Flagship Pioneering is committed to making the world a better place and has raised $1.1 billion to make that happen. The firm’s Flagship Labs Unit will use the funds to invest in health and sustainability initiatives, including new medicines, artificial intelligence, and public health security. The Boston-based firm focuses on fostering biotech startups that provide innovative solutions and services that enhance health and further sustainable industries.
The fund's announcement comes at an interesting moment in human history. COVID-19 has made the world an uncertain place, and firms like Flagship are trying to pierce the fog and see into the future. As a time-tested leader who has led his VC shop through the trials of 9/11 and the 2008 recession, Noubar Afeyan is ensuring they are ready for what comes next.
“We will have the capital, we already have the people and we think we have the ideas to generate a new generation of companies, say maybe 25 of them over the next three years, that will be born out of this period. Now, how does the pandemic affect what will be attractive in this next period, what will be impactful and how can companies succeed in this coming period? That is something that we are highly attentive to,” Afeyan said.
Many of Afeyan’s portfolio companies are already working on the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. For example, drug developer and portfolio company Moderna is partnering with various agencies to create a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. With this latest round of funding, Flagship will be targeting companies that specialize in what is called "health security." Leadership saw the potential that molecular technologies and other solutions offered for delaying and preventing diseases – as opposed to just treating them once someone becomes ill.
Afeyan believes healthcare is becoming a forward-looking industry – one that views disease and illness as something to be prevented. Vaccines won’t be seen as a money-losing venture in this brave new biotech world, rather as part of an array of solutions where the majority of spending is dedicated to prevention and detection. With the potential to be an $800 billion market, the CEO’s vision is a good start but will require a significant shift in thinking to make that possible.
Healthcare will need to transform itself from a reactive illness-based model into one that views well-being as a more holistic practice. However, this would require changes in how healthcare is practiced, regulated, and recompensed. It might have been hard to make a case for change, but Afeyan thinks the global pandemic offers the impetus needed for a new approach. As a "sick-care system," clinicians can only respond to a situation once someone presents as ill. This strategy leaves hospitals overrun and drugmakers scrambling to find a solution.
Some of Flagship’s new companies include Senda BioSciences, Generate Biomedicines, Tessera Therapeutics, Cellarity, Cygnal Therapeutics, Ring Therapeutics and Integral Health.