A veteran biotechnology executive, Jonas had spent nine years at neuroscience drug developer Sage Therapeutics. Hired as CEO in 2013, Jonas helped build Sage from a tiny startup into a large, publicly traded company that brought to market the first approved drug for postpartum depression. A second depression drug that’s part of a $3 billion alliance with Biogen could be submitted to regulators this month.
But as Sage grew, Jonas said he yearned for the company’s early days. The priorities and job description of top executives change as small biotechs grow and evolve. Early scientific research and clinical development give way to regulatory discussions and commercial planning. There are more shareholders to appease, bigger budgets to manage and profits to build.
“I missed the startup environment,” Jonas said in an interview.
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Sage had suffered setbacks, too. There were drug failures and strategic changes, most notably a negative readout in 2019 that erased much of Sage’s market value and led the company to lay off more than half its workforce.
That year, Jonas began laying the groundwork for his exit. In December 2020, he was named “chief innovation officer” as Sage brought in Barry Greene, a longtime Alnylam executive, as its new leader. That title gave Jonas freedom to focus on Sage’s pipeline and guide Greene during the transition, he said.
“Two years was good enough for that,” he added. “I did my job.”
Now Jonas has returned to the startup world, but in a much different role. Last month, he left Sage to become the CEO of Abio-X, a young Boston-area biotech incubator funded by Asia-based private equity firm CBC Group. From that perch, Jonas has $150 million to spend forming and molding a group of new drugmakers. Two of them, Adcentrx Therapeutics and Ensem Therapeutics, had already raised sizable funding rounds before he arrived. Another as-yet-undisclosed company is in the works, he says, with more to come.
BioPharma Dive spoke with Jonas about his decision to join Abio-X and how he aims to compete in an arena full of experienced venture capitalists and rival incubators. This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
BIOPHARMA DIVE: How did you end up running an incubator? Why not retire instead?
JEFF JONAS: We all have these personal odysseys. I just realized that I missed the startup environment, and I also missed running things. I really enjoy science. I really believe that what our industry does is important. It’s one of those places where you can benefit people, remain active and add value. I just didn’t want to play golf every day.