The Best Biotech Graduate Schools in Real Life

9/23/13Follow @xconomy

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the new team is good, in different ways,” Sato says. Biogen has enjoyed a resurgence the past couple years under CEO George Scangos, who has two other former biotech CEOs on his staff, including Steve Holtzman and Doug Williams. Notable Biogen alumni in top executive roles today include Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY) CEO John Maraganore, Cubist Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CBST) CEO Mike Bonney, and Syros Pharmaceuticals CEO Nancy Simonian.

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals. Cambridge-based Alnylam was a pick that surprised me, because it’s still in the development stage, and doesn’t yet have any of its own marketed products, meaning it can’t offer a fully integrated set of experiences. Sato also notes that she once served on Alnylam’s board of directors. But she stuck with this pick because of the quality of people it has brought together, and the way it is structured to challenge people to grow. “John (Maraganore) has a very distinctive leadership style,” Sato says. “His people matter to him, and people come out of there.” Notable alumni include Epizyme (NASDAQ: EPZM) president Jason Rhodes.

Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INFI). Cambridge-based Infinity, like Alnylam, is a mid-sized public company that has big dreams, but no products on the market. It has spent a lot of money, and insists on building a great company for the long run. Sometimes those facts irritate its shareholder base. But Sato says Infinity, a cancer drug developer, is a great place for people to gain skill in the industry. “[Infinity president and CEO] Adelene Perkins is a very good mentor,” Sato says. Notable alumni include: David Grayzel, the managing director of Atlas Venture Development Corp., and Nora Therapeutics CEO Jeffrey Tong.

Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG). The Summit, NJ-based company gets rave remarks from HBS students who have interned there, according to Sato. “They have come away from summer experiences very well trained and curious. Many get hired back. Celgene has been a magnet for HBS students. Students often report back they’ve had challenging and supportive experiences,” she says. Notable alumni: Sarepta Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SRPT) CEO Chris Garabedian.

Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD). The Foster City, CA-based biotech company has long struggled to diversify beyond its core HIV drug franchise, but it has broken out of that box the past several years through its acquisitions of Pharmasset and Calistoga Pharmaceuticals. Gilead also has three senior managers—CEO John Martin, COO John Milligan, and CSO Norbert Bischofberger—who have worked together so long they can probably read each others’ minds. “They are innovative and aggressive in a Gilead sort of way,” Sato says. Notable alumni: Garabedian, and Andrew Hindman, CEO of Tobira Therapeutics. [Updated 9/24 to add Hindman]

[Updated 9/23] Millennium Pharmaceuticals. Millennium has always been controversial in certain quarters of biotech as one of the companies that helped inflate the genomics bubble of 2000. But while that was going on, Millennium attracted lots of smart, ambitious people to its science and patient-driven culture. It has spun out many strong industry leaders over the years, and a few readers who have worked there tell me it remains a great “graduate school” for biotech, even five years after its acquisition by Takeda. Notable alumni include: EnVivo Pharmaceuticals CEO Deborah Dunsire; Syros Pharmaceuticals CEO Nancy Simonian; Moderna Therapeutics CSO Joe Bolen; Third Rock Ventures partners Mark Levin, Kevin Starr, and Bob Tepper; Infinity Pharmaceuticals president of R&D Julian Adams; Bluebird Bio CEO Nick Leschly, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals president and COO Barry Greene.

[Updated 5 pm ET 9/24] Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS). CEO Richard Pops has been driving for years to get Alkermes into the class of Big Biotechs, and a lot of graduates have gone on to bigger jobs after getting critical early experience at Dublin, Ireland and Waltham, MA-based Alkermes. Notable alumni include: Duncan Higgons, COO of Agios Pharmaceuticals; Katrine Bosley, an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Broad Institute and former CEO of Avila Therapeutics; Jim Wright, chief scientific officer of Bind Therapeutics; Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo; and Trevor Mundel, president of global health, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

[Updated 2 pm ET 9/30] Cubist Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CBST). Sato wrote a follow-up note to add the Lexington, MA-based antibiotics developer to the list. She recently recommended Cubist to one of her students. “Of midsize companies that do the commercial/regulatory/reimbursement thing thoughtfully…and of companies with thoughtful exec teams…they are a strong player,” Sato wrote. Cubist also has plenty of interesting work on its hands, as it recently acquired a couple smaller antibiotics companies.  

South San Francisco-based Genentech: I’ve heard many comments lamenting the demise of Genentech’s famous science-first culture. Others are more sanguine that the best days aren’t all in the past. “The jury is still out,” Sato says. “I’d like to think Genentech will continue,” to be a training ground for biotech leaders. There are a lot of notable GenenExers, but one notable recent grad is David Schenkein, the CEO of Cambridge-based Agios Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AGIO).

Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX). The Cambridge-based biotech company attracted lots of smart, ambitious people when it was getting going in the early 1990s, and quite a few have graduated to leadership roles in other companies. I actually wrote a story about top Vertex alumni in 2010 that you can look to for a list of names. Since then, Vertex has gotten two FDA approvals of new products. “If they’re doing it right, it should be an even better place because there are more experiences to get,” Sato says. One notable Vertex alum, Eric Olson of Kalydeco fame, has recently moved on to be the chief scientist of Watertown, MA-based Syros Pharmaceuticals.

San Rafael, CA-based BioMarin Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: BMRN) and Tarrytown, NY-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: REGN) didn’t make Sato’s list because she said she’s not familiar enough with them. But BioMarin has hatched a couple of entrepreneurs recently in Emil Kakkis, the CEO of Novato, CA-based Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical and Matthew Patterson, the CEO of San Francisco-based Audentes Therapeutics. Carlsbad, CA-based Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISIS) also gets what you might call an honorable mention from Sato, even though it is more of a training ground for industry scientists than it is for executives. “Excellent science types have come out of Isis to fuel this RNA generation. Everyone looks to Isis to poach talent,” Sato says.

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  • Chris

    Maybe append the story title “According to an HBS Professor!”

  • Bumejecy

    Good to know about that kind of people. That kind of course is really hard especially if you only have a little amount of interest on that kind of course.