Ex-Sanofi CEO Gets $600M to Drug Hunt With Boston Pharma

Xconomy Boston — 

Former Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher was handed the keys to a big biotech fund from Gurnet Point Capital a few months ago, and today he announced what he’s doing with it.

Viehbacher (pictured above) will become the chairman of a new company, based in Cambridge, MA, called Boston Pharmaceuticals. This isn’t your average startup, founded with a Series A round from some venture groups and built around a drug or a new technology. Rather, Boston Pharma says it is a fully integrated drug development company with a $600 million commitment from Gurnet, a healthcare investment firm founded by billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli.

So where is all that cash going? Boston Pharma touts itself as a company built as an “alternative model” for drug development and commercialization. The concept, as the company explained in an announcement this morning, is basically to have a scout team buy up drug candidates and develop them—rather than do all the expensive and time-consuming initial research.

Boston Pharma calls this strategy “innovative,” but it is reminiscent of several previous biotech projects. The idea behind Waltham, MA-based Tesaro (NASDAQ: TSRO), for instance, was to buy up cancer drug candidates and rely on an expert team to develop them. An incubator from Eli Lilly called Chorus, and later Flexion Therapeutics, founded by some Chorus founders, were both also founded on ideas to acquire drug candidates, and design cheap, fast studies to move them forward (Flexion later abandoned this approach). And pharma companies, of course, acquire assets from other biotechs and academic groups all the time.

Boston Pharma, however, says it is doing this exclusively, with a $600 million bankroll, and with no specific therapeutic area in mind. It’ll rely on a small group of “clinical development experts” to cut deals with academics and other biotechs and build up a portfolio of drugs that are either ready for human clinical testing, or already there. The group will focus on “validated mechanisms”—meaning, drug targets already proven to have a benefit—and try to move drugs forward in a rapid, cost-efficient fashion. These drugs, for instance, will be developed virtually through the help of outside service providers and experts. (It’s worth noting, however, that a lot of biotechs use contract research organizations and other firms to cut the costs of drug development, as well.)

Robert Armstrong, the former head of external R&D at Chorus, is serving as Boston Pharma’s CEO, and Viehbacher is its chairman. The company has hired two other experienced names to its executive team as well. Former Pfizer executive Santiago Arroyo is the company’s chief medical officer. And Constantine Chinoporos, a former business development executive at Sanofi, has been named Boston Pharma’s chief business officer.

Boston Pharma is relying on this group’s experience; the company said it would leverage its executive team’s “network of external partners and service providers” to “launch products from drug development companies and labs worldwide.” Viehbacher noted in a statement that the company offers “an efficient means to de-risk and unlock value in early stage assets that might not otherwise be developed,” pointing to Boston Pharma’s big bankroll and Gurnet Point’s “long-term investment horizon.”

“We aim to have a large portfolio of programs encompassing both large and small molecules across multiple therapeutic areas,” Armstrong added in the statement. “By not having any imperatives other than the successful development of its molecules, Boston Pharmaceuticals will be in the most unbiased position to exploit their full potential.”

Viehbacher was named the managing partner of Gurnet Point in June. The fund has $2 billion in capital under management.