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Bioplatform Innovator Raises Fresh Funding

Former FDA Head Hahn Joins Flagship Pioneering

17.06.2021 - Flagship Pioneering, the venture capital fund behind US Covid vaccine manufacturer Moderna and other biotechs, said it has raised an additional $2.23 billion for its fund no. 7 launched in April 2020, bringing the total value to $3.37 billion. Simultaneously, Flagship has announced the appointment of former US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Stephen Hahn to its management team as chief medical officer.

So-called bioplatform innovator Flagship said in a statement that it reopened its seventh fund to expand its support of the next generation of human health and sustainability companies, thereby leveraging fresh capital from a “select group” of old and new investors. This, it said, brings its origination and growth strategies together for the first time under one investment vehicle. The cash is to be deployed over the next 3 years.

Over the past four quarters, Flagship by its own account has pumped $370 million into its portfolio companies, in addition to the more than $4.4 billion coming from other investors.  It now has an overall pool of $6.7 billion to work with and $14.1 billion in assets under management.

Noubar Afeyan, CEO and founder of Flagship as well as chairman of Moderna, told UK business newspaper Financial Times the company does not focus on creating biotechs that will tackle specific diseases but instead looks to build platforms where technologies can be used in a range of illnesses. Moderna, for example, is currently carrying out Phase 1 trials of its mRNA technology on HIV and flu.

Hahn will lead efforts in preemptive medicine

After opening an office in London, Flagship hired Lord Ara Darzi, a former UK health minister, to drive its preemptive medicines work. It is unclear what the division of labor will be, as the venture capital company said Stephen Hahn’s role will be to oversee preemptive medicines and health security. Before joining the FDA, Hahn served as chief medical officer of MD Anderson Cancer Center.

As head of the FDA for the second part of Donald Trump’s term as US president, Hahn led the agency through the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Under his watch, the health watchdog granted emergency use authorization (EUA) to the two mRNA vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer/ BioNTech. Only one other Covid vaccine, Johnson & Johnson’s, has been approved by the FDA since, this time by an agency still operating under an acting commissioner six months into the Biden administration.

The then lame duck commissioner stepped down from his FDA position after the 2020 election as it seemed clear that Biden would seek a new beginning after the Trump era’s turbulence. For most of his term, Hahn was under pressure from all sides, drawing flak in particular for considering Trump’s wishes to authorize a vaccine or experimental Covid treatment. 

The commissioner’s willingness to grant an EUA to the old malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a Covid treatment was especially unpopular in the international medical community, except with the French doctor, Aix-Marseilles University professor Didier Raoult, who had pushed it as a miracle cure and caught Trump’s ear.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist

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