Fostering a rebound in the high-risk cancer arena
Company: Infinity Pharmaceuticals
Title: President and CEO
In the last few years, Infinity Pharmaceuticals ($INFI) tossed and tumbled with the loss of two of its major cancer prospects. But the Cambridge, MA, biotech has, in a way, landed on its feet with Adelene Perkins at the helm, recently securing a deal with AbbVie ($ABBV) for another shot at the development game. No stranger to the pitfalls associated with high-risk cancer drugs, Perkins' unwavering faith in her team and her clear perspective on the snares of the past put Infinity and its partners in a position to turn it all around.
For Perkins, president and CEO at Infinity since 2009, the $805 million deal with AbbVie for Infinity's duvelisib--a PI3k-delta/gamma inhibitor for blood cancers--is a product of perseverance and targeted innovation. But before that, it's about having the right people in your corner. And keeping them there.
"Our endeavor is by definition a team sport," Perkins told FierceBiotech. "If you have the opportunity to attract bright, talented people, I firmly believe those people will stay with a company if they can do better work than they can do elsewhere. No one person can accomplish what we want to accomplish, and it's all about creating a culture and environment in which that can happen."
Welcoming Perkins in 2002 as its chief business officer, the company credits her for taking it from a platform-based outfit to one focused on developing new products. It wasn't always an easy road: Before duvelisib took the spotlight, Infinity had to restructure following the failures of saridegib in 2012 and its mid-stage Hsp90 inhibitor program for lung cancer last fall. It was a tough time for Infinity, Perkins said, but one that supplied her with some fresh perspective on what you get yourself into when you develop a cancer drug.
"What we know is that advancing treatments for patients has a high level of risk, and we know they won't always be successful," Perkins said. "You have to ask the tough questions and determine early on whether it's going to happen or whether you need to shut them down quickly and redirect your effort. It's heartbreaking when a program you've been working on fails, but that's part of the business and the last thing I want to do is put more time and effort into that."
In getting back on the horse, though, Perkins and Infinity were able to make a graceful shift to duvelisib, which the company acquired in 2010 from Intellikine, a company that was in turn acquired by Takeda in 2011. Infinity is still on the hook for up to $455 million in milestones, but it's currently looking to swap royalties with Takeda's Millennium. Still, having a new program to turn to is a blessing for Infinity as it recovers from those shaky couple of years.
"It makes it easier to walk away from something when you can turn to something else," Perkins said. "You maintain that discipline to have a strong discovery engine and move on. Having a deep portfolio allows you to make those decisions."
For Perkins, diversity at the executive level is important insofar as the team is pushing itself in a unified direction. Maintaining that spirit is crucial for tackling the difficult challenges a large biotech faces each day.
"I would give advice to any gender to make sure you're working with a group of people that has a clear objective, a common vision of what they want to accomplish," she said. "That's something that has to be shared. With a common objective, there's then room for individual differences, and I'm a huge believer in diversity. You want to have people who are big-picture thinkers, for instance, and then you want detail-oriented people. You want optimists and skeptics. Lots of different viewpoints but always a common goal.
"Sometimes based on gender, personality, ethnicity, we all have different ways of operating," she continued. "I think every single person has strengths and areas for development and I think that what any organization should strive to do is create an environment in which anyone can contribute."
And as for the biotech arena in general now, especially in the Cambridge-Boston area: "absolutely electric," Perkins said enthusiastically.
"I've been in this industry a long time and I've never felt the kind of energy that exists right now. Discovering and developing and bringing new medicines to patients has been our true north over the last decade, and we're in the midst of realizing that vision."
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-- Michael Gibney (email | Twitter)