Gail Maderis, the Boston Biotech Exec Who Came Home to SF, Seeks to Give Back at BayBio

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Gail Maderis built a career as a biotech executive in Boston, where she got involved early enough to help shape the rules of the industry that companies live under today. But after more than two decades in New England, Maderis has become one of the key players in the San Francisco Bay Area, the place where she grew up, seeking to make sure northern California remains the world’s No. 1 cluster for biotech.

“I had heard about it for years, but you really have to live it to understand just how entrepreneurial we are here in the Bay Area,” Maderis says. “When I moved here in 2003, I’d say if you lined up 10 random job applicants in Boston or out here in San Francisco, about eight of 10 in Boston would go to a large pharma or large biotech given a choice between a startup and a large company. Out here, eight out of 10 would go to the startup.”

That entrepreneurial fire, Maderis says, is what makes the Bay Area special. “When you look at almost every new trend, from personalized medicine, to stem cells, to health IT, we’re way out ahead in the Bay Area relative to Boston and the rest of the East Coast.”

That kind of comment could be dismissed as bluster from another local trade association boss who lacks global perspective, but Maderis doesn’t fit that mold. Maderis, 52, is a native of the Bay Area who came back home after a two-decade run that took her through Harvard Business School, Bain & Company, and the executive ranks at Genzyme as that company became a biotech powerhouse in the 1990s and early 2000s. After a six-year run as the CEO of a Kleiner Perkins-backed biotech startup, Five Prime Therapeutics, she now finds herself as the CEO of the Bay Area’s biotech trade association, BayBio. I sat down with Maderis a few weeks ago at BayBio’s offices to ask her about the life journey that has led her to become such a vital builder, organizer, and promoter of northern California’s biotech cluster.

Maderis’s education in the healthcare system and her journey toward biotech started when she was a young girl growing up in the East Bay. Her mother worked for the city of Berkeley in public health as a nurse practitioner. Young Gail was intrigued by science then, but not in the same way as her identical twin sister, Ann. The two sisters stayed close to home to attend UC Berkeley in the late ’70s, where they made their fateful career choices. Ann would become the scientist, and Gail would be the businesswoman. Maderis’ sister, now known as Ann Stock, went on to a distinguished career as of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators at the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“When she decided to be a scientist, I dropped all my courses and never looked back. I got a business degree,” Maderis says.

Maderis was one of the ace students at the Haas School of Business, graduating with honors in 1978. The biotech revolution was just getting started across the Bay at Genentech in South San Francisco, but she didn’t join the industry in those early days. Out of Berkeley, Maderis took a job at Shell Oil in Houston, TX where she controlled financial reporting for a $4 billion subsidiary. Four years later, she left to get her MBA at Harvard Business School, where she got exposed to healthcare strategy under the noted professor Michael Porter in the mid-’80s. That ticket to the big-time world of business brought her to a consulting job with Bain & Co. By this time, the first generation of biotech companies—Genentech, Amgen, Chiron, Biogen, Immunex—had all made headlines in the heady early days of the industry when anything seemed possible. Except the companies were burning loads of cash, had nothing much of substance to sell, and couldn’t afford to hire expensive consultants like Maderis and her team at Bain.

The way Maderis got hooked on biotech was more through the back door, through pharma companies that were essentially late to the party. “Pharma companies and healthcare providers then were looking at ‘what is biotech and how do we get into it?'” she says.

Digging into the biotech industry in the late ’80s and early ’90s taught Maderis … Next Page »

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