Infinity’s New CEO, Veteran Dealmaker, Seeks to Deliver on Company’s Early Promise

Xconomy Boston — 

The story of Infinity Pharmaceuticals can be told through three people. Steve Holtzman got the company started, and raised the money for the company’s proprietary chemistry. Julian Adams brought the focus on cancer drugs. Now it’s up to Adelene Perkins to show that the company’s treatments work, and can be successfully marketed to patients.

At least this was the perspective from Perkins, the new CEO of the Cambridge, MA-based biotech company (NASDAQ: INFI). I sat down with her a few weeks ago at an investing conference in San Francisco to learn more about the situation she’s inheriting at Infinity and where she intends to steer this ship.

Perkins took the top job on Jan. 1, as Holtzman moved upstairs to executive chairman. She had clearly paid her dues before getting the corner office: Perkins was the main architect of a deal in November 2008 with Stamford, CT-based Purdue Pharma and its overseas affiliate, Mundipharma, which basically provided a whopping five years of operating cash.

But things took a turn for the worse in April, as Infinity halted a pivotal clinical trial of its lead cancer drug candidate when it was found to be more toxic at high doses than researchers had anticipated. The company’s stock is still down 28 percent from April 15, when it scrapped that trial of IPI-504. Now Perkins, the veteran dealmaker, has the job of finding a way forward, and to generate some hard clinical trial data that will rekindle enthusiasm for the company. She didn’t give me the impression it’s going to happen in a quarter or two, and it doesn’t involve anything radically different.

“You won’t see Infinity embark on an entirely new course,” Perkins says. “My signature is very much on the course we’ve taken to date.”

Perkins is a familiar face around Boston biotech, but I wanted to hear her tell the story of the path she took to get to this point as CEO of Infinity.

First off, she wasn’t necessarily destined to go into biotech. Perkins got an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Villanova University, then worked for a while at General Electric and got an MBA from Harvard Business School. (Interestingly, she never mentioned Harvard during our conversation, referring to it only as “business school.”)

Right out of business school, in 1985, Perkins didn’t know what she wanted to do. “My eyes had been opened to so many careers, I wondered, now where do I go?” she says. So she hedged her bets, and took a consulting job in Boston at Bain & Company, knowing that she’d get exposure to a wide range of clients and industries that would help her make up her mind. She stayed a little more than seven years, splitting her time between pharmaceutical clients, and health care providers.

“I just loved the quality of thinking that I found with my clients in the pharmaceutical space. I felt that’s where I felt at home, and inspired,” Perkins says.

By 1992, Perkins found a full-time job in the industry as one of the early pioneers—Cambridge, MA-based Genetics Institute. It was a fun time to join the biotech industry, she says, and apply a lot of that strategic thinking from business school and consulting into a new and fast changing … Next Page »

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