Bristol-Myers lures Saha back from biotech to take SVP post

Saha joins Bristol-Myers after leading Delinia to a $775 million Celgene buyout.

Bristol-Myers Squibb has appointed Saurabh Saha, M.D., Ph.D., as its global head of translational medicine. The move sees Saha end his near-10-year spell away from Big Pharma for the chance to run Bristol-Myers’ translational medicine operation out of its upcoming Cambridge, Massachusetts, R&D site.

As SVP and head of translational medicine, Saha will play a central role in laying the groundwork for the advance of assets out of the lab and into the clinic. Understanding the disease and a drug’s effect on it and the rest of the body at this stage goes some way to ensuring the right assets are moved into trials in the right indications.

Saha accrued experience at this pivotal juncture in his decade away from the world of Big Pharma, most recently and eye-catchingly as CEO of Delinia. Under Saha’s leadership, Delinia went from a $35 million series A to a $775 million takeover by Celgene in four months. Saha came to lead the biotech through his role as a venture partner at Atlas Venture.

Positions at the intersection of venture capital and biotech have proven attractive to a slew of Big Pharma executives over the past few years. Saha was well ahead of this trend, having walked away from his spot at the head of Novartis’ new indications discovery unit to serve as president of BioMed Valley Discoveries in 2008. But the exec has now decided to go in the opposite direction.

Saha’s decision will give him a bigger pipeline to play with than he would get in biotech. And, with his new employer set to open a new R&D site in Cambridge late next year, Saha will have levels of staff, resources and technologies beyond those of most drug developers. The downside, according to the prevailing wisdom, is that these benefits come tied to the strictures of Big Pharma.

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Persuading Saha this is a worthwhile trade-off—or that there will be no downside—marks an early win for Tom Lynch, M.D. Lynch stepped into the Bristol-Myers CSO role earlier this year after a period in which the company had suffered a beating in the clinic. 

Now, having already overseen Bristol-Myers’ entry and exit from programs and partnerships, Lynch has put in place a key player as he seeks to ensure the supply of promising clinical candidates. 

“Enhancing our translational medicine capability is critical to achieving our mission,” Lynch said in a statement. “Saha will lead translational research across our therapeutic areas of focus to ensure we have the best understanding of disease and asset-specific biology so we can deliver the right drug to the right patient at the right time.”