My Biotech Heroes


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A friend asked me recently:  If Gates, Jobs, Bezos and Zuckerberg are among the heroes of the IT revolution, who are the heroes of biotech?

And I responded:

Bob Swanson, who taught us how to dream and how to turn the dream into reality.

George Rathmann, who showed us what it is to have character, how to inspire and empower individuals and how to develop products with a meaningful impact on human health.

Hubert Schoemaker, who never gave up and showed us how to keep overcoming obstacles until we succeed.

Henri Termeer, who showed us how to build a business by treating rare diseases, in the process creating a new pricing paradigm but making sure no patient was left untreated because of financial hardship.

Stan Crooke, who, in creating a new therapeutic modality with antisense oligonucleotides, showed us that great accomplishments require defiance and life-long commitment.

Bill Rastetter, who gave us the first meaningful therapeutic antibody, but after his success, instead of resting on his laurels, kept on creating and contributing.

Art Levinson and Sue Desmond-Hellmann, who showed how scientific leadership can make a difference and built Genentech into the greatest biotech company in the history of the industry.

Fred Frank and Mary Tannerwho taught us how large pharma thought and brought Wall Street legitimacy to the sector by committing the might of legendary Lehman Brothers behind the young companies.

Peter Drake, Linda Miller, Teena Lerner, Denise Gilbert, Monte Pitt and Stu Weisbrod, who taught us how to think about biotech stocks.

Roy Vagelos, who laid the foundations of how an ethical pharmaceutical company should behave and inspired all of us in biotech.

Max Link, the first pharma CEO with a genuine appreciation of biotech, who reached out and sought to access innovation among the young companies in the sector.

Dan Vasella, who took Max’s vision a step further and, in setting up the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, catalyzed the transformation of the Boston area from a biotech hub to the global leader in biopharma research.

Len Schleifer and George Yancopoulos, who showed us how to lead with science and built a great company in their unique and uncompromising way.

Craig Venter, who almost singlehandedly laid the foundation of genomics-based drug discovery by being the driving force behind the sequencing of the human genome.

Marc Levin, who legitimized genomics-based research initiatives by building Millennium into a great biopharma company.

Noubar Afeyan, who has been driving relentlessly the formation of science-driven companies in spite of ever shifting moods and paradigms in the financial community.

John Martin, who showed how scientific judgment and clinical development acumen can create great drugs. He helped turn AIDS into a manageable chronic condition and offered cures for Hep C infection.

Joshua Lederberg, Phil Sharp, Bob Langer, George Church and David Baltimore, who, with their exquisite scientific insights, have founded several outstanding companies and have offered unparalleled wisdom as scientific advisors and board members to small and large companies alike.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who crossed the industry-academia divide better than anyone by focusing on the best parts of each world, all with the common aim of improving the human condition.

Some have been my friends.  All are my heroes.

Ravi, thanks for asking.

Stelios Papadopoulos

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