Ex-Moderna chief scientist lands at PureTech to seed new biotechs

Joseph Bolen

Joseph Bolen, who quietly left high-profile biotech Moderna Therapeutics earlier this year, has joined startup factory PureTech Health to help the group ferret out promising technologies and launch new companies.

Bolen is coming aboard as entrepreneur in residence, working alongside some of PureTech's big-name scientific advisers to create companies around novel ideas. PureTech has a different take on biotech entrepreneurship than traditional venture capital, building companies from the ground up instead of buying into existing entities. The company, which pulled off a $171 million London IPO in June, relies on a brain trust of decorated biotech minds to keep its startup engine running.

Before joining PureTech, Bolen spent two years as the chief scientific officer of Moderna, managing the much-discussed company's expansive R&D operation as it raised roughly $1 billion in venture cash and collaboration dollars. His tenure came to an end last month with little fanfare, as Bolen simply updated his LinkedIn profile to read "resigned" and left it at that.

His departure was "a simple story," Bolen said in an interview Monday. Wrapping up a 14-year stint at Millennium Pharmaceuticals in 2013, Bolen had every intention of retiring, he said, building a beach house in Puerto Rico with plans to take it easy for a while. Moderna approached him with the opportunity to help build an R&D organization focused on its novel RNA platform, and he took the job with no intention of staying beyond that, he said. Moderna's ensuing growth brought that goal to bear ahead of schedule, Bolen said, allowing him to walk away and pursue his other interests.

Now he joins an R&D-focused operation that, like Moderna, has received plenty of attention for its approach but is yet come through with a major clinical success. PureTech manages a roster of 12 companies, 7 of which have received some sort of external validation, whether through outside investment or partnerships. But most remain in the early stages of development, and the most advanced, a weight-loss project called Gelesis, had to scrap plans for a $60 million IPO of its own this year after middling clinical data failed to excite investors.

Bolen's role will come on the early-stage side, and he's bringing a few of his own ideas for therapeutic projects to PureTech's stable of possible companies. Bolen's short-term goal is to pore over an array of fledgling projects at PureTech and help determine which can advance and become startups, he said. Alongside the "stellar group" at PureTech, Bolen said he's aiming to push forward as many winning ideas as possible.

"I think I've got two to 5 years worth of ATP built up so that I can make sure what I start can be established and solid, and then we'll see how it goes," he said, name-checking adenosine triphosphate, an energy source that keeps cells--and people--alive.

Also in PureTech's pipeline of companies are Vedanta, a microbiomics player that signed a $241 million deal with Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ); Tal Medical, a FierceMedicalDevices Fierce 15 winner developing a noninvasive treatment for depression; and Akili Interactive Labs, a startup working on a video game with potential to treat ADHD that has attracted the attention of Pfizer and Shire ($SHPG).

Led by CEO Daphne Zohar, PureTech has a board that includes MIT professor and famed biotech entrepreneur Robert Langer, ex-Sanofi ($SNY) CEO Chris Viehbacher, and John LaMattina, the former head of R&D for Pfizer ($PFE). PureTech's newly formed scientific advisory board is led by Nobel laureate H. Robert Horovitz and features 5 scientists from Harvard, MIT and Stanford.

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