Merck’s Former Chief Medical Officer to Join Flagship Ventures

Merck & Co.’s former chief medical officer, Michael Rosenblatt, will join Flagship Ventures, advising the venture capital firm’s biotechnology startups with an eye toward creating successful drugs at a time when insurers crack down on reimbursement.

Rosenblatt, 68, says he’ll draw on his experiences working in both academia and industry to advise Flagship’s more than 40 biotechnology companies. The executive retired in June after about seven years as medical chief at Merck, where he had returned after about a decade in academia. He was dean of the Tufts University School of Medicine from 2003 to 2009.

Getting a drug approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration isn’t enough anymore for pharmaceutical companies, Rosenblatt said.

“That used to be the end of the game, but now it’s an intermediate milestone,” Rosenblatt said in a telephone interview. “Really, what you’ve got to do is develop drugs that patients and that society believes are valuable enough that they’ll be willing to pay for it.”

Drug pricing has come under increased scrutiny in the U.S., where politicians criticized companies for jacking up prices and health insurers pushed back on costly treatments. Rosenblatt will urge companies to talk to patients earlier in the process, to find out what they would consider a true therapeutic benefit.

“It’s something doctors are really guilty of -- they think they know what the patients need,” he said.

Gene Editing

Flagship, with $1.4 billion under management, runs its own laboratories and creates its own companies as well as providing capital to existing startups. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based venture firm backs cancer therapy company Agios Pharmaceuticals Inc. and gene-editing firm Editas Medicine Inc.

Rosenblatt, who will take on a newly created role at Flagship, said he also will serve as a counselor on ethical issues, such as how far scientists should go in the use of gene editing.

“There are a lot of brand-new ethical issues -- gene editing, cell therapies, use of big data, tension in terms of potential breaches in privacy,” he said. “Many of these questions have only really arisen in the last decade.”

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