Listen to enough biotech industry leaders talk in public, and you’ll hear a lot of carefully scripted comments. Everyone can list off their corporate milestones on a PowerPoint slide, and utter some politically correct platitudes about novel technology, helping patients, having a “good working relationship” with the FDA, constructive partnership talks.
Blah, blah, blah.
Rarely do you see an executive really willing to stir the pot. This can be risky (look at Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz), but if more people were willing to break out of their “let’s not offend anybody today” communications rut, the biotech industry would be better off and would enjoy a broader following in the business world.
This has been on my mind for some time, but especially in the past few weeks since I wrote a BioBeat column which took Seattle-based Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) to the woodshed. That column generated way more readership than I thought it would, but curiously, far fewer published reader comments—only eight. Yet privately, at networking event after networking event, and in my e-mail inbox, I’ve gotten at least five times as many “attaboys” from readers. These people—including many industry leaders—all want to express privately that Dendreon screwed-up big time, and it was about time someone stood up and forcefully said so. Yet they are afraid to say so in public.
This past week, the sheer timidity of public discourse in biotech popped up again. It came when Vertex Pharmaceuticals CEO Matt Emmens dared to challenge an analyst with Morgan Stanley at his own firm’s investment conference, probably right in front of his bosses, in New York.
Here’s what Emmens had to say, as first reported by Peter Loftus of Dow Jones, and later picked up by FierceBiotech.
“Do you understand this company? I don’t think so,” Emmens said on stage to Morgan’s David Friedman. “By what I read, I don’t think you understand our company. I’m going to do the best I can to prove you wrong again and again, and it’s been fun, but when does it stop?”
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