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thought about Genzyme as a company that was built to be sold,” said a former Genzyme unit president, who worked for Termeer at the company for over a decade. “He built the company to survive and be a stand-alone biotech organization.”
Genzyme, though known as the world’s largest maker of drugs for rare genetic diseases, has for most of its 29-year history been a diversified life sciences company with multiple businesses. Analysts have criticized the company for hanging on to business units outside of therapeutics because they are not as profitable. Yet Termeer had defended the diversification of the company as important to its stability, the former Genzyme unit president said. The diversification strategy is one of the ways Genzyme has stood out from its biotech peers, many of whom rely on just one drug or a small handful of related products.
Termeer’s legacy, which was cemented well before the recent manufacturing troubles, is based on his vision and Genzyme’s leadership in developing drugs for rare diseases that had been previously ignored by the pharmaceutical industry. Genzyme’s drug imiglucerase (Cerezyme) for the genetic disorder Gaucher’s disease treats an illness that affects fewer than 10,000 Americans. But it has become the company’s biggest money-maker because it commands a price of about $200,000 per patient annually.
“He’s revolutionized the way people look at rare genetic disorders,” said Bob Coughlin, the president and CEO of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, the state’s leading industry group for life sciences businesses. (Coughlin’s son has cystic fibrosis, an inherited genetic disease.) “Henri figured out a way to make it work.”
Yet it might have been a sign of Termeer’s loosening grip on the reins of Genzyme, in the wake of the problems in Allston and the proxy fight with Icahn, that the CEO laid out plans in May to sell three of the firm’s non-therapeutics business units, giving up some of the firm’s diversification. After agreeing to sell the genetic testing unit to Burlington, NC-based Laboratory Corporation of America (NYSE:LH) for $925 million this month, Genzyme still has its diagnostics and pharmaceutical intermediaries businesses on the block.
There are also varying opinions on whether Termeer or Icahn won their high-profile proxy skirmish, which ended with … Next Page »