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Jan 09, 2012
 |  BioCentury  |  Finance

A Remembrance: An authentic giant

A Remembrance: An authentic giant

It's been a tough 13 months. Three of the larger-than-life figures in biotech are gone - Frank Baldino of Cephalon Inc., Jean Deleage of Alta Partners, and now Alex Barkas, who was managing director of Prospect Venture Partners.Alex died suddenly in November, shortly after Prospect had decided not todeploya new fund, and just as he was about to have moretime to share with his wife, Lynda Wijcik, and their two young daughters.As with many of those who came to the industry when it was young, Alex was big - not just physically, though he was that - but big in personality, big in intellect, big in generosity. You could hear him laugh across a continent.Alex was trained as a scientist, receiving a Ph.D. in biology from New York University and a B.A. in biology from Brandeis University, where he was a member of the board of trustees and chairman of the Brandeis University Science Advisory Council.He came to the U.S. from Germany in 1949 at the age of two, and met Lynda in 1977 when both were working in the genetics lab at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children. After stints at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Whitehead Institute, Alex consulted for A.D. Little in Boston and at Advanced Biosearch Associates in California.In 1989, he and Lynda formed a consultancy called BioBridge Associates, which gave him his first taste of biotech venture capital. Alex began consulting for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, ultimately becoming a partner at the firm in 1991.Alex left KPCB along with David Schnell to form Prospect Venture Partners in 1997.All told, Alex helped found more than 50 companies, including Geron Corp. and Connective Therapeutics Inc. (which later became Connetics Corp.), both of which he served as the startup CEO.But that hardly tells the story of Alex. Only his friends and colleagues can do that, in the tributes from venture colleagues and industry friends.

Tom Kiley

Director, Geron Corp. Anyone who has been to one of Alex's homes will remember seeing on the walls great art works of the aboriginals of Australia. These often represent the tracks of their ancestral Creators, who in the Dream Time sang the world into being. When an aboriginal goes on walkabout, he follows these "songlines," as they are called, and through song he creates the world anew.I read once of an Englishman walking with a group of aboriginals who came up on a ridge of sand hills and burst into song. "What are you mob on about now?" he asked. And one replied: "Singing up the country, boss. Makes the country come up faster."Alex devoted his professional life to doing just that. Singing up the country … making it come up faster through devotion to innovation, to building up a core American industry, to make the country better at healing the sick.Alex left good tracks on the world. Many will follow in his footsteps and the work will go on.

Brook Byers

Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers Alex was smart, visionary and fun. He used his early science training to "dig deep" with biotech entrepreneurs, which made them better. It surprised them when a venture capitalist in a double-breasted suit and colorful wide tie could go toe-to-toe on their science and make inventive suggestions, even in their first meeting. He had a special ability to see beyond the conversation to inspire others, including myself, with "over the horizon" bigger picture ideas. He had a big heart and an even bigger laugh that charmed us all. He was a mensch.

David Greenwood

President and CFO, Geron Corp. I could share stories . . . about golf - loved the game, couldn't play worth a darn; about Alex being late for every board of directors meeting, and even AGMs as chairman, routinely. But you know all that.As you know, Alex...

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