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Famed Geneticist Altshuler Bolts Broad Institute for Vertex

Xconomy Boston — 

How alluring is the pull of industry these days? Vertex Pharmaceuticals just got one of the world’s top geneticists, a founder of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, to make the switch.

David Altshuler has left his post as the Broad’s deputy director and chief academic officer. He’s been named the chief scientific officer and executive vice president of global research of Cambridge, MA-based Vertex (NASDAQ: VRTX), the developer of the cystic fibrosis drug ivacaftor (Kalydeco). Altshuler has been an independent director on Vertex’s board since 2012; he’s resigning from the board and will begin his new role in early 2015. In his new gig, he’ll oversee the research at Vertex’s five research sites in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

“Vertex is known for its groundbreaking science and for solving problems that had long seemed intractable. I look forward to bringing my experience in human genetics and medicine to the company’s ongoing research efforts,” Altshuler says in a statement today. “During my time on the board of directors, I have been tremendously impressed by Vertex’s ability to integrate fundamental disease biology and cutting edge technology to help patients and to maintain a commitment to scientific excellence through a period of significant global growth. I look forward to joining the team and to working toward discovering additional transformative new medicines for people with serious diseases.”

Altshuler also has a variety of additional roles: he’s a professor at Harvard, an adjunct professor at MIT, and an attending physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. It wasn’t immediately clear which of those roles he’ll continue, but a Vertex spokesman was clear to say Altshuler’s new job is full-time.

Altshuler is one of the original core founding members of the Broad, a non-profit biomedical research institute staffed by Harvard and MIT scientists. The institute started in 2003 with a $100 million gift from Eli and Edyth Broad. Eric Lander remains the president and director of the Broad. The other founding members are Altshuler, Todd Golub, and Stuart Schreiber. The Broad has raised hundreds of millions of dollars since its inception, and scored a group of industry partnerships—among them deals with AstraZeneca, Bayer, Roche, and Illumina. Just this past year, it got a whopping $650 million gift from philanthropist Ted Stanley to help spur research into central nervous system disorders.

Altshuler was one of the architects of a number of genetics initiatives—like the 1000 Genomes Project, the SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) Consortium, and the International HapMap Project—and has spent years studying DNA variations and how they impact human health. He won the Curt Stem Award of the American Society for Human Genetics in 2011, and the outstanding scientific achievement award from the American Diabetes Association the next year for his work into the genetic basis for type 2 diabetes. He’s replacing former Vertex CSO Peter Mueller, who retired in October.