Forbes: How to get really, really rich in biotech

Forbes' Matthew Herper went searching for biotech billionaires on the magazine's annual list of the 400 richest Americans but could only scrape together three names: Patrick Soon-Shiong, who sold Abraxane and the biotech which developed it to Celgene for $2.9 billion; Randal Kirk, who sold New River and Clinical Data; and Michael Jaharis, who launched Kos and sold it to Abbott for $4.6 billion.

Even after turning to the much-longer list of the world's billionaires, the biopharma scribe could only glean two more names: Ernesto Berteralli, who helped build up Serono and Curt Englehorn of Boehringer Manheim fame. And healthcare in general has spawned relatively few plutocrats, particularly when you compare it to the mega-wealth created by software companies.

So here's where the story gets really interesting. Herper asked Kirk to explain what was up. Kirk replied that the billionaires pursued an uncommon strategy: Grabbing a highly concentrated stake in companies and holding on as they build up the operation over a period of some years.

"So why may that be a winning strategy?" asks Kirk. "Aside from the more obvious advantages that naturally may flow from an intensely interested, dedicated and (I would like to think) capable shareholder, the length of the holding periods to which I refer may actually have been required in biotech because the product development cycle times have been so long."

- here's the column from Herper