The story of Rhône-Poulenc Rorer Inc.'s new RPR Gencell gene therapy consortium is the story of the birth of a corporate strategy, and of the ability of a large company to put together a critical mass of technology in a way that would be hard for small biotech companies to duplicate.

The consortium of 14 companies and institutions, announced last week, has been in gestation since January 1991, six months after the merger between Rhône-Poulenc and Rorer, when the company was considering what its corporate strategy should be going forward, and how it would fill its pipeline.

The strategic marketing group believed that one of the next major opportunities would be in gene therapy, but top management wasn't sure whether to invest immediately or wait. Nor was it sure whether to invest heavily or make a few small bets, according to Thierry Soursac, senior vice president and president of the biotech division at RPR.

Shared vision

In 1992, RPR brought in a new head of R&D from Sandoz, Manford Karobath, who shared the vision of gene and cell therapy as a major opportunity, putting the marketing and R&D groups on the same wavelength.