Flagship Pioneering, the investor behind Covid-19 vaccine maker Moderna, said today that it had raised $3.4 billion for a new fund. The fund is a giant one even at a time when investment has been flowing into biotechnology and therapeutics.
Flagship founder Noubar Afeyan, who is worth $2.9 billion, has helped start more than 50 public and private healthcare and life sciences companies over the course of his career. “This will fund the next generation of bio-platforms that come out of our labs,” Afeyan told Forbes. “The experience of the past year has certainly suggested that science and technology can play a very big role in going after any number of diseases.”
Afeyan, 58, fled the Lebanese civil war with his family and immigrated first to Canada in 1975 and then the United States. He founded Flagship Pioneering in 2000. “I was 24 when I started. I was an immigrant, I had an awkward name,” he told Forbes last month. “It’s a survival journey. You jump in and start doing what you can.”
Afeyan is chairman of Moderna, which was launched in 2010 to develop mRNA therapeutics. But Flagship is far larger than that, with $14.1 billion in assets under management after the close of the new Fund VII. Over the past four quarters, Flagship has deployed a total of $370 million to the companies in its portfolio. Its current portfolio includes 41 companies, among them Sana Biotechnology, Denali Therapeutics and Indigo Ag.
Afeyan noted that Flagship has started “a dozen new internal projects” over the past 12 months. As examples of what Flagship has been doing, Afeyan points to three of the newest companies in the portfolio: Tessera Therapeutics, which focuses on gene writing; Laronde, which is introducing a new type of RNA-based medicine called eRNA; and Generate Biomedicines, which is applying artificial intelligence to the design of novel proteins that could be used as drugs. MORE FOR YOUStartup Biomason Makes Biocement Tiles, Retailer H&M Group Plans To Outfit Its Stores’ Floors With ThemWhy The U.S. Is Losing Immigrant Entrepreneurs To Other NationsBillion-Dollar Dynasties: These Are The Richest Families In America
“We will likely create some 20 to 25 new companies during the lifecycle of this capital pool during the next two and a-half to three years,” Afeyan says. “That’s about the rate at which we’ve operated historically. We don’t see that slowing down.”
With the new capital, the fund intends to invest in therapeutics, agriculture and nutrition. It is also building a new division that will focus on preemptive medicine and health security in order to better protect people’s health before they get sick and to better prepare for future threats of infectious diseases. “The pandemic has laid bare the critical nature of health, not only to individuals, but to economies and societies,” Ara Darzi, chair of Flagship’s preventive medicine and health security initiative, said in a statement.
Adds Afeyan: “We have decided to jumpstart that process by providing the capital in the anticipation that post-pandemic, we are not going to accept this reactionary, alarmed response when a pandemic happens.”
This post has been updated on 6/14/21 at 3:38pm to include comments from an interview with Flagship Pioneering’s Noubar Afeyan.