Setting the pace on prioritization
George Scangos has shown that he belongs in the small fraternity of the very top chief executives in biotech, bringing what appears to be a golden touch to one of the industry's most important companies, Biogen Idec ($BIIB). Biogen, which had lagged biotech peers in R&D productivity and stock price before Scangos' arrival in June 2010, has been returning to grace under his leadership.
The Weston, MA-based company's stock took off last year, fueled by positive data on key experimental therapies such as the multiple sclerosis pill BG-12 and the long-acting MS treatment daclizumab. Those programs predate Scangos' arrival, but he has refocused the company's R&D organization on the areas it knows best such as neurological and autoimmune diseases.
He's been decisive--cutting oncology and cardiovascular disease research from the company's R&D mix and shuttering its San Diego research outpost just months after taking the reins. He made changes and appointments on his executive team, surrounding himself with standout veterans of the biotech game. And he made the call last year to return the company's headquarters to Cambridge, MA--all as part of his larger leadership theme of improving communication and integrating efforts.
Abandon oncology research? It's almost unheard of in biopharma nowadays, but Scangos has set the tone among his peers for prioritization--which has become essential as drugmakers narrow their focus on their most valuable programs to get the best returns possible on their R&D dollars.
Scangos also hasn't hesitated to shrug off some big trends in the business. Early on Scangos' new team decided to get out of the corporate VC side of the business, happy to go their own way and rely on a seasoned team to provide the kind of insights on new companies and technologies expected from the corporate VC teams roaming the planet. He hasn't been emulated, yet.
The hundreds of workers who lost their jobs as a result of Scangos' house-cleaning in the fall of 2010 might disagree, but Scangos has even been regarded as a friendly leader who is liked among the rank and file. (It probably doesn't hurt that employees' company stock has skyrocketed with Scangos in charge.) Yet there's no doubt that Scangos exudes confident calm, something that was seriously lacking during the infamous charades at the '09 annual shareholder meeting, when management and Carl Icahn's camp were battling for as many board seats as each could get.
Scangos' first annual board meeting was perfectly boring, another sign of contentment among investors. How content? Icahn cashed out his shares in Biogen last year. A Scangos-led Biogen had finally delivered the billionaire investor what he wanted, a big profit. With BG-12 advancing, we'll soon see whether Scangos can lead Biogen to a feat it hasn't accomplished since 2004--an FDA approval of a new drug.