Christopher A. Viehbacher, the former chief executive of French drug giant Sanofi SA, said Thursday he is launching a new drug development company called Boston Pharmaceuticals with $600 million from a global investment fund.
Viehbacher, who was fired from Sanofi a year ago after clashing with its board, now runs a $2 billion Cambridge-based firm called Gurnet Point Capital, bankrolled by Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli. The firm plans to make 10 to 12 investments, starting some companies and acquiring others in the life sciences sector where Viehbacher has spent his career. Boston Pharma is the first company Gurnet is starting.
Boston Pharma, which Viehbacher is cofounding with former Eli Lilly and Co. external research head Robert Armstong, hopes to pioneer a new niche somewhere between venture-backed startups that do early stage research and large pharmaceutical companies that shepherd drugs through late-stage clinical trials.
The startup plans to acquire multiple drug compounds from other companies or academic labs, take them through the first rounds of clinical studies to "proof of concept," and then sell them off to larger drug makers that will carry them forward through regulatory approval and onto the market.
"We want to be a high-quality source of Phase 3-ready assets," Viehbacher, 55, said in an interview, referring to the late-stage clinical trials that lead to new drug applications.
Viehbacher said Boston Pharma will keep only a core of senior-level executives at its Cambridge headquarters and outsource the research and development of its molecules. It will form a separate subsidiary to manage each drug development program, each of which will seek to attract other investors, making it easier for the company to buy and sell clinical assets.
"By being virtual, we can be leaner, cheaper, and completely objective about the science," Viehbacher said. "We're creating a team of people who have decades of experience in drug development, regulatory affairs, toxicology, everything you need. They'll provide the clinical guidance for our programs and we'll outsource the research."
Boston Pharma has already begun talks with about 20 parties in the United States, Europe, and Asia about acquiring experimental drugs or compounds, Viehbacher said. He said the company was agnostic about the therapeutic area, casting a wide net.
Rather than focus on a specific set of diseases, as most drug companies do, "we prefer to pursue the most interesting science," he said.
In addition to Viehbacher, who will be Boston Pharma's chairman, and Armstrong, who will be chief executive, the new company has hired Pfizer Inc. veteran Santiago Arroyo as chief medical officer and Genzyme Corp. alum Constantine Chinoporos as chief business officer. Sanofi, under Viehbacher, acquired Genzyme for $20.1 billion in 2011.
Viehbacher frequently lauded the entrepreneurial culture of Genzyme and other Boston area biopharma companies. His decision to move his personal residence from Paris to Boston last year was reportedly one of the factors that alienated members of Sanofi's board.
Choosing the name Boston Pharma for Gurnet Point's first startup is a tribute to his newly adopted city, Viehbacher said.
"What I've found traveling around the world is everybody knows where Boston is," Viehbacher said. "So I'm going to leverage that."