[Updated: 11:50 am, 8/27/12] Genetics Institute stopped making biotech headlines a long time ago. But almost 15 years after it was acquired, this high-flier from the industry’s first big wave in the 1980s is still having a ripple effect on the Boston biotech scene. It was one of the key companies that recruited, inspired, and mentored a generation of young scientists and business people in Boston.
GI, as it is known, was founded in 1980 by a couple of scientists from Harvard University, Mark Ptashne and Tom Maniatis, and got going as a business the next year with the addition of Gabriel Schmergel, a former Baxter Healthcare executive, as CEO. The company developed a reputation for first-rate science along with Genentech, another industry pioneer. It grew to 600 employees and a $1 billion market valuation by 1991, before its devastating loss in a patent lawsuit with Amgen. Rather than resort to mass layoffs, GI sold a majority ownership stake to Wyeth in 1992, and was then taken over completely in December 1996. At the end of its independence, 1,200 people worked at Genetics Institute.
Many of the people who now lead emerging biotech companies in Boston—Tuan Ha-Ngoc of Aveo Pharmaceuticals, Adelene Perkins of Infinity Pharmaceuticals, and John Knopf of Acceleron Pharma, to name a few—got their start at Genetics Institute. They still rave about what an amazing experience it was, and how the things they learned there influence them today in how they run their companies.
“This is something I’m particularly proud of,” says Schmergel, reached at his home in Florida. “A whole bunch of people have spun out of there. Some have done incredibly well. And this is a tough business.”
Schmergel—an investor in Xconomy, it must be noted—says Ptashne and Maniatis deserve the credit for establishing a culture that valued top-notch science. But even though he sometimes struggled to understand all of the science himself, he made sure that everybody in the company, not just scientists, respected it. “I used to tell our business guys that you don’t have to be a scientist in biotech, but you better be science-friendly and learn as much as you can because it’s the basis of the company,” Schmergel says.
To get a sense of where the Genetics Institute family tree extends today, I’ve sought to put together a directory with links to help GI alumni connect and re-connect. I want this list to include not just mover-shaker types, but also the rank-and-file who have moved on to other places since the Wyeth takeover in December 1996. The list includes 270 names at last count, and I expect it to grow over time. I owe thanks for help with this project to Schmergel, Infinity’s Perkins, Gina Nugent of The Yates Network, and three guys from Acceleron Pharma—Bob Steininger, Matt Sherman, and Jack Morgan.
Now here’s the part where you can help. If you see any information below that’s out of date or incorrect, please let me know and I’ll fix it. If you have any questions, comments, or new information, please send me a note at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over time, I hope this story can become a richer and more valuable resource for Genetics Institute alumni. Here’s the list I’ve put together in alphabetical order, with the most updated titles and affiliations I found online.
Joan Abrams, biotechnology teacher, Cambridge Public Schools
Kate Adams, vice president of diagnostics marketing, HistoRx
Robert Adamson, retired, former vice president, Pfizer
Tim Ahern, science and regulatory consultant, Acceleron Pharma
Leslie Alessandri, scientist, Abbott Bioresearch Center [Added: 10:40 am, 5/20/10]
Dean Alger, senior director, regulatory affairs, Genzyme. Retiring in May. [Added: 10:05 am, 3/23/10]
Jayne Allard, US Benefits & Retirement Specialist at Lonza [Added: 5:30 pm, 10/28/11]
Joel Alvarez, associate director, global regulatory operations, Shire Human Genetic Therapies
Juan Alvarez, senior director, discovery research and biologics, Alkermes [Added: 9:45 pm, 3/22/10]
John Amari, associate director, Syntonix Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Biogen Idec [Added: 12:05 am, 4/2/10]
Godfrey Amphlett, executive director, process and product development, ImmunoGen [Added: 12:05 am, 4/2/10]
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