The CEO of Glaxo-Wellcome Group's Affymax Research Institute, Gordon Ringold, discusses his definition of an entrepreneur - someone who says, I can do it, not you can do it.
Ringold talks about the fundamental differences between sole entrepreneurship in the academic setting versus entrepreneurship in an industry setting: a change in dynamics from a sole activity, to teamwork from different disciplines to solve fundamental problems. Industry has learned this long before the academic environment - that you need to bring people together from various industries and disciplines, with different skill sets to solve fundamental problems, he says. It is rare that a fundamental problem, which leads to an applied product can be solved by a team of engineers only. It is the intersection of disciplines that leads to innovation and discovery - teams need to be built of different disciplines and skill sets in order to be most effective, he adds.
Ringold discusses in detail two ways of categorizing companies. Type A companies have found a solution for a fundamental problem. Technology or new approaches have been invented to help solve that problem. Type B companies, like Genentech, use old technologies in novel applications.
Ringold talks about the idea behind and the history of combinatorial chemistry to accelerate the process of drug discovery. He then talks about a technology that was invented for a different purpose but was eventually applied to the specific problem of broadly monitoring the expression of gene sequences giving birth to Affymetrix.
Ringold talks about the decision to move away from being a technology based company at Affymax to applying the technology to pharma because of the relatively small life of a leading technology. Because of lack on internal infrastructure, they decided to sell the company and put it into the hands of a bigger company that had the infrastructure and expertise to use the technology. After a global search, Glaxo bought Affymax, he says.
Ringold talks about how the pharmaceutical industry is built on failure and inefficiency and has a small success rate. This recognition led to Surromed. The low success rate is driving the consolidation of companies, which is giving rise to mega players. Now a blockbuster product has to be a multibillion product. This can only change with a change in the processes it uses. New biotech companies are starving for funding and cash, he notes.
Ringold partnered Alex Zaffaroni, a pioneer in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry, to help start biotech companies. The upshot was, they started Maxygen, run by CEO Russell Howard. This is a derivative company, using a technology invented for one purpose being applied to a whole host of other problems, says Ringold.
Ringold talks about Surromed's goals: 1) To improve the use of existing drugs and diagnostics 2) Right medicine for the right patient in the right dose at the right time. Ringold talks in detail about the limitations of diagnostic techniques and drug use today and how Surromed tries to find a solution to some of the problems. He shares a report by McKinsey which summarizes the status of drug discovery.
Ringold informs us that drugs for lowering blood pressure and those to lower cholesterol are among the leading pharmaceutical products today-and these are not treating a disease. The fundamental opportunity lies in the surrogate market, he says.
Surromed has had to adapt its business plan, downsize the company, and pair down numbers of diseases, says Ringold. Things are very different from when they started the company. To be stronger when markets open up and to start a company today, one must build slowly and be flexible, he notes.
Ringold talks about how patents are critical in different ways in different stages of a company. Patents in the early stage are very important to get a competitive edge. Ultimately, patents that are most valuable are those on composition and matter, he says.
Surromed had to change their business plan due to two reasons, says Ringold: 1) External climate 2) Lack of potential partner interest. All good startups will adapt the business plan in their life, he notes. For example, Surromed shifted to a product revenue generating model. They started to provide a service to make money which they could invest in their own discoveries. The company moved from generating equity capital to generating revenue.