Flagship hires Merck veteran to lead AI drug discovery startup

Flagship Pioneering office
Michael Nally is the latest in a series of CEO-partners hired by Flagship Pioneering. (Flagship Pioneering)

Flagship Pioneering has named Michael Nally as CEO-partner. The venture capital shop has put the former Merck executive in charge of machine-learning-enabled drug discovery play Generate Biomedicines.

Nally spent 18 years at Merck, rising to the rank of president of the vaccine business in 2016 before going on to spend his final two years at the company as chief marketing officer, human health. Over those two years, Nally led Merck's global marketing, commercialization model and long-term growth strategy. Merck hired Nally as a senior financial analyst in 2003.

At Flagship, Nally will occupy a hybrid role. Nally will contribute to the Flagship leadership team while also running one of its biotechs, Generate Biomedicines. 

Generate broke cover in 2020 after quietly working for several years on a generative platform for creating new protein drugs. By identifying generalizable rules for how nature encodes function in proteins, the biotech aims to generate novel medicines with specific attributes. Generate used the platform to discover anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in 17 days.

Avak Kahvejian, Ph.D., and Geoffrey von Maltzahn, Ph.D., who were involved in separate Flagship projects that merged to form Generate, initially served as the co-CEOs of the biotech. Von Maltzahn, a general partner at Flagship, later took sole charge of Generate but is now passing on the role to Nally.

"I am delighted to welcome Mike to the Generate team; he will bring his deep strategic and operational expertise to help us deliver on the promise of this remarkable platform,” von Maltzahn said in a statement.

Nally is the latest in a series of CEO-partners hired by Flagship. The series began in May when the VC shop hired Fabrice Chouraqui, former president of Novartis Pharmaceuticals U.S., as its first CEO-partner. Chouraqui was later joined at Flagship by Guillaume Pfefer, Ph.D., the former global vaccine leader for Shingrix, and Tuyen Ong, M.D., formerly of Biogen, on the list of Flagship CEO-partners.