Leonard Schleifer - Regeneron

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Making scientific patience a virtue, with a rare skill for fast commercial success 

Name: Leonard Schleifer
Title: Founder and CEO, Regeneron

A lot's changed in the biotech world since Leonard Schleifer founded Regeneron ($REGN) in 1988.

Schleifer, then an assistant professor at Cornell, was used to the old model: Universities do science and drugmakers make drugs. But, combing through journals, Schleifer noticed that "every other paper was published by this company Genentech," he said in an interview on Regeneron's website, and, doing a little digging, Genentech turned out to be "a so-called biotechnology company."

From there it seemed simple enough: Schleifer wanted to launch a company of his own, committed to the then-nascent field of molecular biology but focusing on his expertise, neuroscience.

"I was determined to build a company where we valued science and the scientists who did the science, as opposed to build a company which is more traditionally built by businesspeople who in some respects just want to exploit science," Schleifer said.

That doesn't happen fast. But it turns out that Schleifer's other big skills includes patience in R&D combined with the ability to move fast on the commercial side. In the company's 24th year he took its first big product--the eye drug Eylea for wet, age-related macular degeneration--and racked up $838 million in sales. The red-hot drug--now a case study in successful drug launches--is on the road to easily pass blockbuster status in 2013, showing the industry how rapidly a development-stage company can ramp up a successful commercialization effort. And after the cautionary commercial tales at Dendreon ($DNDN) and Human Genome Sciences, it's an example other biotech companies will study closely.

There's more. In August, the company picked up FDA approval for Zaltrap, a colorectal cancer treatment developed with Sanofi ($SNY). Regeneron is also angling to be the first on the market with an antibody to PCSK9, a new target for LDL cholesterol. REGN727, also a Sanofi team-up, is the first PCSK9-targeting treatment to reach Phase III, recruiting 18,000 patients in 11 studies to see if the drug can in fact safely slash the rates of heart attack and stroke.

If all goes according to plan, REGN727 could be another blockbuster, but, for Schleifer, of equal importance is maintaining Regeneron's legacy as a biotech that rewards ingenuity and treats its people well. Schleifer has demonstrated a long-term commitment to building a company that can attract the best and brightest in a hypercompetitive industry for talent, and the model isn't terribly complex, he said.

"That's actually what I preached," Schleifer said. "We're going to build a company where the administration, the businesspeople, management--whoever--were working for the scientists, rather than the scientists working for them."

-- Damian Garde (email | Twitter)