Ex-Pfizer exec Schulman lands at Polaris after an abrupt departure

Polaris Venture Partner Amy Schulman

Exactly one year ago, Amy Schulman was in line for a big promotion. Her company, Pfizer ($PFE), was preparing to split into three segments, and CEO Ian Read had selected her to lead its vaccines, oncology and consumer healthcare business. However, by December, just weeks before the restructuring, she was out of the job entirely in what Pfizer called a "mutual agreement," disclosing no further context.

Now Schulman has made her next move, joining high-profile biotech investor Polaris as a venture partner. At Polaris, Schulman will help steer future investments, serve on the boards of some of the group's portfolio companies and take the top spot at one of its early-stage ventures. Arsia Therapeutics, a company co-founded by biotech luminary Robert Langer, is working on technology to make large-molecule biologics easier to administer, and Schulman is stepping in as CEO to work with Polaris Partner Alan Crane and get the company off the ground.

Founding Partner Terry McGuire said Schulman's decades of experience building businesses and overseeing transactions dovetail with Polaris' mission of nurturing innovative biotechs. Schulman's most recent role at Pfizer put her in charge of the company's $4 billion consumer healthcare business, and her years as general counsel at the company exposed her to intellectual property issues, regulatory proceedings and litigation, Polaris said.

In weighing her post-Pfizer options, Schulman said she stressed the importance of culture and substance, and she was eventually won over by Polaris' "long-term, nurturing view of scientists and drug discovery."

"The first thing was the energy, the dynamism, the accountability that characterizes this stage of drug development," Schulman told FierceBiotech. "From an intellectual and professional point of view, that was very compelling. The chance to do something that was part of a world I'm familiar and comfortable with but at a completely different point felt like the right kind of challenge in the right time of my life."

Just what led to her departure from Pfizer remains undiscussed and undisclosed--and she's not commenting on that. But Schulman said she's more than ready to leave behind the formalism of Big Pharma and work in the less-structured realm of biotech.

"It's a wonderful part of the job and something I actively wanted: the chance to have an operational role as part of a startup," she said. "... In the world of biotech, at least as I've seen it, people's hearts and minds are in the right place and focused on the right things."

Meanwhile, Polaris is piecing together a $400 million new fund, according to an SEC filing, amassing cash to bolster a portfolio that includes innovators like Editas Medicine, Selecta Biosciences, aTyr Pharma and Scholar Rock.

- read the release