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

2/9/10Follow @xconomy

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industry. “We were just beginning to commercialize drugs. So it was a matter of taking an R&D-oriented organization and helping bring those drugs to patients. That was a very exciting phase,” Perkins says.

She found a big new challenge at Genetics Institute, by co-founding and serving as president of a new business unit called DiscoverEase. The vision was to build a library of as many as 5,000 novel genes that carried instructions for certain secreted proteins. While scientists at other companies raced to grab patents on every sequence of the genome that might be useful someday, Genetics Institute took a different approach, with the idea that the proteins that arise from genetic instructions are more important. And Perkins sought to form partnerships with as many companies as possible to co-develop, and co-market drugs based on the gene sequences it had for secreted proteins. She helped form more than 50 partnerships with companies and academic labs. The business unit grew from two people to about 100. It moved into its own office space, and had commercially important functions like quality control—generally a pretty foreign concept to most R&D shops.

During that building phase within Genetics Institute, Perkins got to know Holtzman, who was then the chief business officer of Millennium.

“Steve and I found ourselves on many occasions on the same panel somewhere, and we were competing for absolutely everything,” Perkins says. “Every time I went into a partnership deal, Steve had just left, the door was closing behind him. I was trying to recruit people, and everyone I tried to recruit, Steve was trying to recruit. We were, of course, competing for patent space. The only thing we didn’t compete on, was on our approach. Millennium went with the [gene] sequence-based approach. I didn’t believe that was the right way.”

But these were friendly arguments between her and Holtzman, Perkins says. “We’d debate the relative merit of our approaches. Invariably, we’d share a cab to the airport, and we’d sit next to each other on the flight. In that process, we became great friends,” she says.

By 1997, things had changed at Genetics Insitute, as that company was acquired by Wyeth, the Madison, NJ-based pharmaceutical giant. The idea of being open and collaborative with other companies suddenly didn’t have nearly as much currency with the new bosses. “I found I am not as drawn to big companies and centralized decision making,” Perkins says. “I decided to move on where I could have a smaller, more entrepreneurial environment.”

So she left in 1999 to help start TransForm Pharmaceuticals, a Lexington, MA-based company that eventually was acquired by Johnson & Johnson for $230 million in 2005. The goal there was to develop better chemical formulations of pharmaceuticals. In 2002, after Holtzman called her and asked her to join his new startup at the time, Infinity, she left.

“I was much more inspired by breakthrough science. The formulation piece wasn’t quite as impactful for me,” Perkins says.

Holtzman, who was listed as 55 in last year’s Infinity proxy report, told her as far back as those initial conversations that Infinity was going to be his last startup. The genomics bubble had burst, and the new idea was to use 3-D chemistry techniques to make drugs that were more likely to fit with the rapidly expanding knowledge of genes and protein targets on cells. Chemistry wasn’t keeping up to biology at the time. “It was like the biology of targets was like a lock, and the keys that were being used were like credit cards. They just didn’t fit,” Perkins says. Infinity wanted drugs that “look more like the lock.”

Holtzman put together the strategy, and assembled a team of heavy hitters … Next Page »

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