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Gail Maderis, the Boston Biotech Exec Who Came Home to SF, Seeks to Give Back at BayBio

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June 2009, when she stepped down for health reasons. During her time there, the company was one of the early startups to move into San Francisco’s Mission Bay district, and built an array of partnerships with Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Boehringer Ingelheim. The company hasn’t come close to developing an FDA approved product, although it does have a lead cancer drug candidate in clinical trials.

The demands of being a startup CEO took a toll on Maderis, who was diagnosed in 2006 with multiple sclerosis, the neurodegenerative disease that can rob people over time of their vision and ability to walk. Maderis manages her condition by taking a biotech drug (she wouldn’t say which).

She had hoped to take some time off when she left Five Prime in June 2009, but it was really just a short-lived hiatus. She was on the board of BayBio, and her fellow board members, and the organization’s staff, did some “arm-twisting” to get her to take on the job of BayBio CEO when Matt Gardner resigned in October. Maderis said she figured she would do it on an interim basis until a permanent successor could be found.

But, as with her earlier experience at Genzyme and Five Prime, she found herself “hooked.” After going through the search process for a full-time CEO, the Board decided that Maderis would be the permanent CEO, albeit with an heir apparent in new chief operating officer Jeremy Leffler, whose hiring was announced in March. This means that Maderis has agreed to be sort of a half-time, semi-permanent CEO of BayBio until she hands over the top job to Leffler. When I joked that half time probably means 50 to 60 hours a week for her, she laughed.

“It’s been about 50 to 60, exactly, how did you know?” Maderis says.

That certainly is more balance between work and life than a lot of people have at startups, and Maderis knows it. She has no kids, but she made a point that she values her spare time now. She’s an avid hiker, with some favorite spots in Marin County and in the Tuolumne meadows of Yosemite National Park. She likes to go cross-country skiing (which is one big advantage to life in Boston, she concedes), and she’s also a member of gourmet cooking club.

While I tried to keep the conversation focused on her life, Maderis had the habit of bringing the spotlight back to the work of BayBio which she finds so exciting. There is public policy advocacy, support for science education, networking events to help her organization’s members, and help for startups in raising capital. She acknowledges that Boston has some advantages over the Bay Area—more big companies that insulate the region from downturns, more Big Pharma dealmakers on the prowl, to name a couple—but she insists that the entrepreneurial spirit makes San Francisco the best place in the world to start a biotech company. Her job is to keep it that way, and help take it to another level.

She sees her time at BayBio as an opportunity to make an even bigger impact for an industry that gave her an exciting career, and a therapy that helps her live an active life with a serious chronic disease.

“Having watched the industry grow up, and having benefitted from it personally and professionally, it’s a great opportunity to give back,” she says.

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