New Blood: Biotech CEOs Bring Fresh Experience to Houston Ecosystem

Xconomy Texas — 

Houston—A number of Houston biotech companies have new leadership at the helm.

These leadership changes include a few executives like Lonnel Coats, CEO of Lexicon Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: LXRX), who have relocated to Houston from the East and West coasts—homes of more established and successful biotech ecosystems.

“We had the ability to move the company to New Jersey, or stay in Texas,” says Coats, who recently moved from New Jersey to Lexicon’s headquarters in the northern suburbs of Houston.

But ultimately, Coats says he decided he would move instead and keep the company’s Texas roots intact. The biotech’s first drug, telotristat ethyl (Xermelo), which treats diarrhea from carcinoid syndrome, was discovered at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine and its first investor is a Texan. “There was no reason to change the foundation of that,” he says.

For Ann Tanabe, CEO of life sciences trade group BioHouston, that sentiment is a sign of a growing momentum in the further development of the city’s life sciences ecosystem. In addition to Coats, both Tom Luby, the new head of JLabs’ Houston outpost and Erik Halvorsen, director of TMC’s Innovation Institute, were both recruited to Texas from posts in Cambridge, MA.

“We’re starting to get people from other hubs and ecosystems coming to Houston and that’s going to help us,” she says. “There is that buzz with [people] like this making the career move to come here. People are taking notice.”

That buzz is something that Tanabe says Houston needs if its biotech community is going to be able to grow into a fully mature biotech community on par with Boston or San Diego. While Houston is known for its research and scientific prowess—namely at institutions at the Texas Medical Center—and a capital network with the dollars to fund good ideas and transform them into marketable products, city has lacked a seasoned group of executives that can shepherd that process.

A region can’t become a top biotech hub if “much of your leadership is commuting from the coasts,” says Rick Fair, a former Genentech executive who became CEO of Bellicum Pharmaceuticals in January—and is commuting from his home in San Francisco.

Still, the Houston biotech community has recently seen an infusion of new blood. Nestor Molfino’s resume includes running his own biotech consultancy, being the … Next Page »

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