Biotech's new class: seasoned executives
By Karen Bernstein

For CEOs who go from one startup company to another, the game can be a lot like Chutes and Ladders, except the rewards and the fun go to those who never reach the finish line.

The industry is replete with companies at or reaching the intermediate stage of development, where the challenges are to get ideas off the drawing board, get products out of research and into the clinic, and get money in the bank. Reaching those milestones takes a certain set of skills on the part of management and can result in the biggest incremental gains in corporate valuation in the life cycle of a company.

The recent decision of Charles Casamento to leave Interneuron Pharmaceuticals Inc. for startup RiboGene Inc., just days before IPIC filed an NDA on its first product, could illustrate the type of move the industry will see more of as companies mature and managers with skills suited to early-stage companies leave older companies for newer ones.

When Casamento came to Interneuron, it consisted of an office with a desk, a part-time secretary, and a checking account with $150,000. Today, IPIC has a $250 million market cap, three products in the clinic and an NDA filed.

RiboGene's venture backers, who are completing a second round of financing, were looking for a CEO like Casamento who had built a biopharmaceutical company from the ground up: hiring, taking products through preclinicals and the clinic, raising private and public money, said Petrie Vainio, a partner at Sierra Ventures.

Pool increases

While no one foresees a rush of CEOs out of maturing middle-tier companies, there will be an increasingly large pool of seasoned biotech executives, with skills and personalities well-suited to earlier-stage companies, to whom venture capitalists can turn when staffing startups.