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Remembering Fred Frank, a giant of biotech

Levin, Sekhri pay tribute to Frank, investment banker and early architect of the biotech industry 

Levin, Sekhri pay tribute to Frank, investment banker and early architect of the biotech industry.

Sep 11, 2021 | 10:34 PM GMT

Fred is gone.

A true giant of the biotechnology industry has left this world, but his imprint has not left the industry.

Frederick Frank started his career on Wall Street after completing his MBA at Stanford University under the GI Bill, having served in the army during the Korean war. He became the industry’s first dedicated drug analyst at Smith, Barney and Co. and then in 1969 turned to investment banking, becoming a partner at Lehman Brothers. This was the opening chapter leading to an extraordinary career spanning over 60 years on Wall Street.

Fred led over 125 IPOs and completed more than 75 mergers and acquisitions. He changed the face of the industry by constructing the iconic Genentech-Roche deal, the first ever broad-based pharma/biotech collaboration, in 1990. This transaction ushered in an intense period of collaboration between the pharmaceutical and nascent biotechnology industries. Today, fully 70% of all medicines marketed by the pharmaceutical industry come from biotech companies. This transformation is in notable part a direct result of that landmark transaction.

Fred helped form the infrastructure that today holds together one of the greatest strategic assets of the industrial base of the United States. His fingerprints and influence are to be found on nearly every major transaction that has led to the ecosystem that today supports the companies that invest in and produce new technologies, medicines and diagnostics to save lives.

The impact of his work can be felt acutely at present, as the industry he helped fund and nurture stands as the major bulwark against the depredations of a pandemic that, had the industry not existed, would have caused death and disruption on a scale far beyond what we have experienced in the past two years.

Fred knew that success in our industry took time. He constantly reiterated that patience, persistence and passion would eventually triumph. His work and approach epitomized the words of Emily Dickinson: “The possible’s slow fuse is lit by the Imagination.”

Fred’s imagination, creativity and energy were boundless. He conveyed that with every conversation he had with CEOs and investors. Fred’s approach forms the foundation of so much in our industry.

These accomplishments led to his receiving many awards. He was particularly honored that in 2021 he was awarded the Biotechnology Heritage Award, a unique award co-presented by The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) and the Science History Institute. The award recognized his unique contributions as a banker and he joined the other founding members of our industry including Ivor Royston (2020), Janet Woodcock (2019), William Rastetter (2018), John C. Martin (2017), Stanley Cohen (2016), Moshe Alafi and William Bowes (2015), Robert Langer (2014), George Rosenkranz (2013), Nancy Chang (2012), Joshua Boger (2011), Art Levinson (2010), Robert Fraley (2009), Henri Termeer (2008), Ronald E. Cape (2007), Alejandro Zaffaroni (2006), Paul Berg (2005), Leroy Hood (2004), William Rutter (2003), Walter Gilbert and Phillip A. Sharp (2002), Francis Collins and J. Craig Venter (2001), Herbert Boyer and Robert Swanson (2000), and George B. Rathmann (1999).

Fred was particularly proud to be part of this group, many of whom were close personal friends, some still living and others having passed.

Fred was beloved, respected and known by many. He touched us all directly or indirectly. He was kind, generous, and always ready to lend a hand to those newer to the industry than he. His curiosity was boundless and his knowledge of the industry encyclopedic. On top of it all, he was a quintessential gentleman, and a steadfast friend.

As his friends, we will miss him; we mourn with his family. Our hearts go out to his brilliant partner in life and biotech, Mary Tanner. But we all should celebrate the extraordinary and lasting contribution he has made. We are all better for having had Fred at our side at the dawning of the biotechnology industry.

Jeremy Levin is the CEO of Ovid Therapeutics Inc. and a former chairman of BIO, the Biotechnology Innovation Association. Paul Sekhri is president and CEO of eGenesis Inc.

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