Manufacturing, People

Top Novartis manufacturing exec jumps ship, takes charge of industrializing Moderna’s mRNA tech

A little over a year ago Novartis’ CEO Joe Jimenez put Juan Andres in charge of a move to slice a billion dollars out of the global manufacturing budget through a centralized services project. It was a classic Novartis move, winkling out costs in its never-ending streamlining effort that had already seen it revamp manufacturing, with 25 facilities restructured or divested over a 6-year period.

Now Andres is taking his Big Manufacturing skills gained in Big Pharma — including the pioneering work done on CAR-T manufacturing — and putting it to work for Moderna as the biotech preps its own central manufacturing site for its mRNA platform. Officially, he’s handing in his title as global head technical operations (manufacturing and supply) at Novartis for senior vice president of
late stage technical development and manufacturing (beyond human proof of concept) for Moderna.

With Andres’ arrival, Steve Harbin, who had been SVP for manufacturing, is transitioning to new roles as chief of staff and chief sustainability officer.

“That was a big move and a big change,” Andres tells me about his work for Novartis, which also involved spinning off facilities to GSK and Eli Lilly in an integration effort that involved 30,000 staffers.

Stephane Bancel, Moderna CEO

The key part of his job now is collecting the pieces of manufacturing that Moderna assembled for its preclinical and early-stage research efforts and ramping up a new facility in Norwood, MA that will be staffed by about 200 employees, with a high level of automation built in.

“I’m just trying to get my hands around it,” Andres tells me, about 48 hours after he officially began his new job. Strategically, it’s Andres’ job “to start the industrialization of the platform, which is really, really important as the programs advance.”

His job at Novartis gave him a bird’s eye view of the CAR-T manufacturing that Novartis set up for its personalized cancer cell therapy, which is likely going to be the first such therapy approved. And both Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel and Andres believe that one-on-one manufacturing experience will be key to scaling up production of mRNA products approved for use around the world.

For Novartis, it’s the latest example of a top exec jumping ship for another job in biotech. For Moderna, it’s another example of the biotech’s zeal for recruiting high profile execs for its senior staff and board, where Flagship chief and Moderna co-founder Noubar Afeyan is chairman.

Flagship founder and CEO Noubar Afeyan

Moderna isn’t just trying to pioneer a new technology. It intends to forge a whole new company-building model for biotech, starting with raising close to $2 billion as it was preparing a leap into the clinic. That process involved multiple partners like Merck and AstraZeneca — with Alexion dropping out recently — as the growing crew of more than 400 staffers targeted the first dozen clinical programs.  The new manufacturing site will employ 200, and staying true to its big ambitions, Moderna has already blueprinted plant number two.

Winning here would be huge. Losing would be a colossal catastrophe. And Andres knows what he’s getting into.

“Making a move like this is very risky,” he tells me frankly. But at the same time he’s known Bancel for 15 years, and he’s eager to translate the scientific work they’ve been doing to the CMC work he specializes in, at an industrial scale.


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RAPS Regulatory Convergence 2017