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Former Rubius CEO to lead buzzy Flagship startup

Just two days after stepping down from his last job, former Rubius Therapeutics head Pablo Cagnoni is again leading a biotech, joining another startup backed by Flagship Pioneering.

Cagnoni is the new CEO of Laronde, a Somerville, Mass.-based company focused on developing next-generation RNA medicines, the startup announced Thursday.

He last spent four years as head of Rubius, which filed to go public in 2018 with a valuation of nearly $2 billion. But production and testing delays later forced the company to cull its lead program, and in 2020 it announced it would move away from rare disease research in an effort to save cash.

In September, the company slashed 75% of its workforce and stopped development of its two most advanced candidates. And then just two weeks ago, Rubius laid off almost all of its remaining employees, including Cagnoni, and said it was exploring “strategic alternatives” including a sale of part or all of the company.

Rubius shares closed at 24 cents apiece on Thursday.

In Cagnoni’s new role, he will oversee a startup launched by Flagship to develop drugs using so-called endless RNA, or eRNA. A few months after it emerged from stealth in May 2021, Laronde raised another $440 million to fund its research.

Laronde has lofty aspirations, initially planning to hire more than 200 people by 2023. Its executives have said it could produce 100 eRNA medicines or drug programs over the next decade, an incredibly optimistic goal.

Though Laronde has not named any particular diseases to focus on, its jobs board provides clues into its interests, including roles for scientists focusing on infectious diseases vaccines.

“I am energized by Laronde’s team and the momentum they have created, and look forward to leading the company, as well as working closely with my colleagues at Flagship, to demonstrate the promise of programmable medicines through eRNA,” Cagnoni said in a statement.

Cagnoni was previously president at Onyx Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired by Amgen, and CEO at Tizona Therapeutics, which Gilead holds an option to acquire.

At Rubius, Cagnoni was briefly one of the highest paid executives in the biotech industry, measured by total compensation including stock grants.