Monday, October 21, 1996
The birth of biotech was also the birth of the science-driven company. These companies took as their mantra the belief that they could woo investors with the vision of their science, the ability to create novel products from insights into fundamental biology. But in the early part of the decade - after the crash of the market for biotech stocks and investor disenchantment with companies sporting billion dollar valuations while still in the clinic - Wall Street's enthusiasm for the research-driven model began to wane.
In its place, investors put new emphasis on early commercialization. Roughly translated, they wanted companies to lessen their dependence on the equity markets for development funds. How this was accomplished - from in-licensing of later-stage or already-marketed products, to sharing development costs with corporate partners - was less important than demonstrating a means of achieving earlier revenues.
Parallel with the emphasis on less expensive corporate models and funding from non-equity sources was Wall Street's loss of confidence in its own ability to vet new technologies. It was the Street, after all, that had driven up the prices of immature companies by placing enormous value on unproven technologies.
Through it all, a few hardy souls stuck to their guns, maintaining their belief in research-based science as the primary driver of biotech company value.
With the failures of the early part of the decade receding from memory, plus the continued interest of pharmaceutical companies in the scientific capabilities of their biotech cousins, Wall Street's interest in the value of science has been rekindled.
In light of that renewed interest, but also because there still appears to be some misunderstanding over what it means to be science-driven and what it takes to turn science into products, BioCentury talked to three CEOs known for their belief in the central place science holds in the biotech endeavor.
Chairman, President and CEO
George Rathmann has as much perspective on the history of biotech as anyone in the industry, having co-founded Amgen Inc. in 1980. In 1990, he moved on to ICOS (Bothell, Wash.) to pursue the fundamental causes of inflammatory disease.
"Those of us who believe in the science-driven model have extraordinary confidence in biotechnology and biology," he said. "It's an act of faith that the unknown holds good things. The first ones with that faith were Genentech - theirs was the original model. They showed it could be done. Biogen, Genetics Institute, even Immunex started as science-driven. So that model was clear for the first years of biotech from 1976-87. Even in 1991, it was an easy sell for a variety of visionary science-based companies."