Vertex CEO on Building a Blockbuster, Genzyme Investor on Fixing Up the Firm, Cubist CEO on Pipeline and Patent Challenges, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy Boston — 

If in-depth interviews with some of the heaviest hitters in the New England life sciences industry are your cup of tea, this was the week for you.

—Ryan had a fascinating chat with Jorge Conde, co-founder and CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Knome, about how the startup is evolving in the rapidly evolving field of personal genomics. Just two years ago, Knome, which was co-founded by Harvard geneticist George Church, charged $350,000 to sequence a customer’s genome and interpret the data. Now it’s charging $68,500—reflecting the rapid drop in the cost of sequencing—and trying to find a way to get back in the black.

—Bruce scored an interview with Ralph V. Whitworth, the co-founder of San Diego-based Relational Investors, which has recently amassed a 4 percent stake in Cambridge-based Genzyme (NASDAQ:GENZ). Whitworth, whose firm recently reached a “mutual cooperation agreement” with Genzyme, outlined the six things he thinks Genzyme needs to do to realize its intrinsic value—and offered his assessment of how well the Cambridge firm’s management is meeting each of those goals.

—Luke caught up with Alan Sachs of Merck, which in 2006 paid a whopping $1.1 billion to acquire Sirna Therapeutics, a competitor of Cambridge-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY) in the field of RNA interference. Sachs, who leads Merck’s RNA therapeutics efforts, agreed with Alnylam CEO John Maraganore that RNAi will prove its therapeutic power in the coming decade, but emphasized that figuring out how to deliver RNAi-based drugs is a formidable challenge.

American Well CEO Roy Schoenberg talked to Ryan about what his Boston-based company has learned in just over a year of operating a system that lets users consult with doctors over the Internet. A couple of interesting trends: the majority of patients who seek care through American Well’s system are women, and just over half of the online doctor visits are for allergies, aches, colds, and other routine ailments, though the system includes physicians from some 23 medical specialties.

Michael Bonney, the CEO of Cubist Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:CBST) spoke frankly to Ryan about his Lexington, MA-based company’s lack of an encore after the success of its first drug, the antibiotic daptomycin (Cubicin). Allowing that the company “could have been a little more aggressive at pipeline building earlier than we started to,” Bonney discussed the company’s efforts to do so now, in part through acquisitions, and to defend daptomycin against generic competition.

—Ryan checked in with Cambridge-based Millennium a few weeks after it forged a major collaboration with Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ:SGEN). The deal, which gives Millennium rights to market the Seattle firm’s drug for Hodgkin’s and other lymphomas in all markets outside the U.S. and Canada, is one of several indications of how Millennium’s clout has grown since it became the cancer R&D arm of Japanese drug giant Takeda Pharmaceutical Company in May 2008, Ryan explains.

—Luke scored a long-sought-after interview with Matt Emmens, who took the reins of Cambridge-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:VRTX) last May. Emmens talked about his surprising path to the Vertex helm, and his big goals for the company—chief among them launching its hepatitis C drug, telaprevir, on a blockbuster trajectory.