Globe 100 Innovators | Biotech and Pharmaceutical

The artful deal

Former Genzyme chief Henri A. Termeer is top innovator in biotech

Henri A. Termeer Henri A. Termeer (Illustration by Joel Kimmel for The Boston Globe)
May 22, 2011

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1. Henri A. Termeer, former chief executive, GenzymeBiotechnology legend Henri A. Termeer, who built Genzyme Corp. in Cambridge into the largest drug maker in Massachusetts, is best known for spearheading the development of treatments for rare genetic disorders at a time when other pharmaceutical companies were focusing on drugs for larger patient populations.

But Termeer, 65, who retired from Genzyme last month after selling the company to France’s Sanofi-Aventis SA for $20.1 billion, was an innovator not only in biotechnology, but also in deal-making. With Christopher A. Viehbacher, the Sanofi chief executive, Termeer helped seal the deal by crafting a unique milestone payment mechanism, called a contingent value right, that will reward Genzyme investors if drugs in its pipeline succeed.

Contingent value rights have a higher profile since the Genzyme buyout, which Termeer admitted was “bittersweet’’ for him.

“This is a part of me forever,’’ Termeer said in an interview, before handing the keys of his Kendall Square office to Viehbacher.

Termeer said he hopes to continue innovating in the biotechnology field. Later this spring, he is expected to disclose plans for a group of think tanks and other organizations aimed at stepping up the pace of drug development, and pushing personalized medicine to the fore.

– Robert Weisman

2. Scott Chappel, chief scientific officer, chief operating officer, Tokai Pharmaceuticals The author of 19 patents, Scott Chappel, 60, has played a role in numerous pharmaceutical startups in the Boston area as a scientist and investor, including cancer drug maker Gloucester Pharmaceuticals, which was purchased by Celgene Corp. two years ago for $640 million.

More recently, the endocrinologist has been a driving force in cancer research at Tokai Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, where he's working on clinical trials on a drug that fights prostate cancer by using hormones to attack tumors. "It's offered up a whole new glimmer of hope for men with late-stage prostate cancer," he said.

Chappel isn't concerned only with lab work. He views himself, and biotech in general, as an intermediary between the world of academic research and big pharmaceutical companies. That's the role Chappel thinks he and other executive-scientists in Boston are pioneering, along with peers in San Diego and San Francisco.

It is a dynamic that will become more crucial in the future as pharmaceutical research becomes more expensive, he said, while cures remain unfound. "It's up to people in the middle, in biotech, to be able to read the basic research and translate it into what can become a commercial project," he said.

– John Dyer

3. Dr. Dennis Selkoe, codirector, Center for Neurologic Diseases, Brigham and Women's Hospital Harvard Medical School professor Dennis Selkoe is on the forefront of thought itself.

A neurologist, Selkoe has devoted his life to studying the mind on the molecular level, with a focus on degenerative diseases that can ravage families, like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. He formulated the so—called "amyloid hypothesis," which postulates that Alzheimer's patients suffer from an imbalance of amyloids, a microscopic sticky plaque.

Scientists have long known amyloid plaques harmed the mental states of Alzheimer's patients, but Selkoe discovered how such deposits could also be found in non—brain tissues. That suggested that new tactics for studying and eventually treating the disease might work outside the brain.

There's still a lot to be done, and Selkoe continues to be at the vanguard of the research. He's now spending time in the lab trying to figure out exactly how amyloids impede memory and other cognitive functions in nerve cells.

Selkoe also gets out of the lab. He's been outspoken about what he believes is the pharmaceutical industry's lackluster progress when it comes to creating new drugs to treat Alzheimer's, and he's researching ways to improve clinical trials for new drugs.

– John Dyer

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