Profiles in Perseverance: Building Biotechs to Last. Coming Dec. 9

Xconomy San Francisco — 

What does it take to build an independent biotech with legs? When should a company hold on through tough times? When is it a better idea to make a quick run for the exit?

These are some of the tough questions that biotech leaders wrestle with all the time, and which we are planning to dig into at the next big Xconomy biotech event in San Francisco. This event, “Profiles in Perseverance: Building Biotechs to Last” is set for the afternoon of Dec. 9 at Genentech Hall, on UCSF’s Mission Bay campus.

We have a terrific lineup of executives who can talk about challenges they’ve faced in trying to build companies for the long term, in a short-term world.

Here’s who you can expect to hear from on Dec. 9.

Jean-Jacques Bienaime, CEO of San Rafael, CA-based BioMarin Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: BMRN). Bienaime joined BioMarin in May 2005, when the company was worth about $450 million and had about 360 employees. Today, it’s worth more than $9.5 billion, and has more than 1,000 employees. Rumors circulated last month that BioMarin might get bought out by Roche, but were soon dismissed. Last month, the company did a $750 million convertible debt financing. That’s the kind of the thing a company might do when it’s looking to build long-term, not dress itself up for an acquisition. I’ll be sure to ask “JJ” about why he thinks it makes sense for BioMarin to go this route.

Kim Popovits, CEO of Genomic Health

Kim Popovits, CEO of Genomic Health

Kim Popovits, CEO of Redwood City, CA-based Genomic Health (NASDAQ: GHDX). Popovits runs one of the big success stories in molecular diagnostics, a company widely admired by executives within its industry. Yet when hard-boiled financial analysts look at this company, they see an operation that has boosted total revenues past $235 million a year, but still ekes out a profit margin of less than $10 million a year. Genomic Health continues to plow its cash flow back into the business, recently investing big in a new test for prostate cancer patients.

Stanley Crooke, CEO of Carlsbad, CA-based Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISIS). Crooke has been at the helm of Isis since 1989—an eternity in the fast-moving world of biotech. Isis, the indefatigable developer of targeted antisense drugs, has encountered as many doubters along the way as any company in the business. It has burned through more than $900 million in its history. It still churns out red ink on a regular basis. Yet it has secured a number of big partnerships in recent years. What has kept Crooke at it all these years? Why?

Chris Garabedian, CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Sarepta Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SRPT). Garabedian is the new kid on this long-term block, as an executive who got his first CEO job at the end of 2010. That was a moment in time when people laughed out loud at anyone who said they wanted to build a company for the long term. But Garabedian has spoken repeatedly about his desire to build an RNA-based drug developer for the long haul, and taken some pretty daring risks to execute the plan. Garabedian could find out as soon as next year if the gamble was a wise one, as Sarepta plans to seek FDA approval of an important new treatment for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

Bryan Roberts, partner, Venrock Associates

Bryan Roberts, partner, Venrock Associates

Bryan Roberts, partner with Venrock Associates in Palo Alto, CA. As a venture capitalist, Roberts sits on a lot of boards of private companies that need to think about how to balance long-term goals with short-term needs. Roberts is the chairman of Cambridge, MA-based Ironwood Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: IRWD), an operation that has said it wants to be a great independent company for a long, long time. But Roberts can also speak to the trade-offs at another portfolio company, Intarcia Therapeutics, which recently chose to stay independent and raise a daunting $210 million to pursue its plans to develop an implantable drug/device combo product for diabetes.

Bob More, senior advisor for venture investing at the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. More, a former venture capitalist with Frazier Healthcare Ventures, is now charged with thinking about returns that aren’t purely financial. The Gates Foundation, the world’s richest charitable organization, doesn’t care about boosting IRR next quarter or next year—it’s supposed to be about extending lives and improving quality of life for millions of poor people around the world. That kind of change doesn’t happen overnight. How does More intend to harness the talent and energy in for-profit biotech companies, to work on some of these problems that don’t fit the standard investment model?

David Shaywitz, director of strategic and commercial planning at South San Francisco-based Theravance (NASDAQ: THRX), and the co-author with Xconomist Lisa Suennen of a new book called Tech Tonics. Shaywitz, a physician/scientist and a popular industry commentator on, has graciously agreed to join the event as a guest interviewer/moderator. I have no doubt he’ll be ready with a few pertinent questions for our great set of speakers.

As always, we’ll leave plenty of time for people in the audience to ask questions during the program, and during networking breaks. Discounted “early bird” tickets are available until Oct. 29, so it’s a good idea to reserve your seat now. I’ll look forward to a lively conversation in San Francisco on Dec. 9.