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A Remembrance: Force of Nature

Biotech, pharma and Wall Street testimonials to the late Frank Baldino of Cephalon

From the moment you met him, you knew you were dealing with a Force of Nature. A rare combination of determination, imagination and genuine warmth, Frank Baldino was a formidable presence in the life science industry.

From the day he founded Cephalon Inc. he planned to succeed, and, ultimately, that's what he did. As president and CEO, and later chairman, he built the company into one of the 20 biggest biotechs in the world, with estimated 2010 sales of $2.7 billion and a market cap of roughly $4.7 billion.

It took leukemia to stop Frank. He died last month - far too early at age 57. Those of us who knew him will remember a straight-talking, no-nonsense kind of guy, a man who had a vision and never gave up. His employees knew him as caring and intensely loyal; when visiting the cafeteria to grab lunch, he invariably knew the name of every employee he ran into, including the cooks in the cafeteria. And rare among CEOs, Frank talked openly about learning from the "challenges" Cephalon had faced. He even admitted to occasionally being wrong.

Frank's determination (some would say, stubbornness) was a prerequisite for a young scientist who wanted to make a name for himself in an industry that was competitive, noisy and undergoing tremendous changes in the mid-1980s. He was determined to build a company that would bring innovative products to market, improve the lives of patients, and become a major force among the top tier of biotech companies.

Cephalon began life in 1987, a time when it was possible to get venture funding to start a company based on no more than an idea. At the company's inception, Frank was given $500,000 by Burr, Egan, Deleage & Co. and Hambrecht & Quist Life Science Ventures and told to go write a business plan. As he put it several years ago while giving the keynote address at The Biotech Meeting in Laguna Niguel: "I was 31 and had no plan, no cash, no clue."

From inception through 1990, Cephalon raised $7.9 million in venture funding - barely enough for a series A round today - but sufficient then to get a new company off the ground.

The plan Frank came up with was focused on CNS. It was the age of growth factors, and he believed there were many areas where the markets would benefit from new drugs to improve on the existing level of care. Some areas - delivery across the blood-brain barrier, treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and stroke - continue to challenge the industry to this day.

While experimenting with nerve growth factor (NGF), the company serendipitously discovered that insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) had

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