From Bio­gen’s buy side to biotech CEO: Josh Man­del-Brehm joins the Po­laris fam­i­ly as a se­r­i­al en­tre­pre­neur in the mak­ing


Last Fri­day, Josh Man­del-Brehm wrapped a 4-year stint at Bio­gen, clos­ing out a chap­ter of his life that end­ed with a run as head of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment for the big biotech. This week he start­ed a new chap­ter as en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence at Po­laris Part­ners, one of the busiest ven­ture play­ers in biotech. Next stop: CEO of a stealth biotech that’s cur­rent­ly craft­ing a pipeline ahead of the Se­ries A now be­ing put to­geth­er, ex­pect­ed to ar­rive lat­er this year.

This tran­si­tion of his, mov­ing from the in­com­ing deals he worked on at a big out­fit like Bio­gen — a role that in­clud­ed build­ing the gene ther­a­py group — to the out­reach work done by a small start­up, helps il­lus­trate how a boom­ing hub like Boston/Cam­bridge con­tin­u­al­ly re­con­fig­ures the ca­reers of the in­dus­try’s most tal­ent­ed play­ers. And in the hunt for new CEOs, fresh faces like Man­del-Brehm are join­ing the sea­soned vets fill­ing the role of se­r­i­al en­tre­pre­neurs, il­lus­trat­ing how some VCs work hard on build­ing the bench as they ex­pand the team play­ing the field.

There­in lies key lessons for oth­er would-be hubs that some day hope to ri­val Boston/Cam­bridge.

“It’s eas­i­er to be on the buy side,” Man­del-Brehm tells me. “Peo­ple come to you.” But he al­ways tried to fol­low the guid­ance that Steve Holtz­man — an­oth­er Bio­gen vet now CEO at Deci­bel — gave him: “Put your­self in the oth­er per­son’s shoes.”

Try to un­der­stand what they are think­ing about, what mo­ti­vates them and what you can learn from them.

So right off the bat he’d like to start by not re­peat­ing the mis­takes he’s seen in BD; the biotech CEOs who get hung up on the wrong thing, of­ten de­ter­mined that a big com­pa­ny can on­ly screw things up.

Amy Schul­man, Po­laris

Every ven­ture group in town has their own ap­proach to these EIR pro­grams, he adds. At Po­laris, he says, it’s all about fam­i­ly. They’re not throw­ing you in­to an open job to see how you do, sink or swim. There’s time to con­sult on dif­fer­ent star­tups, learn from part­ners like Amir Nashat and Pfiz­er vet Amy Schul­man. And then stay with a VC that can take you through mul­ti­ple com­pa­nies; work­ing with peo­ple who un­der­stand per­fect­ly well that not every­thing they try will work.

Found­ing part­ner Ter­ry McGuire told him to take a close look at the VC’s web page, study the re­peat en­tre­pre­neurs they work with over and over again. Peo­ple like Ka­trine Bosley, an­oth­er for­mer Bio­gen BD ex­ec who made the switch to se­r­i­al en­tre­pre­neur, now CEO at Ed­i­tas.

Ka­trine Bosley, Ed­i­tas

“Even if a com­pa­ny wasn’t suc­cess­ful, they worked with those peo­ple again,” he says. “It’s a cul­ture of trust; do right by them. It says some­thing about the re­la­tion­ship. It’s very, very im­por­tant to the cul­ture you have.”

But it was Nashat who played the key role in re­cruit­ing Man­del-Brehm.

“I met Amir a few times over the past few years,” says Man­del-Brehm. “He’s one of the more im­pres­sive guys I’ve seen across the in­dus­try. A dif­fer­ent thinker. He had a com­pa­ny in mind he want­ed to pres­sure test; think about mak­ing a busi­ness out of a dif­fer­ent kind of tech­nol­o­gy, not, here’s a prod­uct — sell it.”

Amir Nashat, Po­laris

“He knew I was in­ter­est­ed in think­ing about dif­fer­ent busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties.” On one oc­ca­sion “we were talk­ing about a range of dif­fer­ent top­ics. I was talk­ing to him about young tal­ent, how groups tend to stick with more ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple. Amir had very strong views, an­oth­er ex­am­ple of think­ing about things dif­fer­ent­ly.”

The biotech Po­laris — which just days ago un­veiled their $435 mil­lion Fund VI­II — and Man­del-Brehm have in mind right now has 13 staffers lay­ing the foun­da­tion of the com­pa­ny’s plat­form tech. If all goes ac­cord­ing to plan, he’ll pub­licly take the helm in the fall af­ter the syn­di­cate comes to­geth­er on the A round.

One way or an­oth­er, get­ting adopt­ed in­to the Po­laris fam­i­ly isn’t meant to be a tem­po­rary gig.

“My in­ten­tion is to build that com­pa­ny and make it great,” he says about his up­com­ing role as CEO.

They’re all think­ing longterm.

Hal Barron, GSK

Break­ing the death spi­ral: Hal Bar­ron talks about trans­form­ing the mori­bund R&D cul­ture at GSK in a crit­i­cal year for the late-stage pipeline

Just ahead of GlaxoSmithKline’s Q2 update on Wednesday, science chief Hal Barron is making the rounds to talk up the pharma giant’s late-stage strategy as the top execs continue to woo back a deeply skeptical investor group while pushing through a whole new R&D culture.

And that’s not easy, Barron is quick to note. He told the Financial Times:

I think that culture, to some extent, is as hard, in fact even harder, than doing the science.

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Aca­dia is mak­ing the best of it, but their lat­est PhI­II Nu­plazid study is a bust

Acadia’s late-stage program to widen the commercial prospects for Nuplazid has hit a wall. The biotech reported that their Phase III ENHANCE trial flat failed. And while they $ACAD did their best to cherry pick positive data wherever they can be found, this is a clear setback for the biotech.

With close to 400 patients enrolled, researchers said the drug flunked the primary endpoint as an adjunctive therapy for patients with an inadequate response to antipsychotic therapy. The p-value was an ugly 0.0940 on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale, which the company called out as a positive trend.

Their shares slid 12% on the news, good for a $426 million hit on a $3.7 billion market cap at close.

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Some Big Phar­mas stepped up their game on da­ta trans­paren­cy — but which flunked the test?

The nonprofit Bioethics International has come out with their latest scorecard on data transparency among the big biopharmas in the industry — flagging a few standouts while spotlighting some laggards who are continuing to underperform.

Now in its third year, the nonprofit created a new set of standards with Yale School of Medicine and Stanford Law School to evaluate the track record on trial registration, results reporting, publication and data-sharing practice.

Busy Gilead crew throws strug­gling biotech a life­line, with some cash up­front and hun­dreds of mil­lions in biobucks for HIV deal

Durect $DRRX got a badly needed shot in the arm Monday morning as Gilead’s busy BD team lined up access to its extended-release platform tech for HIV and hepatitis B.

Gilead, a leader in the HIV sector, is paying a modest $25 million in cash for the right to jump on the platform at Durect, which has been using its technology to come up with an extended-release version of bupivacaine. The FDA rejected that in 2014, but Durect has been working on a comeback.

In­tec blitzed by PhI­II flop as lead pro­gram fails to beat Mer­ck­'s stan­dard com­bo for Parkin­son’s

Intec Pharma’s $NTEC lead drug slammed into a brick wall Monday morning. The small-cap Israeli biotech reported that its lead program — coming off a platform designed to produce a safer, more effective oral drug for Parkinson’s — failed the Phase III at the primary endpoint.

Researchers at Intec, which has already seen its share price collapse over the past few months, says that its Accordion Pill-Carbidopa/Levodopa failed to prove superior to Sinemet in reducing daily ‘off’ time. 

Cel­gene racks up third Ote­zla ap­proval, heat­ing up talks about who Bris­tol-My­ers will sell to

Whoever is taking Otezla off Bristol-Myers Squibb’s hands will have one more revenue stream to boast.

The drug — a rising star in Celgene’s pipeline that generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year — is now OK’d to treat oral ulcers associated with Behçet’s disease, a common symptom for a rare inflammatory disorder. This marks the third FDA approval for the PDE4 inhibitor since 2014, when it was greenlighted for plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Vlad Coric (Biohaven)

In an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ment for in­vestors, FDA slaps down Bio­haven’s re­vised ver­sion of an old ALS drug

Biohaven is at risk of making a habit of disappointing its investors.

Late Friday the biotech $BHVN reported that the FDA had rejected its application for riluzole, an old drug that they had made over into a sublingual formulation that dissolves under the tongue. According to Biohaven, the FDA had a problem with the active ingredient used in a bioequivalence study back in 2017, which they got from the Canadian drugmaker Apotex.

Apotex, though, has been a disaster ground. The manufacturer voluntarily yanked the ANDAs on 31 drugs — in late 2017 — after the FDA came across serious manufacturing deficiencies at their plants in India. A few days ago, the FDA made it official.

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