XII. Finding the best therapy: the one-a-day-pill
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Finding the best therapy: the one-a-day-pill 119  Chapter XII Finding the best therapy: the one-a-day-pill The creative act is not an act of creation in the sense of the Old Testament. It does not create something out of nothing; it uncovers, selects, re-shuffles, combines, synthesizes already existing facts, ideas, faculties, skills. The more familiar the parts, the more striking the new whole. — Arthur Koestler A new start-up: Gilead Sciences The biotech gold rush on Wall Street had been unleashed. Companies like Biogen and Genentech had captured the imagination of investment bankers even before a single product was made. Recombinant DNA technologies required to produce interferon synthetically were adapted for use in other proteins. Anything seemed possible. The excitement had captivated Michael Riordan, a young student at the Johns Hopkins Medical School. Born and raised in Kansas, son of a physician and a mother who wrote textbooks about breastfeeding for medical professionals, he was immensely curious about nucleic acids research . He gravitated very naturally to the world of interferons and gene expression. His favorite place to research was in the Johns Hopkins laboratory of Paula Pitha, a Czech virologist who had fled communism in the late 1960’s.1 When Riordan graduated from Johns Hopkins with high honors, he toyed with ways of combining theoretical science from the academic world with the product development of the pharmaceutical industry. His next step, an MBA at Harvard, launched him on a different path, the world of venture capital. He was hired by Menlo Ventures in Silicon Valley. The hub of technology and innovation brought him closer to where the action 120 Cold War Triangle was. He spent a whole year traveling the country, visiting pharma companies and academic institutions, and learning who the players were in the field of DNA chemistry. In1987,with$2millionofseedcapitalfromhisfriendsattheventurecapital firm, he made the jump to start his own company. He named it Gilead Sciences, after the ancient site of a willow tree that produced a curative balm. The company began as a small lab outside San Francisco with just six employees. Very early on Michael Riordan managed to coax Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel, to join his business advisory board.2 Soon, it was time to install a directors’ board. Undaunted, he went straight to the top, and chased the former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. “How many people work in your company?” Rumsfeld asked. “Just six including the founder” answered the twenty-nine year old Riordan. Rumsfeld who had just stepped down as CEO of Searle was impressed by his youth and determination and happy to impart his pharma experience to a start-up in Silicon Valley. At the start, none of Gilead’s experimental drugs worked outside the laboratory, but the biotech craze was in full swing and his ideas caught the interest of the venture capital world. Riordan remained focused, unperturbed and continued to entice more investors for his search to find drugs to control disease-causing genes.3 One of them was Benno Schmidt, a partner of J.H. Whitney & Company. He had been an influential powerbroker in New York City when President Nixon appointed him to the chairmanship of the President’s Cancer Panel, which initiated the federal government’s “War on Cancer.” Benno Schmidt pushed his firm to invest in biotechnology ventures. As a leader in both the private and public sector , he was considered the “senior gatekeeper of biomedical innovation in the United States.”4 Once Benno Schmidt was on board, Riordan was able to attract capital infusions from Venrock, the Rockefeller investment firm and Glaxo, the pharmaceutical company. Next, Riordan felt they needed to add a person of stature in Europe to enhance the board of directors’ international prominence. Rumsfeld thought of his Belgian friend, Stevie Davignon, whom he had met during his time at NATO and later became a Vice President of the European Commission.5 Rumsfeld attracted a few other big names and later also George Schultz, the Secretary of State under President Reagan. Finding the best therapy: the one-a-day-pill 121  Capital was no longer a problem, but now Riordan desperately needed a group of first rate scientists. 1990 became a “golden year” when the main players of his team would fall into place. Riordan plucked Norbert Bischofberger away from Genentech, and scooped up John Milligan right after he finished his postdoc at UCSF. He spent many months, but eventually pryed Bill Lee away from...


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