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© 1999 Nature America Inc. • http://biotech.nature.



The three pillars of

Creating a biotechnology company that lasts depends on the ability
to balance management, capital, and technology.
Hubert J. P. Schoemaker and Anne Faulkner Schoemaker
History has proven that starting a The set of skills a startup company’s sive R&D enterprises but have
new biotechnology company is failed to bring a single product to
not an activity for the faint of very existence may depend on at the commercial fruition.
heart. Neither is it an endeavor beginning will become significantly From this sketch of typical
that can be undertaken without managerial responsibilities dur-
patience, perseverance, or opti- less important to the enterprise 10 years ing the building of a company, it
mism at their extremes. However, is quite apparent that the set of
no matter how strong your char-
down the road. skills a startup company’s very
© 1999 Nature America Inc. •

acter, there are three structural existence may depend on will

elements that are absolutely necessary for weakest pillar in most biotechnology com- become significantly less important to the
biotechnology success. We call these the panies. enterprise 10 years down the road. The
“three pillars” of bioentrepreneurship: a This is largely because the repertoire of appropriate allocation of corporate
quality management team, adequate financ- managerial skills required to navigate the resources, as the company transitions from
ing, and access to new technology that leads company successfully from startup through an R&D-driven to a market-driven culture is
to products. full integration is so wide ranging. Take, for a lasting managerial challenge that heavily
While establishing these pillars to sup- example, the startup. The company’s earliest taxes all management teams.
port your company is difficult, maintaining management team may consist of only a
them over time is an even bigger challenge. scientific founder and a businessperson. Capital
Each of these pillars must function in syner- During that period, the critical managerial Capital forms the second pillar of any
gy over periods of up to 10 years or longer skill sets include the ability to direct a biotechnology company. It is unequivocally
and, by retrospective analysis, it is clear that research and development organization and true that, at the early stages, a biotechnology
any weakness within the first critical decade the ability to communicate the company’s company can never have too much of this
will determine the future of the entrepre- promise to the financial community. resource. Undercapitalization and a weak
neurial biotechnology company. Because If a company succeeds through the initial CEO are the root causes of most biotechnol-
most companies do not achieve “first-tier” phases and begins commercial operation, ogy company failures. Being opportunistic
status if they have a demonstrable weakness the next set of management skills it must in the marketplace when financial windows
in one of the three pillars, the importance of acquire, either internally or externally, are open is advice that cannot be taken too
each of these structures within the context are manufacturing and commercialization liberally.
of the industry warrants independent exam- capabilities. At the same time, managerial Therefore, bioentrepreneurs must spend
ination. focus should also be directed toward collab- considerable energies on cultivating finan-
oration as the company positions itself cial resources for their young companies.
Management for growth. Perhaps the best advice on the general sub-
The management pillar is the first to be Since few biotechnology companies in ject of capitalization was offered to me in the
secured in any new biopharmaceutical com- the early stages of development can internal- early 1980s by Bill Hambrecht, (Hambrecht
pany. No transformation of technology ly develop a full range of operating capabili- & Quist, New York), a venerable figure in the
opportunity into product sale can ever ties, the precise nature of these relation- biotechnology financial sector. “When the
occur without skilled managerial capability. ships, and the timing of their implementa- cookie jar comes around,” he said, “grab as
However, having said this, there is a sober- tion, must be carefully managed for their many cookies as you can—you don’t know
ing truth to be addressed: A chief executive impact on the company. Marketing and sales when it will come around again.”
officer and management team equipped to agreements, in particular, critically affect This advice is especially true today when
run a biotechnology company from startup the profit and loss statement, and the unfa- launching a biotechnology company
through commercialization are one of the vorable timing of their execution can have a requires many multiples of what it cost in
scarcest resources in the industry. lasting negative effect on the bottom line. the 1980s. When one considers that it costs,
Consequently, management is often the While all of these deals are being devel- on average, over $300 million to develop a
oped, the judicious allocation of resources single product, and first-tier companies
within the company is a managerial impera- have had to raise $600 million or more
Hubert J. P. Schoemaker is chairman of the tive at all times. There are numerous exam- before gaining operating profitability, grab-
board of Centocor, Inc., 200 Great Valley ples of companies that have commercialized bing lots of cookies of different flavors,
Parkway, Malvern, PA 19355 (schoemakerh@- products well but, absent sufficient internal shapes and sizes becomes an economic and Anne Faulkner Schoemaker investment in R&D, have inadequately imperative.
is a technology licensing consultant fueled their product pipelines. Conversely, Although many biopharmaceutical com-
( other management teams have built impres- panies are launched through private invest-


© 1999 Nature America Inc. •


ment, venture capital leading to the initial ogy company will undesirably dilute share- The word “dilution” should be struck from
public offering is the more common route holder interest. Further dilution occurs lexicon of biotechnology-speak, particularly
by which emerging companies acquire through the initial public offering, a trans- as it relates to relatively young companies;
growth financing. It can be a treacherous action that is ultimately necessary to bring undue concern over dilution discourages
road for shareholders. Conventional wis- the company to full operating profitability. the taking of appropriate financial risk.
dom holds that the several rounds of financ- In the end, however, dilution is never the The corporate partnership offers another
ing required to capitalize a new biotechnol- issue. Raising sufficient capital is the issue. option to reinforce a company’s capital pil-

Case study: Centocor

Centocor began operations in 1979 by devel- ture, including manufacturing, marketing, Street, and we negotiated a sales and market-
oping diagnostic products based on mono- and sales. Despite an endorsement by a US ing agreement with Eli Lilly (Indianapolis,
clonal antibody technology. Much of this Food and Drug Administration (FDA; IN) to help commercialize Centoxin, in the
technology had been licensed from The Rockville, MD) advisory panel, Centocor did event of its ultimate approval, and ReoPro,
Wistar Institute, a scientific research institu- not receive FDA approval for this product on our second biotechnology product under
tion located in Philadelphia. In order to max- the basis of its single clinical trial. The second development. After several lean and very
imize its scientific relationship with Wistar, trial, requested by the FDA to clarify certain challenging years, Centocor began to rebuild.
the company established its laboratory facili- results, ultimately failed. The internal R&D operation was reorganized
ties nearby at the University City Science Centoxin’s regulatory defeat was a cata- and reenergized for its critical role in driving
Center. Within four years, Centocor had cre- clysmic event for Centocor. In selecting its the company’s technology capabilities.
© 1999 Nature America Inc. •

ated a profitable business, having developed product candidate, Centocor missed an Monoclonal antibodies, recombinant DNA-
such cancer diagnostic products as CA-19-9, important cue from the medical market- based products, and DNA-based products
CA-125, and CA-15-3. In his role as head of place: Sepsis had become an increasingly were used to fill the product pipeline.
the diagnostics division, David Holveck, pre- complex disease. It was found to result, not While Centoxin was never ultimately
sent chief executive officer, advanced the only from a complex cascade of biochemical approved, with the support of Lilly,
growth of the business to a level of approxi- events, but also from infection originating Centocor did receive FDA approval of
mately $40 million per year. from multiple sources—including Gram- ReoPro in 1994, and the product’s success
In 1986, Centocor embarked on a new negative bacteria, viral, and fungal sources. has paved the way for Centocor’s achieve-
journey in biotechnology. With a successful Further complicating this picture was ment of operating profitability in late 1996.
diagnostics business anchoring its position in the fact that new immunosuppressive drugs, Lilly has proved to be a superb commercial-
the marketplace, Centocor repositioned itself which had become a therapeutic mainstay ization partner in both very difficult and
as a biotechnology company. Through the in oncology and transplantation medicine, very good times. The success of this collabo-
aggressive pursuit of licenses for new discov- were a significant factor in multiple infec- ration, in which the sales and marketing
eries from academic institutions, Centocor tions. Without a highly specific diagnostic expertise of a pharmaceutical giant were
amassed a rich coffer of potential product test to establish the infectious agent respon- coupled with the product development and
candidates. Both 17-1A, or Panorex, and HA- sible for the sepsis, a single therapy was not clinical trial experience of its technology-
1A, or Centoxin, were evaluated as the com- predicted to succeed. The difficulty in devel- oriented partner, confirmed Centocor’s
pany’s first biotechnology products, but it oping sepsis therapies is illustrated by the decision to capitalize on similar relation-
was Centoxin that emerged as the initial fact that 20 clinical trials, conducted by ships in commercializing its other products.
launch candidate. other pharmaceutical companies and acade- Centocor entered into a partnership with
mic institutions subsequent to Centocor’s Glaxo Wellcome (London) for the commer-
Lessons learned trial, also met with failure. cialization of Panorex, a treatment for col-
Centoxin was a human antibody whose pri- At the time the FDA required the second orectal cancer that has received approval in
mary application was in the treatment of sep- Centoxin clinical trial, the company’s posi- Germany. Avakine, our biotechnology prod-
sis resulting from Gram-negative bacterial tion was financially perilous. Its stock had uct for Crohn’s disease, is currently under
infection. A devastating condition leading to dropped from a previous high of $60 per review at the FDA, and is in final stages of
irreversible organ failure, sepsis accounts for share in December 1991 to $6 by April 1992. clinical development for the treatment of
nearly 80,000 deaths per year. Centoxin acted And with a cash burn rate of about $50 mil- rheumatoid arthritis. Avakine will be sold
on the root cause of mortality: It neutralized lion per quarter supporting the corporate directly by Centocor in the US and by a cor-
the endotoxin produced by Gram-negative infrastructure and its 1,600 employees, few porate partner in Europe and Japan.
bacteria. Early work by Ziegler et al.2 suggest- resources remained with which the company Most recently, we have made our first
ed the potential utility of a polyclonal anti- could rejuvenate. product acquisition, Retavase, a clot-buster
body mixture in the treatment of sepsis. product that we believe will be synergistic
Further in vitro studies with Centoxin Rejuvenation with ReoPro. We also expect that Retavase,
demonstrated the increased effectiveness of It was decisive action taken by the board of along with ReoPro, will secure Centocor’s
the monoclonal antibody, and these results directors during the spring of 1992 that ulti- position in the acute cardiovascular therapy
provided the impetus to develop the drug. mately saved the company. Holveck was market.
With a study design identical to the favor- appointed president. He was issued a direc- Today, Centocor is in its best financial and
able polyclonal study, a clinical trial was initi- tive to reduce cash burn to the lowest possible scientific position since it was founded 19
ated to establish unequivocally the efficacy of level. The head count was reduced from years ago. We are a stronger, but more hum-
the Centoxin in the treatment of sepsis. The 1,600 to 600. We enlisted the indispensable ble, company. During the coming years, our
company positioned itself for success by assistance of Michael Wall, then an emeritus challenge is to grow revenues, increase prof-
investing early in a commercial infrastruc- member of the board, in managing Wall its, and remain innovative. ///


© 1999 Nature America Inc. •


lar. A biotechnology company, often lean on challenge for any bioentrepreneur in this cess, then this represents a true success rate
resources and experience but long on tech- time of astonishing opportunity is to main- of <1% for the formation of new biotech-
nology assets, is a logical partner for an tain a rigorous focus on the chosen product nology companies during the period from
established pharmaceutical company. Large and its underlying technology. 1975 to 1998—a sobering statistic.
pharmaceutical companies, frequently If we consider, for example, that the But statistics are statistics, and market
clamoring for new product candidates, recombination of DNA and the production value is not the only measure of achieve-
bring both development and regulatory of monoclonal antibodies are biotechnolo- ment. If, for example, one uses as the bench-
expertise, as well as cookies—a.k.a. gy’s first and second technology “plat- mark of success an internal rate of return of
money—to the table. An early agreement forms,”—still viable for product develop- at least 10%, then biotechnology’s success
with a large pharmaceutical company can ment today—then gene-splicing leading to rate is much higher—closer to 60%. Why?
provide financial stability and facilitate the genomics and gene therapy represent the Financial achievement is often the result of
commercialization of the product, provid- third technology platform. Already the acquisition, merger, early initial public
ing a significant reduction in risk for the temptation to abandon well-conceived offerings, off-balance sheet financing, and
young biotechnolo- product develop- other creative financial structures such as
gy company. ment strategies sale of part of the company.
The major Biotechnology companies based on the first The curious fact about biotechnology is
downside of this are uniquely capable of two generations of that many companies have delivered ade-
relationship, if a technologies in quate investor returns without developing
product candidate is responding to the pharma- favor of the third or marketing products. This arsenal of
successfully devel- coeconomic imperatives generation platform financial gymnastics has also proven
oped in the context technologies is evi- extremely useful in making the industry
© 1999 Nature America Inc. •

of such an arrange- of today’s healthcare dent. The explosion nearly bulletproof. So far, there have been
ment, is that the new of activity in only two bankruptcies industry-wide.
company may only
marketplace. genomics is a clear Biotechnology’s often-discussed low success
receive a modest example of this. rate must then be tempered by the under-
royalty on the prod- Relinquishing oth- standing that in this industry a company’s
uct’s sales. If the biotechnology company has erwise viable products based on earlier tech- progression to product sales and profitabili-
the capital to wait until it has invested in the nology platforms in favor of those based on ty is often preempted by terminal financial
product’s development and clinical trials, it is nascent discoveries will guarantee a long transactions.
in a stronger position to capture a larger lapse in the introduction of new products.
share of product sales. This maneuver does, With today’s biopharmaceutical prod- The future
however, expose the company to greater risk. ucts based exclusively on first and second We live in a society with an insatiable
platform technologies, we must consider the demand for increasingly sophisticated
Technology industry as a whole to be in its infancy. But health care that must be provided more cost
The mid-1970s emergence of technologies we have far from exhausted the reservoir of effectively than ever before. Reforms in the
based on recombinant DNA and monoclon- potential products to be developed from healthcare delivery system have forever
al antibody technologies, which evolved those early technologies. Third platform altered how we think about new product
from the revolutionary work of scientific technologies applied to knowledge we glean development. Biotechnology companies are
partnerships such as that of Cohen and from the role of specific genes in various uniquely capable of responding to the phar-
Boyer, and Kohler and Milstein, established disease states will, over the course of the macoeconomic imperatives of today’s
the foundations for the biotechnology next 20 years, create innumerable opportu- healthcare marketplace.
industry. This is the third pillar upon which nities to develop beneficial products. Many The product development efforts of
every company must be built. Today, most of these will form the technology pillar of tomorrow’s biotechnology companies will
biotechnology companies still look first to generations of new companies. be science-driven and aimed at early diag-
academia for sources of new technology. nosis, disease prevention, and improved
Academia provides a particularly fertile Measuring success therapeutics. Using the tools of biotechnol-
ground for harvesting such discoveries, the In the United States today, approximately ogy, therapies can now be developed at the
importance of which cannot be minimized. 2,000 biotechnology companies employ gene and molecular levels that will provide
Most of the experts in either emerging tech- about 130,000 people. Of these, approxi- us with better, more specific, and less costly
nologies or disease areas reside here. The mately 300 companies are publicly held and products. The emergence of genomics, the
Bayh–Dole Act, legislation that encourages 1,700 are private. About $65 billion has been process by which genes are linked to specif-
academic institutions to license discoveries invested in biotechnology to date. Taken ic diseases, is one example of this new
that emanate from federally funded together, the market value of all companies direction.
research, will most likely continue to fuel is approximately $110 billion1. Thus, overall However, as compelling as the opportu-
the biotechnology revolution. financial returns in this industry can be nities may be, the challenges associated with
Virtually from its inception, every described as modest to good. translating them into meaningful commer-
biotechnology company must have a well- If one gauges the success of these compa- cial products will remain daunting. Bio-
defined and well-articulated product focus. nies through product sales, profitability entrepreneurs who can build a company
Whether directed toward a specific technol- (earnings per share), and market value fewer grounded on the three pillars of manage-
ogy or toward a disease area, the company than a dozen have been identified as truly ment, capital, and technology, will provide
needs a clear vision of its basis for future successful. These dozen companies, each the next generation of “successes” in
revenues. What is unique to biotechnology with market valuations in excess of $1 bil- biotechnology’s rapidly evolving history.
in this regard is that a single product or two lion, have been categorized as first-tier com-
may be sufficient to create the foundation panies by the investment community. If 1. Burill, S. Personal communication.
for a large, profitable company. The great achieving first-tier valuation defines suc- 2. Brande and Ziegler. 1982. New Engl. J. Med.