­tho­ny Fau­ci — could he be on his way out?

For two months in late winter and early spring, Anthony Fauci and President Trump stood in uneasy co-existence at White House briefings — an unlikely truce between an infectious disease official who had helped combat AIDS and Ebola and a president who repeatedly denied the danger of a virus that would go on to kill 100,000 Americans, repeatedly rejected masks and certain social distancing efforts, and promoted a drug with little scientific basis.

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Jeff Albers, Blueprint CEO

Di­ag­nos­tic champ Roche buys its way in­to the RET ti­tle fight with Eli Lil­ly, pay­ing $775M in cash to Blue­print

When Roche spelled out its original $1 billion deal — $45 million of that upfront — with Blueprint to discover targeted therapies against immunokinases, the biotech partner’s RET program was still preclinical. Four years later, pralsetinib is on the cusp of potential approval and the Swiss pharma giant is putting in much more to get in on the commercial game.

Roche gains rights to co-develop and co-commercialize the drug, with sole marketing responsibility for places outside the US and China (where CStone has staked its claim).

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Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (Andrew Harnik/AP Images)

A top an­a­lyst turns the spot­light on Mod­er­na, fu­el­ing a fast-and-fu­ri­ous Street race over the fu­ture of mR­NA

Bioregnum Opinion Column by John Carroll

Four months ago, one of the favorite talking points on the biopharma social media wave length was whether Moderna shares $MRNA were priced right or were wildly inflated.

After all, said the naysayers, the company had never actually pushed a treatment to an approval. Did messenger RNA really work, coding cells to make a drug or a vaccine? And how about all that chatter about how ‘secretive’ they are, or were?

Now, as CEO Stéphane Bancel and the top execs push the company to the forefront of a frantic race to develop the first vaccine to fight against the reignited wildfire spread of Covid-19, all those questions have been magnified — along with the stock price.

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En­gi­neer­ing an on/off switch for CAR-T out of yeast and Juras­sic Park

Almost as soon as CAR-T emerged in the mid-2010s as a near-cure for some cancers, so did a question: How do you give this without risking killing patients?

At the time, James Patterson was wrapping an MD-PhD at a yeast lab at London’s Francis Crick Institute. Yeast may seem an unlikely place to find a fix for cancer therapy, but reading through other researchers’ solutions to CAR-T’s toxicity, Patterson wondered if a method long used by yeast biologists called auxotrophy might be useful. You genetically modify cells to make them dependent on a particular nutrient. Then you can make them live or die — proliferate or deplete — by giving or taking away that nutrient.

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FDA re­jects Ver­ri­ca’s skin warts pitch, a month af­ter flag­ging ap­pli­ca­tion ‘de­fi­cien­cies’

Two years ago, Verrica Pharma landed a $75 million IPO on the promise they could develop the first ever-FDA approved drug for molluscum contagiosum, an infection that causes warts. Now that won’t happen, at least not this summer.

The FDA today rejected Verrica’s application to have their lead topical drug VP-102 approved for molluscum contagiosum. The news likely came as little surprise to Verrica or its investors; the biotech disclosed in late June that the FDA sent a letter saying “deficiencies” in their application precluded a discussion around labeling or post-marketing commitments.

Andrew Allen, Gritstone Oncology CEO

A neoanti­gen pi­o­neer says its tech is work­ing great. So what wrecked the share price?

Gritstone Oncology was one of the original neoantigen upstarts, raising cash and planning to disrupt the immuno-oncology field with a bold new approach to fighting cancer with a new brand of vaccines.

On Monday, the crew in charge ran out a full display of what they’ve been seeing in a Phase I study. And everything seems to be working perfectly with one big exception: It didn’t significantly shrink tumors, let alone eradicate them.

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Janet Woodcock, CDER chief (AP Images)

More Warp Speed con­tracts com­ing, vac­cine pro­duc­tion to be­gin in 4-6 weeks — of­fi­cials

Operation Warp Speed has already handed out 4 of what they once said would be 3-5 major contracts to develop Covid-19 vaccines, but administration officials indicated Monday that more would be on their way.

“The slate is not closed,”  a senior HHS official said on a call with reporters. “We’ve invested in four … but the slate is not closed.”

At the same time, the official indicated that Warp Speed would continue to focus on three technologies: mRNA, viral vectors and protein subunits. That leaves the door open for a wide range of platforms, notably including both of Merck’s vaccine candidates — one of which has already received BARDA funding — and one of Sanofi’s candidates. It appears to preclude, though, the potential for Inovio and Vaxart, among certain other small developers that have hyped their ties to the Trump administration, to be included.

Albert Bourla, AP

Covid-19 roundup: CanSi­no eyes more over­seas PhI­II sites as Cana­da tri­al re­port­ed­ly stalls; In­di­an drug­mak­er surges on 30-per­son da­ta

Having leveraged connections in Canada for a planned Phase III trial of its Covid-19 vaccine, CanSino is venturing out to a few more others as it plots a global late-stage program.

“We are contacting Russia, Brazil, Chile and Saudi Arabia, and it’s still in discussion,” Dongxu Qiu, executive director and co-founder of CanSino, said at a conference in Suzhou, China, per Reuters.

The trial is likely to start “pretty soon,” he added, with plans to recruit 40,000 participants total.

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