Biotech Jet-Setter, Chris Rivera, Aims to Build Washington’s Life Sciences Cluster, Part 1

1/12/09Follow @xconomy

Washington state’s life sciences trade group has a new boss, Chris Rivera, who has made a career in the high-pressure world of sales and marketing of new biotech drugs. Rivera’s new challenge, starting this month, is to help strengthen this region’s broader industry cluster as president of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association.

Rivera, 47, has made a home with his family in the Seattle area since 1985, but he’s spent much of the past two decades on airplanes and in hotels. It’s given him a Rolodex full of industry insiders he’s met while working for a leading biotech company (Cambridge, MA-based Genzyme), a modest success story in the San Francisco Bay Area (Tercica), and a startup (CEO of San Francisco-based Hyperion Therapeutics). Five years ago, he even had a brief run in marketing at a Seattle-based company, Corixa, where he took some lumps, struggling to gin up sales of that company’s first approved product.

Since he’s done most of his work behind the scenes, Rivera is still very much in the getting-to-know-you phase with many in local industry circles. But he clearly has some unique thoughts on how to fix the traditional model of biotech, and the relative strengths of Washington state versus the top-tier hubs in the San Francisco Bay Area and Boston. To get a sense of how he’s thinking, here’s the first part of a 30-minute interview from his office in Seattle.

Xconomy: The conventional wisdom says biotech is in big trouble nationally, and locally as well. Why take a job like this?

Chris Rivera: I’ve been in biotech since 1989. It’s a phenomenal industry. It’s changed in that time frame. The model of taking something from the lab to the Street is probably, if not obsolete, close to it. It’s going to be hard for another Genentech or Genzyme to come up. It’s too costly. That being said, Big Pharma and Big Biotech, need to fill their pipelines with innovative products. That’s being developed in academia, and research institutes here, and with entrepreneurs here. The industry is consolidating, but there’s still great opportunity for new startups and innovation.

For me, from a personal standpoint, my daughter wants to go into biomedical research. I hope that if she chooses to go into industry, if she wants to stay in the Seattle market, that there will be a thriving industry here. I’ve been like the kid in “Miracle on 34th Street,” looking in the window at Macy’s since 1989, waiting to play with the cool toys. This is my opportunity now to make a difference in the marketplace here.

X: What skills do you bring to this job that are different from your predecessor, or other people in other parts of the country that do this kind of work?

CR: I’ve actually started and built divisions of companies. I know what it takes. I have a track record … Next Page »

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