Nabel to leave Brigham to join ex-Sanofi CSO husband at biotech startup

Betsy Nabel, M.D., is stepping down as the president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital to enter biotech. Nabel is reportedly set to join her husband, the former chief scientific officer of Sanofi, at a stealthy new biotech startup.

Brigham appointed Nabel, a cardiologist and biomedical researcher, as its president in 2010. During her 11-year spell at the head of Brigham, Nabel tried to increase the hospital’s role in developing health technologies, including by establishing a Translational Accelerator to support researchers with ideas for new interventions.

The initiatives overseen by Nabel transformed the finances of Brigham, increasing revenues from $2.9 billion to $4.3 billion over her tenure, and exposed her to biotech. With her husband Gary Nabel leaving Sanofi to set up a biotech, the Brigham president is moving into for-profit drug development. 

Talking to The Boston Globe, Nabel said she will start working with her husband at a biotech startup focused on immune therapies for cancer and infectious diseases when she leaves Brigham on March 1. Gary Nabel stepped down as CSO of Sanofi last year but has said nothing publicly of his plans.

Betsy Nabel’s post-Brigham plans extend beyond the biotech she is setting up with her husband. If the departing Brigham president gets her way, Nabel is a name that will crop up again and again in the years to come. 

“I’m very interested in early-stage biotech development where you take a scientific idea, where you start a new company, you develop a scientific vision and strategy and business plan … you seek investors,” Nabel told the Globe. “I really want to spend time driving biotech innovation by advising companies and serving on boards. This is where I believe I can have the greatest impact.”

Betsy Nabel joined the board of Moderna in an individual capacity in 2015. That position became a point of controversy in 2020. Nabel penned an op-ed that argued the “innovation ecosystem is now under assault” from politicians who want to impose price controls, without disclosing that as a board member at Moderna she gets stock option awards and other payments from a company that would be affected by the legislation she opposed. 

Nabel resigned from Moderna’s board in July, days after Brigham took a leading role in a phase 3 clinical trial of the biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna Chairman Noubar Afeyan, Ph.D., said Nabel’s exit was “out of an abundance of caution to avoid any potential of even apparent conflict of interest on her part or Moderna’s part.” 

The action failed to quell the criticism. Nabel came under fire for selling $8.5 million in Moderna stock in the run-up to her resignation from the board. Like other Moderna shareholders, Nabel benefited from surges in the biotech’s stock as it emerged as a leader in the COVID-19 vaccine race. This week, the Lown Institute included Nabel in the “Shkreli Awards,” which recognize “the worst actors of the US health system” for “profiteering and dysfunction in healthcare.”

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article wrongly stated the BMJ issued the “Shkreli Awards.” The Lown Institute issued the awards.