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Leaving Moderna

Here’s some more to think about with the well-funded enigma that is Moderna Therapeutics, about whom the only thing one can be sure of is the persuasiveness of their PowerPoint decks. The company has signed a number of high-profile deals for a lot of money, and is said to have a large number of development projects going, but no one really knows any key details about how their mRNA-based technology works (or how well).

Now their head of research, Joseph Bolen, has left abruptly. He joined the company from Millennium in 2013, and this comes after Moderna’s head of cardiovascular research departed quietly for ISIS Pharmaceuticals earlier this year (as noted by DM1Research on Twitter). Things are still pretty opaque, but you wonder: if Moderna really is a rocket ship getting ready to launch and spray a formation of new drugs across the sky, then why are these people leaving? On the other hand, there are a lot of possible reasons for people to bail out of a company (or for the company to bail out on them). Moderna, as far as I know, hasn’t announced anything in the clinic yet, so we’re probably going to have to wait a while to see what’s really going on over there. For now, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a startup biopharma company that has so much money so early, and apparently has so much going on, that people still know so few details about.

10 comments on “Leaving Moderna”

  1. Hap says:

    As noted before (http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2015/01/14/moderna_marches_on#comment-86882), they’ve had this problem before. If this is accurate, their internal environment is toxic in the extreme. That doesn’t make it any clearer, though, whether their internal behavior is because they have something and can afford to do whatever they want or because they don’t have anything but are really good at bluffing.

  2. mymagoogle says:

    Having had some people leave my company to join their company, I have heard through the grapevine that the place is full of primadonnas and none of them get along.

  3. Skeptic says:

    I once worked at a company that had similarly “sudden” high profile departures. These departures were not sudden to anyone but management, whose terrible oversight and constant pat-on-the-back cronyism blinded them from serious issues bubbling under the surface. While I don’t have any personal insight into what’s going on at Moderna, top people don’t leave suddenly from well-run organizations. If they’re turning over constantly, your company is a cesspool.

  4. Am I Lloyd says:

    This would be a good place to plug the flattering reviews of Moderna on Glassdoor. The positive testimonials sound almost as bad as the negative ones.

    http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Moderna-Therapeutics-Reviews-E453959.htm

  5. Mark Thorson says:

    Great link Lloyd! At two previous employers, I learned that a bad sign is when your company holds patents, but the people named as inventors don’t work there anymore. (I haven’t checked out Moderna on this, I’m just passing along a tip from my experience.)

  6. MB says:

    Reading some those reviews about this company on Glassdoor reminds me of company I used to work for, which has been in the news recently with is new name etc…. Things like working their employees 24/7, toxic environment, abusive managment…… all those great things!!!

  7. tangent says:

    “The positive testimonials sound almost as bad as the negative ones.”

    Wow, they really do. That’s a neat trick. This one really says it all:
    “The people […] are all fantastic, and they expect you to be fantastic, too. If you’re not, you’ll feel the pressure to excel. This is handled either by meeting the expectations of the organization or leaving. Welcome to biotech in the 2010, things are competitive.”

    Tip for Moderna: if you really do need to flush out a significant number of low performers, then they drag down teams in the course of your identifying them, and any work they are getting done is shot to hell by the churn. Even the kindest reading is you’re performing poorly at your hiring decisions.

    More realistically from reading these, the “non-excellers” are whoever lost the last round of credit-taking and blame-shifting.


    “Glad some of the early hire ‘nay sayers’ are gone.” Yeah, that doesn’t sound like heading for disaster, does it.

    “work hard, play hard” (if anyone says this phrase who’s not a prick, my apologies)

  8. Hap says:

    Maybe the pharma funding is as a training ground for the next generation of pharma managers. It’d be atypical for pharma not to eat the seed corn in this as well and figure that those jobs will fill themselves, but I guess it must be difficult to train people to behave in such a manner, and careful and effective training in this matter is costly.

    I could see “work hard, play hard” as a reasonable slogan in a small company, but that generally assumes that everyone plays together without needing to wear Kevlar or chain mail to work. Probably not the case here.

  9. matt says:

    Hahaha, at the “poor man’s Sirtris Pharmaceuticals” on the glassdoor site! Zzzziiinnnggg!

  10. MoMo says:

    50+ patents and mostly in Biology. Where’s the Beef (Molecules)?

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