“Former Chicago trader battles medical science giants over gene therapy deal”

Oct 30, 2020 | News

Former Chicago trader battles medical science giants over gene therapy deal
A trial promises a rare glimpse into the messy marriage of medical researchers and for-profit companies.

Patrick Girondi, a former commodities trader from Chicago, lives in Italy these days. But for the last couple of years, he’s been spending weeks at a time crashing at a friend’s apartment in Manhattan, waging a bare-knuckle and uphill legal battle against two well-regarded names in medical science: Bluebird Bio, a cutting edge gene-therapy company, and Sloan Kettering Institute, the research arm of the famous cancer center.

Girondi’s company, Errant Gene Therapeutics, sued them in New York state court in 2017, alleging that Sloan Kettering Institute tricked it into turning over potentially groundbreaking treatment. Girondi helped develop the treatment to save his son, Rocco, from beta thalassemia, a relatively rare and potentially fatal blood disorder.  Then, Girondi claimed, Sloan Kettering mothballed his work to favor Bluebird, whose chief executive had a prior business relationship with the cancer center’s boss.  Girondi’s rage has been fueled by Bluebird’s trajectory since then: its thalassemia treatment was approved last year by the European Union and — at $1.8 million per patient— will be among the most expensive.

“In my neighborhood, they’d have gotten ball batted for similar behavior,’’ said Girondi, a self-described former street tough from the South Side of Chicago who’s been using such talk to describe his adversaries for years.  Now, Girondi is finally getting his day in court. Having survived years of legal challenges, which have portrayed his case as absurd and Girondi himself as erratic and ill-tempered, his trial began on Thursday. Errant is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, according to court filings.  The trial promises a rare glimpse into the not uncommonly messy marriage of medical researchers and for-profit companies, and it will showcase a slew of revealing documents and emails that have emerged in the court file, including one that Girondi’s lawyers described in court as “the smoking gun.”  Written in June 2010 by Nick Leschly, then interim president of Genetix Pharmaceuticals, which was renamed Bluebird Bio a few months later, the email said: “Pat Girondi—need to shut him down.’’

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