Microbiome player uBiome puts founders on leave, interim CEO promises to assist in federal probe
When Joe Jimenez signed on to the board at uBiome last fall, the newly ex-Novartis chief was clearly hoping to put the controversy over his relationship with President Trump’s personal attorney — Michael Cohen — behind him and start a new chapter in his storied career.
Instead, he’s found himself involved in a fresh scandal involving an FBI investigation into uBiome’s billing practices. Today, the company’s founders who recruited Jimenez, Jessica Richman and Zac Apte, have been placed on leave while general counsel John Rakow steps up as interim CEO in charge of an internal investigation.
In a statement out Wednesday afternoon, Rakow said:
As interim CEO of uBiome, I want all of our stakeholders to know that we intend to cooperate fully with government authorities and private payors to satisfactorily resolve the questions that have been raised, and we will take any corrective actions that are needed to ensure we can become a stronger company better able to serve patients and healthcare providers.
The Wall Street Journal first reported a few days ago about the federal probe.
Billing itself as the “leading microbial genomics company,” uBiome was launched 6 years ago from its base in the Bay Area, marketing a pair of consumer tests that can do at-home tests on your gut or the STDs that women face, like chlamydia and gonorrhea. When I talked to Richman last fall, the company said it had raised $83 million from venture backers — led by OS Fund — in a new drive to join the pack developing microbiome therapies.
A few months later, though, uBiome was already laying off employees from its staff of some 300, saying it wanted to focus more on drugs and partnerships with drug companies, where Jimenez could help.
I never got a chance to talk to Jimenez last fall, but he told one other writer that he had put the Cohen affair behind him and moved on. During his last year as CEO, Novartis paid Cohen $1.2 million for what it said was a brief consulting period as they sought to learn more about Trump’s healthcare policy.
The money, though, went into the same account that paid porn actress Stormy Daniels hush money. And when that emerged, the pharma giant and Jimenez were caught in one of the ugliest scandals to hit Washington DC.
Cohen told lawmakers that Novartis had wanted him to open a back door to the White House, seeking help in making connections with the top players in the administration. He refused, and while Novartis paid out the contract, they eventually stopped talking. By that time, Novartis spokespeople had shut the window on comments.
A new attempt to reach Jimenez this afternoon has so far been unsuccessful.