Biotech pioneer Ted Greene was a little teary-eyed when he stepped to the lectern last week to acknowledge his role as the founder of a San Diego biomedical diagnostics startup called Hybritech—and the parade of life sciences companies that followed.
“I would like to thank the wonderful people who joined me on the wonderful adventures we’ve had,” Greene said upon his official induction into the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame by Connect, the San Diego nonprofit founded to promote technology and entrepreneurship. Greene was hailed as the founding CEO of Hybritech, a San Diego startup that developed a monoclonal antibody assay system that opened the way to a new generation of immunodiagnostics—including a pioneering diagnostic test for prostate cancer.
Under Greene and David Hale, who succeeded him as CEO, Hybritech grew to more than 800 employees, and in a landmark deal, was acquired by Eli Lilly for more than $400 million in 1986. Greene subsequently co-founded Biovest Partners with Tim Wollaeger, another Hybritech executive. Over the next two years, Biovest provided seed capital and leadership for six medical technology startups that all became public companies: Amylin, Cytel, Pyxis, Neurex, Biosite Diagnostics, and Vical (four have been acquired).
Greene became the founding CEO at Amylin Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AMLN), which was started in 1987 to development and commercialize new drug candidates for the treatment of diabetes—a quest that culminated in 2005 with FDA approval of exenatide (Byetta) and pramlintide acetate (Symlin). Amylin recently won FDA clearance for a longer-lasting form of exenatide (Bydureon), which is the first diabetes medicine that can be injected just once a week.
“I think Ted’s legacy will be in the companies he’s had a direct influence on,” said Hale, who introduced Greene at the luncheon ceremony Thursday. “Over 100 companies have been founded or funded by the executive management team at Hybritech, the team that has helped develop the life sciences industry in San Diego.”
Some other memorable moments from the ceremony:
—In an on-stage interview with San Diego broadcast personality Jane Mitchell, Greene said he grew up in a middle-class family in the Cleveland area. His father was a physicist who invented the hard rubber de-icers mounted on the forward edge of airplane wings. “The B.F. Goodrich Co. paid him a dollar for it,” Greene recalled.
—Greene was recruited at age 24 to work at Illinois-based Baxter International, where he stayed for seven years before leaving to start Cytex Laboratories. “Probably the most important thing I learned at Baxter was that I did not fit in a big company,” Greene said. “I was terribly frustrated by having to work through the system when it was terribly obvious to me what the solution should be.”
—Yet Greene also said, “If I had to pick one individual or person who had the greatest influence on me, it would have to be Bill Graham,” the longtime Baxter chairman and CEO who died in 2006. “He would give young people ridiculous responsibility. He would take some 28-year-old guy and say, ‘You’re in charge of Germany.'”
—In running biotech startups, Greene said, “You have to believe in what you’re doing. You have to have a need, a passion, a belief. You have to persevere. You have to be a religious fanatic.” Greene also said it’s important to “hire people who are smarter than you are. No one person has in their head all the horsepower that you need to get these things done, especially in the medical field,” which he described as, “a nightmare of complexity.”
—Several speakers remembered how Greene compared his management style to Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur, saying, “Just hang on and let the horses run.”
—In a video tribute to Greene, Jim Blair of the life sciences venture firm Domain Associates says, “Ted went to Harvard Business School. But he doesn’t think like a Harvard Business School guy. He thinks completely out of the box.”
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