Startups, BioPharma

Biogen’s R&D head Douglas Williams jumps ship for a new startup

As is the case with many big biopharma execs, Biogen’s R&D head Douglas Williams is leaving to launch an as-yet-unnamed new cancer diagnostics or therapeutics startup, Biogen says.

Douglas Williams, the R&D head of Biogen, will jump ship from the biotech giant in favor of startup fever. Beginning the end of this month, Williams will lead up a new, as-yet-unnamed upstart exploring cancer diagnostics and therapy.

Biogen says his responsibilities will be assumed by Alfred Sandrock, the company’s chief medical officer and Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas, its chief scientific officer.

Williams has enjoyed success in the four years he held the top R&D spot at Biogen. This comes thanks to an R&D overhaul led by Williams – he cut 17 R&D programs he believed were flailing, and added others he believed had strong market potential. Since, the company has done well with its Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis pipelines, and its stock has grown accordingly.

“While I am sad to leave Biogen I am excited about the opportunity to follow a real passion of mine,” said Dr. Williams. “I am proud of the progress of the company’s R&D organization and am pleased that it will be in very capable hands.”

As Fierce Biotech rightly points out, many top biopharma executives are migrating from the big fish and into the startup world, thanks undoubtedly to the bullish biotech climate and the increase in IPO and venture activity. Fierce writes:


Briggs Morrison recently left a top spot at AstraZeneca R&D in favor of the small biotech Syndax. In making this leap, Williams also joins the likes of Tony Coles, the ex-CEO at Onyx who’s now starting up a new biotech venture from scratch; Annalisa Jenkins, who now runs Dimension Therapeutics after a stint in charge of R&D at Merck Serono; and Jose-Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, who recently handed in his leadership role at Pfizer’s new R&D center in Cambridge, MA, for an upstart of his own. And while Chris Viehbacher, the former CEO of Sanofi, was pushed rather than jumped, he’s made the switch to running a new, $2 billion biotech investment fund.