Biotech pioneer and former Genzyme CEO Henri Termeer dies

The biotech industry is mourning the loss of one of the sector's founding fathers, Genzyme founder Henri Termeer, who died on Friday at the age of 71.

According to the Boston Globe, Termeer died after collapsing at his home in Marblehead, Massachusetts, on Friday night.

Termeer was at the helm of Genzyme for nearly 30 years, joining the company in 1983 and rising quickly to the role of CEO before it was acquired by Sanofi in 2011 for more than $20 billion. He is credited with not only transforming the small company into one of the world's leading biotech companies but also playing a leading role in working out how to develop a business model that opened up the market for rare and orphan disease therapies—to the benefit of patients and shareholders alike.

After leaving Genzyme, Termeer continued to play an active role in the industry, sitting on the boards of several companies including Abiomed, Aveo Pharma, Moderna Therapeutics and Verastem. He also set up the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation, a health policy think tank based in Cambridge and funded the Henri and Belinda Termeer Center for Targeted Therapies at Mass. General with a $10 million endowment.

Messages lamenting the loss of a biotech giant have been coming in thick and fast on social media, with Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Gates Foundation, tweeting: "140 characters not enough to explain why Henri Termeer was such an icon … He was a gem. RIP Henri."

Many tributes have pointed to his mentoring of colleagues who have gone on to start their own companies—sometimes referred to as the 'Genzyme diaspora'—and have helped transform Massachusetts into a biotech hub.

Bob Coughlin, president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, said that Termeer was "one of the founders of the modern biotech industry" and had "changed the lives of patients around the world through his ongoing dedication to discovering breakthrough treatments for those with rare diseases."

There were also condolences from Genzyme's biotech rivals, including Biogen, which said that Termeer had been a "true visionary and leader" and a "mentor to many in the industry and at Biogen."