He authorized Moderna's vaccine 6 months ago. Now, ex-FDA chief Hahn joins biotech's backer

Money and high-profile names, they’re a double threat. Flagship Pioneering, the venture firm behind Moderna, snagged both during a busy Monday.

After raising $2.2 billion in an extension to its seventh fund Monday morning, Flagship followed up in the afternoon by confirming that ex-FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, M.D., will join the biotech incubator in a chief medical officer role.

RELATED: Flagship Pioneering flags down another $2.2B to expand preemptive, pioneering medicine divisions

Hahn led the FDA through the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and made statements that irked scientists, including his comments on convalescent plasma while standing by former President Donald Trump’s side. He faced pressure from all sides: including reported calls from Trump himself to authorize a COVID-19 vaccine or go, and from the public, industry and others urging him to take his time and get it right. 

A headshot of Stephen Hahn
Stephen Hahn, M.D. (FDA)

But now, Hahn will head for another high pressure environment: biotech investing. He is now joining Flagship, the venture fund that birthed Moderna, the very company that earned Hahn's nod six months ago. 

Under Hahn's watch, the FDA granted emergency use authorization to the company's COVID-19 vaccine just behind a similar OK for Pfizer and BioNTech's jab. Tens of millions of Americans have now received a Moderna shot.

Hahn will help lead Flagship’s nascent Preemptive Medicine and Health Security business. Flagship founder and CEO Noubar Afeyan, Ph.D., is also chairman of Moderna.

RELATED: 2021 forecast: Hahn heads toward FDA exit after short, dramatic tenure as commissioner

With today’s funding, Flagship has a stockpile of cash to support the program, which Hahn begins leading on Wednesday. Hahn said funding and new ideas in preemptive medicine have “never been more heightened,” according to a statement. Prior to the FDA, Hahn was chief medical executive at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“We are delighted that Flagship will benefit from Steve’s clinical and administrative leadership in helping us dimension and pursue our growing number of explorations and companies in this emerging field,” Afeyan said in the statement.

Hahn is not the only former FDA higher-up to land in the private sector in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, ex-FDA deputy Amy Abernethy, M.D., Ph.D., joined Alphabet’s life sciences unit Verily as president of clinical research. Abernethy suddenly departed the FDA recently after having been a contender for the agency’s top spot, a role for which Fierce Pharma voters deemed her to be the No. 1. choice.  

RELATED: Cue the 'revolving door' criticism: Former FDA commissioner Gottlieb joins Pfizer's board

Hahn also follows the precedent of Scott Gottlieb, M.D., who ran the FDA from May 2017 to April 2019. Less than three months after leaving, he joined the board of Pfizer after partnering with VC firm New Enterprise Associates and think tank American Enterprise Institute, all of which went against Trump's pledge to “drain the swamp."

The appointment also comes a week after Hahn's former place of employment gave conditional approval to Biogen’s controversial Alzheimer’s disease drug Aduhelm. Doug Cole, managing partner at Flagship, told Fierce Biotech last week that the approval would be a sign of encouragement for people “who may have been waiting for some indication that there was a path to products” in the Alzheimer’s space. Flagship-backed Denali Therapeutics is also working on Alzheimer’s treatments.