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After a speedy launch and IPO, biotech Centessa plans to grow in Boston

Saurabh Saha, the chief executive of Centessa Pharmaceuticals.
Saurabh Saha, the chief executive of Centessa Pharmaceuticals.Centessa Pharmaceuticals

Already this year, Centessa Pharmaceuticals secured $250 million after its formation from a merger of 10 biotech startups and raised nearly $380 million in an initial public offering.

Now, the company is getting ready to move into an office in Boston, although it will still mostly operate virtually, with its scientists spread across the globe.

The secret sauce at Centessa according to Dr. Saurabh Saha, the company’s chief executive, is its business model, which aims to reduce research and development costs for drug programs.

Centessa has a central management team that is closely involved with each mini-biotech, which together have 16 drugs in development. While Centessa looks like 10 biotech companies on paper, it only has about 30 employees working from its headquarters and another 30 at its subsidiaries, since it relies on consultants and contract researchers.

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Saha, a former senior vice president of research and development at Bristol Myers Squibb in Cambridge, said Centessa has the flexibility to scrap any of its programs if early data isn’t promising, a luxury he said not all drug companies have. (Centessa has its eggs in many baskets, so the failure of any program would not be a high risk.)

“We take an agnostic view across our portfolio when it comes to data readouts,” he said. “If the data doesn’t look good, then we objectively have to make a decision as a management team whether we should continue or terminate the program.”

That wasn’t the case on Thursday, when Centessa announced its first clinical results as a public company: An experimental treatment for a disorder that hinders blood from clotting showed positive safety and efficacy results in a small clinical trial.

It’s news that Saha said validates the company’s model and will kick off a regular cadence of drugs entering clinical trials. Centessa expects that its entire drug pipeline, which ranges from cancer to neuroscience treatments, will be in clinical testing by the end of 2023.

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The positive news comes months after the departure of Moncef Slaoui, the former head of Operation Warp Speed, who served as Centessa’s chief scientific officer and adviser before resigning over sexual harassment allegations at a former company. Centessa has not named a new CSO.

Centessa is not unique in its broad goal. Other companies are trying to pioneer new business models for biotechs, including heavily funded local players ElevateBio and eQRX.


Anissa Gardizy can be reached at anissa.gardizy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8.