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Life Sciences Roundup

Genzyme chief may not be ready to move on

Henri Termeer, who joined Genzyme in 1983, became its chief executive in 1985. Henri Termeer, who joined Genzyme in 1983, became its chief executive in 1985. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
Xconomy.Com / September 27, 2010

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Henri Termeer has invested most of his professional life building Cambridge-based Genzyme into a global biotech powerhouse, and it could all come to an unceremonious end if French drug giant Sanofi-Aventis succeeds in its efforts to acquire the company. Yet people close to the Genzyme CEO tell Xconomy that Termeer has plenty of unfinished business and isn’t nearly ready to leave.

Termeer, who joined Genzyme in 1983 as president and became chief executive in 1985, is credited with leading the company’s evolution from a Boston start-up into a multibillion-dollar global enterprise with about 12,000 employees. But over the past year and a half, his sterling record at the company has been tarnished by the viral contamination found at its Allston Landing plant in June and the resulting shortages of its therapies for genetic diseases. A growing chorus of critics, including the powerful activist investor Carl Icahn, has called Termeer’s leadership into question.

Nevertheless, Termeer, 64, has shown few signs that he’s ready to call it quits. Termeer, who is the firm’s chairman, and the rest of Genzyme’s board last month rejected Sanofi’s unsolicited offer to acquire the company for $18.5 billion. This month, Genzyme announced that it is selling its genetic testing unit and cutting 1,000 workers to improve the company’s bottom line and future prospects.

Though Termeer has told the media that he’s open to selling the company, some observers have their doubts. “Henri does not want to sell the company. Henri never would want to sell the company,’’ said a former Genzyme executive who asked not to be named.

Genzyme declined a request to interview Termeer.

“I’ve known Henri for many years, and he never thought about Genzyme as a company that was built to be sold,’’ said a former Genzyme unit president who worked for Termeer for over a decade. “He built the company to survive and be a stand-alone biotech organization.’’

Termeer’s legacy, which was cemented well before the recent manufacturing troubles, is based on his vision and Genzyme’s leadership in developing drugs for rare diseases previously ignored by the pharmaceutical industry. Genzyme’s drug imiglucerase (Cerezyme) for the genetic disorder Gaucher’s disease treats an illness that affects fewer than 10,000 Americans. But it has become the company’s biggest money-maker because it commands a price of about $200,000 per patient annually.

Former Genzyme executives say Termeer is taking full responsibility for the manufacturing problems in Allston and wants to lead the company through the process of fixing them — which includes bringing its operations there into compliance with Food and Drug Administration standards after turning over to the agency $175 million in profits from drugs made at the plant.

“Henri wants to stay long enough to fix all the problems at Genzyme so he can go out on a really high note,’’ the former Genzyme executive said.

Ryan McBride

Sanofi-Aventis, the French drug giant that has labs in Cambridge, said Thursday that it paid Dana-Farber Cancer Institute of Boston $33 million to license technology for identifying cancer targets for new treatments. Dana-Farber will also receive research funding from Sanofi for a minimum of three years, as well as potential payments related to the development of drugs that result from the agreement. In July, Sanofi revealed that it planned to house a new cancer research division in Cambridge and invest $65 million in expanding its operations there.

Rhythmia Medical, a Burlington maker of catheter-based systems for mapping the heart, has brought in $5 million of a planned $7 million equity offering, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. The financing comes from eight investors, according to the filing, and brings Rhythmia’s total funding pot to $17 million. Earlier this spring, Xconomy wrote about plans to raise more capital to put toward the quest for regulatory approval and commercialization of its device.

Cambridge-based Ironwood Pharmaceuticals sold its Lexington-based biomanufacturing subsidiary, Microbia, to Royal DSM, the Dutch chemicals giant, for an undisclosed sum. Ironwood, which went public in January 2010, recorded $1 million in losses from Microbia on its 2009 balance sheet.

This report was compiled by the editors of Xconomy, an online news website focused on the business of technology and innovation. For more New England coverage, visit www.Xconomy.com/boston.