Former Merck Exec Joins Flagship to Helm AI Startup Generate Biomedicines


Michael T. Nally became the latest Merck executive to join Flagship Pioneering, taking the reins of its machine learning protein therapy company Generate Biomedicines.

Nally was an executive vice present and chief marketing officer for Merck’s Human Health branch, and at one time was under consideration to replace its CEO and executive chairman Kenneth Frazier, who is retiring this year. Frazier will retain his board chair but will instead be replaced as CEO by Robert M. Davis, the company’s chief financial officer.

As one of at least six CEO-partners at Flagship, Nally will take over as CEO of Generate from Geoffrey von Maltzahn, a Flagship general partner who co-founded the biotech in 2018.

Generate used machine learning algorithms to design novel synthetic protein sequences for antibodies, peptides, enzymes, gene therapies and other modalities. The company does not yet have candidates in the clinic and has not disclosed a lead program or indication, but as it emerged from stealth last September, Generate announced its AI platform generated a portfolio of therapeutic candidates against SARS-CoV-2 in under three weeks.

Flagship has invested $50 million in Generate so far. Generate is based in Cambridge, Mass.

“Mike is a singular talent in life sciences and pharma, and our companies will benefit tremendously from his leadership, experience, and knowledge,” said Noubar Afeyan, founder and CEO of Flagship.

For the past three years, Nally has run Merck's global marketing, growth, and commercialization strategies for human medicines. He was previously president of its Global Vaccines division.

Flagship has been busy. Yesterday, its spinout Omega Therapeutics announced a $126 million Series C round to advance its epigenomic controller therapeutic candidate for hepatocellular carcinoma. Earlier this month, they announced that outgoing founding director for NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences Christopher Austin would join Flagship as a CEO-partner.

Last month, another AI-based spinout, Cellarity, raised $123 million in a Series B round. And another Flagship company, cell engineering company Sana Biotechnology–named the top company to watch in BioSpace’s NextGen Bio Class of 2021–raised a near-record $587.5 million IPO, just months after its $700 million initial financing round.

Nally’s departure from Merck, announced earlier this month after 18 years with the company, was part of an internal reshuffle triggered by Frazier’s announcement. Caroline Litchfield, Merck’s treasurer, will take over for Davis as CFO. The chief commercial officer for its Human Health division, Frank Clyburn, is moving into Nally’s position.

Another former Merck executive, Luciano Rossetti, became Flagship’s Chief Medical Officer on January 1.  

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