Bullish on Breakthroughs

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-05-01-2021, Volume 41, Issue 5

A passion for building the business engine behind treatments for rare disease.

Fresh off of his company’s first FDA approval in February, Michael Henderson, MD, chief business officer of BridgeBio Pharma, is just scratching the surface of his young career. At 31 years old, Henderson has been instrumental in the growth of BridgeBio over the past six years. He hopes the company’s recent approval on Feb. 28 for NULIBRYTM (fosdenopterin) as the first approved therapy to reduce the risk of mortality in patients with molybdenum cofactor deficiency (MoCD) type A is just the beginning.

“[My path] was not a typical one, but I actually don’t know what is typical these days,” says Henderson.

After obtaining his BA in global health at Harvard University, he attended medical school at Stanford University, where he received his MD with a concentration in health services and policy. Entering medical school, Henderson had every intention of becoming a practicing physician, but he quickly became immersed in the Stanford environment and found a different path. “I was able to work with professors who started treating me with a lot of respect and autonomy,” says Henderson. “[They] were looking for people to come in and help drive things forward; to really come in and put together business plans to advance novel science.”

During his time at Stanford in 2011, Henderson co-founded PellePharm, a company dedicated to developing solutions for rare diseases in dermatology. It was at that time that he first met Neil Kumar, PhD, the co-founder and CEO of BridgeBio. Kumar was working in venture capital at Third Rock Ventures, and Henderson pitched him and the firm on investing in PellePharm.

Years later, with more experience under his belt working with biotech and medtech organizations as a senior associate at Mc-Kinsey & Company, Henderson reconnected with Kumar. The latter had recently launched BridgeBio and not only did he invest in PellePharm, but he also offered Henderson the chance to join BridgeBio.

“[Neil] offered me the chance to come on board and look for similar programs where we believed a potential novel therapy could represent a significant improvement for patients,” says Henderson. “We could push them forward because we wouldn’t just do one at a time; BridgeBio was set up to share the risk among all of the programs, to help bridge that initial valley of translating things from academia to industry.”

In 2016, Henderson started as VP of asset acquisition, strategy, and operations and was actually the company’s first employee outside of Kumar.

In 2019, Henderson was promoted to his current role as chief business officer. In addition, he serves as CEO for two BridgeBio affiliates: QED Therapeutics, which is awaiting potential approval from the FDA this year for infigratinib for the treatment of cholangiocarcinoma (CCA), and Origin Biosciences, which recently received US clearance for its MoCD type A therapy.

“I got so invested personally [in] creating the companies and setting up the deals that allowed us to acquire the potential therapies that I then wanted to keep pushing them,” says Henderson on QED and Origin.

For BridgeBio’s first FDA approval in February through Origin, Henderson was instrumental in uncovering a program shelved by Alexion with the potential to treat patients with MoCD type A. The condition is an ultra-rare, autosomal recessive, inborn error of metabolism that impacts less than 150 infants globally. Henderson and his team noticed in a financial disclosure that Alexion would be discontinuing the program.

“We reached out to them and had different conversations,” he says. “This wasn’t a big economic deal, but we wanted to do what’s right for patients and get this over the finish line. It was a right place, right time kind of thing for both companies, so we constructed an acquisition of the asset.” The approval now ensures patients and their families affected by MoCD type A have an approved therapy for the first time.

Henderson was also instrumental in QED’s 11th-hour bid to license infigratinib from Novartis. His interest was sparked after he discovered an academic paper that showcased the potential of the investigational drug to treat children with achondroplasia, the leading genetic cause of short stature. “We threw our hat in the ring and made a case for why we should be the partner,” says Henderson.

QED is awaiting approval from FDA for infigratinib as a second-line therapy for CCA patients with FGFR2 fusions on translocations.

Outside of his passionate work in rare diseases, Henderson is on a number of boards of directors. He also continues to be involved with his alma mater Stanford through the university’s SPARK program, where he provides mentorship for research-advancing academic discoveries from the lab to patient care.

The few moments of downtime that Henderson has during his busy schedule are mostly spent with his wife and three dogs, which are all half-English Sheepdog, half-Standard Poodle. They like taking their furry friends for walks or hikes.“[The dogs] keep us very busy and make sure that we don’t have too lazy of days, even when we want to,” says Henderson.

Before COVID, he also enjoyed traveling. Henderson named Vietnam, where his wife’s family is originally from, and Egypt as his two most memorable trips.

When looking forward to his own objectives and the road to accomplishing them, Henderson credits the people around him. “We (BridgeBio) do a really good job of attracting the kind of talent and people who are willing to put in the long hours and the very hard work because they’re drawn to the same sort of mission that first drew me here,” he says.

After getting his first taste of a drug approval earlier in the year, Henderson is only looking to the future. “My personal goal is to contribute, over the course of my career, to 10 or more drug approvals, and then to make sure that those drugs get to all the patients around the globe that need them.”

To read the profiles of all 2021 EPL winners, click here.

Andy Studna is an Assistant Editor for Pharm Exec. He can be reached at astudna@mjhlifesciences.com.