UPDATED: Ex-Shire exec takes helm at startup Sage Therapeutics

Sage Therapeutics has recruited a pharmaceutical veteran as CEO in a hiring drive that adds decades of industry experience at the two-year-old startup. Dr. Jeffrey Jonas, who recently settled an age-discrimination lawsuit with his former employer Shire ($SHPG), has taken over the chief executive post after Third Rock Ventures partner Kevin Starr helmed the biotech group on an interim basis.

Cambridge, MA-based Sage, which launched in 2011 with a $35 million Series A round from Third Rock, has recently revealed plans to alter course, away from major CNS disorders such as depression, with a new focus on a set of rare neurological diseases like Fragile X syndrome. To help Jonas execute the plan, Sage has also added ex-AstraZeneca ($AZN) exec Dr. Stephen Kanes as chief medical officer and Kimi Iguchi, a veteran of neighboring biotech groups Biogen Idec ($BIIB) and Millennium, as chief financial officer.

"The company has made significant progress over the past two years and is now poised to make the transition from a discovery stage to a development and commercial stage company," Starr said in a statement. "With the addition of Jeff, Stephen and Kimi, we have the right team in place to advance Sage's product strategy and move several programs into late stage development by 2015."

Jonas has found a fresh start with Sage after a messy breakup with Shire, where he was most recently president of the Ireland-based drugmaker's troubled regenerative medicine unit in San Diego. As Bloomberg reported Aug. 1, Jonas took over leadership of the regenerative medicine unit last year after a Justice Department probe into the group's sales practices prompted an overhaul of the commercial group. Jonas, who had previously headed R&D of Shire's specialty pharma group, settled an age-discrimination lawsuit with the company after it placed him on administrative leave at the age of 60.

In other hiring news, VC veteran Bob More has taken a new gig with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a senior adviser for venture investing, Xconomy's Luke Timmerman reported. More was previously at Frazier Healthcare and Domain Associates, two of the active players in funding biotech startups, which Bill Gate's foundation has been supporting to advance treatments for diseases in the developing world.

- here's the Sage release
- see Xconomy's article about More

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that the company has not abandoned its platform for discovery of allosteric receptor modulators in the shift in focus from common CNS conditions such as depression to rare neurological disorders.

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