- Michael Severino, a former high-level AbbVie executive who left in April to join Flagship Pioneering, will become CEO of a genetic medicine startup backed by the venture capital firm.
- Flagship announced Thursday that Severino, who served as AbbVie's chief scientific officer and then its president, will lead Tessera Therapeutics, taking over for founding CEO Geoffrey von Maltzahn.
- Tessera has raised more than half a billion dollars over the past two years, most recently a $300 million Series C financing that was supported by Flagship, SoftBank and a nearly a dozen other investment and venture firms. The company is developing a new approach to genetic medicine that it describes as "gene writing" and claims it can improve on editing approaches like CRISPR.
Like many Flagship-backed companies, Tessera's scientific ambitions are expansive. The biotech's technology is built upon "mobile genetic elements" — a diverse class of naturally evolved genetic sequences that move around within a genome.
Tessera has sifted through "tens of thousands" of natural and synthetic mobile genetic elements to create a platform that it claims can make DNA alterations as precise as swapping a single nucleotide, or as sweeping as "writing" in entire new genes. While the company has yet to identify the specific conditions it's targeting, it describes its mission broadly as curing previously untreatable genetic diseases.
In Severino, the biotech has a CEO with many years experience running big organizations with large pipelines of experimental medicines. At AbbVie, Severino helped the company develop and bring to market drugs for psoriasis, arthritis, cancer and hepatitis C. Prior to AbbVie, he oversaw R&D at Amgen as the company's senior vice president of development and corporate chief medical officer.
Severino said in an interview he was drawn to Tessera's science, as well as the pace of innovation in the larger genetic medicine field, which he sought to take part in by joining Flagship as a "CEO-partner." That role has him still working as a partner at Flagship, although he said the bulk of his time would be focused on running Tessera.
While Tessera is a much smaller organization that Severino oversaw at AbbVie or at Amgen, the startup is already sizable, employing about 200 staff, and capitalized with enough cash to fund operations for some time. The cash Tessera has at its disposal could help insulate it from a deteriorating market for biotech stocks, which has hampered startups' ability to quickly go public after raising initial venture funding.
Severino didn't give a timeline on when Tessera hopes to begin clinical testing, although he said the company will advance multiple programs across a range of diseases, which could include common conditions as well as rare disorders. Severino said Tessera's gene writing platform could also be used in cancer, although he didn't offer specifics.
Tessera's research is led by former Bluebird executive David Davidson, who serves as the startup's chief medical and development officer, and by Chief Scientific Officer Michael Holmes, who previously worked at Sangamo Therapeutics and, more recently, Ambys Medicines.