Flagship snags former BMS R&D chief Rupert Vessey, the latest bigwig pharma exec to join venture firm

First, it was AbbVie's Michael Severino, and now another top pharma executive has joined the ranks at venture firm Flagship Pioneering.

Rupert Vessey, Bristol Myers Squibb's recently departed head of research and early development, will join Flagship as its first chief scientist and executive partner, according to a Thursday release. Flagship says he’ll work with the group of executives launching companies to provide “perspective and guidance on how to evolve and position Flagship's bioplatforms for pipeline and product success.” He’ll also advise Pioneering Medicines, a companywide initiative to find relationships between scientific platforms across the firm’s startups that can spur new medicines. 

Incoming Chief Scientist Rupert Vessey
Rupert Vessey (Flagship Pioneering)

It’s a seismic hire for the venture creation company and underscores the ability of CEO Noubar Afeyan to poach top talent in the industry. Thursday’s hiring announcement comes just 15 months after former AbbVie President Michael Severino joined. He now serves as CEO of gene editing startup Tessera Therapeutics.

Vessey’s move cements Flagship as one of the top destinations for seasoned researchers looking to jump from large pharmaceutical companies to private and earlier-stage drug development. 

Vessey recently departed BMS on July 3. The company announced his plan to step down at the end of January. On BMS’ fourth-quarter earnings call, Giovanni Caforio—who himself is set to leave the company—described Vessey as leading “the successful integration of research and the development of a strong pipeline across all stages of development” after acquiring Celgene.

It was that 2019 purchase that brought Vessey to the New Jersey pharmaceutical company, a $74 billion acquisition that remains the largest since 2000. He joined Celgene in 2015 to lead research and early development, a role he kept at BMS. Prior to that, he worked at Merck for 10 years spearheading development efforts across the organization.

Vessey, who called the move "an exciting next chapter" in the release, starts at Flagship on July 31.

The question now is, which Big Pharma will Flagship raid next?