George Scangos, the Boy From Working Class Boston, on His Road Back to Lead Biogen Idec
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of the New York Times, and the major newsmagazines.
Scangos was in Baltimore when the Times’ story broke, interviewing for a faculty job at Johns Hopkins University. Ruddle was in Europe. “I got a call from Frank, and he said ‘you better get back to New Haven, there’s going to be a big press conference.’ I had no media training, what did I know as a postdoc? But I got on a train to back to New Haven, there were 30-40 reporters asking questions.”
Gordon got most of the credit for the advance, but it didn’t hold back Scangos’ academic career. He took a faculty job in biology in 1980 at Johns Hopkins, where he stayed full time for six years.
The biotech business was gaining momentum in the early to mid-80s, but Scangos was only dimly aware of it. As proof, he says he and Gordon didn’t file any intellectual property on the transgenic mouse work.
The lure of biotech finally got to Scangos in 1986. His old mentor, Ruddle, was part of a team starting a company originally called Molecular Diagnostics in New Haven, with financial backing from Bayer. Scangos took a yearlong sabbatical from Hopkins to join them. “I had a safety net. I could try it, and if it was awful, I could say thank you very much and go back” to Hopkins, Scangos says.
Once he re-settled in at New Haven, with people he knew from his earlier days in the Ruddle lab, he was hooked. “It was so much fun. The science was really good. We did very high-level science. I thought it was compelling to try to develop drugs not just for the knowledge, but to use it for a practical purpose,” Scangos says.
So he stayed, resigning his faculty position. Colleagues in academia, predictably, weren’t pleased. But Scangos didn’t look back. Within three years, by 1989, he was tapped for bigger things, invited to come get some international experience at Bayer headquarters in Germany. The goal for Bayer was to have Scangos help modernize its labs there, while also offering him some valuable management experience.
By this time, Scangos and his wife had two young daughters, and his wife was finishing her doctorate and embarking on her own career. So there were factors to consider besides his own advancement. Scangos remembers discussing the move after the kids went to bed, only to be peppered with a bunch of questions by his 9-year-old who knew something was up. Scangos says his daughter wanted to know how long they’d stay (2 years, he promised); whether the schools were good (yes); whether they’d come back to New Haven (yes); and whether they’d move back into their old house (yes). Family approval was secured.
Two years later, as promised, Scangos was back in the U.S. taking on increasingly bigger roles in Bayer R&D. But by the mid ’90s, Bayer was increasing its bets on biotech, and the place to be was Berkeley, CA. For a while Scangos oversaw some of the work from New Haven—sensibly located between Germany and California—but he soon gravitated to where the action was at Bayer’s Berkeley operation.
By the time he was considering the move, Scangos’ older daughter was entering high school, and his younger daughter was entering junior high. They extracted a promise: if they moved … Next Page »