Randal "RJ" Kirk

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Randal "RJ" Kirk
$2.4 billion

RJ Kirk is one of the rare people in the world with a self-made fortune from biopharma, where he has beat the long odds with multiple major successes and has stayed deeply invested. He has a track record for finding juicy opportunities, seizing big stakes and then pushing the pharma operations toward value-building milestones from a position of authority.

As of March, Forbes estimated Kirk's fortune at $2.4 billion. In an industry where a lucky soul might become a millionaire from one winning venture, Kirk has sold two of his companies for more than $1 billion. Clinical Data ($CLDA), where he was chairman and controlled much of the stock, went to Forest Laboratories ($FRX) in 2011 for $1.2 billion. Earlier, in 2007, he engineered the $2.6 billion sale of New River Pharmaceutical to Shire ($SHPG).

Lately, he's bet heavily on synthetic biology, with a venture called Intrexon (a 2011 Fierce 15 company) that could become his biggest financial boon--or bust--ever. Serving as chairman, chief executive and, via his venture company Third Security, chief financier, Kirk has kept Intrexon well funded and busily securing deals with a constellation of players in drug development, aquaculture, animal health and agriculture. "Almost nothing is off limits with the power of this technology," Kirk told FierceBiotech in 2011.

Whereas New River became a multibillion-dollar hit based on its ADHD drug Vyvanse and Clinical Data a winner from the antidepressant Viibryd--both standalone products--Intrexon aims to create value from use of its biotech platforms across multiple different industries and partner companies. Intrexon's success depends in part on its partners' successes, and the company will surely feel the sting from any key partner's failure.

One of Intrexon's marquee partners isn't looking so hot. Ziopharm Oncology, which is Kirk's handpicked partner for Intrexon in cancer drug development, reported a major misfire as its advanced antitumor candidate palifosfamide failed a late-stage study for metastatic soft tissue sarcoma, prompting a meltdown of more than half of its stock value on March 26.

Yet Ziopharm CEO Jonathan Lewis reaffirmed his company's commitment to synthetic biology, which is obviously important to his influential board member RJ Kirk. "It is imperative that the company rapidly focus its resources and efforts on our highly promising synthetic biology programs, employing therapeutic motifs that represent the next-generation in biotechnology," he stated.

For more:
Special Report: Intrexon - 2011 Fierce 15
Billionaire Kirk orchestrates $45M cell therapy tie-up in biotech deal spree
Billionaire's biotech seals second deal with Synthetic Biologics
Biotech billionaire raises $100M for synthetic biology venture Intrexon
Billionaire biotech investor touts his next Big Thing