Dendreon CEO John Johnson: ‘This is My Last Stop’

4/17/12Follow @xconomy

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I’d like to leave, working with these guys, and leaving a mark on how patients are treated around the world, not just here in the States.

X: Last stop? How old are you?

JJ: I’m (pause) 54. This will be my last one. I see this as a chance to take this product around the world. We have a great platform. I can make my contributions and sit back and let others take the reins.

X: Since you came in on the first of February, it’s been just a little over two months, you’ve probably been through a series of meetings to understand the business and get a sense of what’s under the hood. What impressions have you had so far that may have surprised you coming from the 30,000-foot view you get from the board?

JJ: A couple things. First, it’s not just been about being in meetings. From Day 0.5, I went to ASCO-GU and met with customers for four days. I’ve been to each of the [manufacturing] plants. I’ve been spending time here, in Seattle.

No. 1, I think we’ve accomplished a lot. When you’re on the board, it’s one thing. To actually see people in action, and look at what they’ve done, and talk to customers, you get a different story. For me, I looked at it, and said “Wow, I don’t think people realize how complicated this business is, our business with Provenge.”

X: When you say “people,” who do you mean?

JJ: The broader industry. What Bob [Poulton] and Heidi [Hagen] and their teams deserve a lot of credit for is, people kind of view it like another drug. As if it’s just another drug. It’s not. There’s a detailed process that has to happen both logistically and otherwise. I remember being in other companies and thinking, “How the heck are they going to manage this?” I think there were a lot of doubts in the marketplace about how Dendreon would do that. But what’s funny is that I’ve been in a couple dozen investor meetings, and I haven’t had a single question about logistics. People take it for granted now. That’s the biggest testament there is for Bob [Poulton] and his crew.

Robert Poulton, Dendreon's EVP of technical operations

So one impression is that these guys really do a great job of making a complex process look easy. The second impression is that while I knew we were focusing on cost of goods, I knew Greg [Schiffman] had been working on it, but when I came here and saw what you’ll see today, and I went out into the plants, the positive surprise for me was that I got more confidence we could hit those cost-of-goods targets.

I met with the people at each of the plants, and was really impressed with the passion of the people there. Everbody, even at the plants, is all about the patient. In the oncology business, I think there’s much more passion than most businesses, but I’ll tell you walking in the door at Dendreon, the passion about the patients is more palpable than any place I’ve been. At the plant level, that really struck me. I did town halls in each of them, and as I took questions, I heard a lot of stories from people. They all wanted to show me what they do and how they are innovating. There’s a pride there about their ability to do something good for patients. Part of that is because you’re bringing part of that patient in. People take it really seriously.

When I went to ASCO-GU, I was very pleasantly surprised with the way the thought leaders are thinking about the space with the new competition coming in. It was not surprising, but they are viewing prostate cancer much like other cancers where they look at different therapies and try to use them sequentially. Our job is to make sure Provenge is the foundation of care, and put on board first. What was clear to me was that really there’s not an either/or question, with [J&J's] Zytiga or Provenge, or Zytiga or Provenge and then Medivation’s compound. They really view these all as arrows in their quiver. They will sequence them. We didn’t talk to any analysts there, but the analysts who were there took their first-quarter sales estimates up, because they were there and heard the same thing.

X: Those are good things that you saw, but what do you think needed to change? You brought in your own team, you’ve reorganized the reporting structure a bit, and other things.

JJ: You have to look at the crossroads we’re at. We’re at a crossroads that only successful biotechs get to. That comes when you get your first product over the finish line, launch it in your own country, and then you get to a crossroad where you ask yourself, “How do we grow this business?” It’s not just that first product, but it’s all … Next Page »

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