John Martin - Gilead Sciences

Defining 'aggressive' in research, dealmaking and commercialization 

Name: John Martin
Title: CEO, Gilead Sciences

Any CEO looking to command markets and master analysts should look at the way John Martin has handled himself at the helm of Gilead ($GILD).

With Gilead already the leader in HIV drugs, Martin breezed past the naysayers when he locked in the lead program for an all-oral hep C treatment with the $11 billion acquisition of Pharmasset. Rather than give in to pressure, he kept his combo approach in-house. His decisions look prescient with each new report on the treatment's results and the Street's consensus that Gilead is in the front-runner spot for a market that could reach $20 billion annually. He expects to go to the FDA with application in hand later this year.

Martin's take-no-prisoners approach to running a biotech, of course, is well known. He has faced down criticism that the prices for Gilead's HIV drugs are unreasonably high. Even with members of Congress leaning on it, Gilead priced its newly approved combo, Stribild, at $28,500 a year. Then he turned around and asked the FDA for a full 5 years of exclusivity on the high-priced treatment, even though "Quad" is a combo of four existing drugs and only two of the active ingredients were improved enough to qualify as "active moieties."

Martin makes no apologies for a request that would add billions to the company's top line. 

Martin has positioned his company as a leader in fast-paced drug development and the new go-to partner for any biotech looking for a pact. Gilead has poured $1.2 billion in two years to buy a position in cancer drugs. The deals involved development-stage candidates from the likes of YM BioSciences and Calistoga Pharmaceuticals. Certainly Martin's willingness to spend generously has helped make Gilead one of the industry's top partners of choice, perhaps staking out a position that would be considered even more advanced than many more cautious outfits would consider prudent.

But after years of careful hedging in the industry, Martin has helped model a style of striking ahead in search of quick, dramatic results. By making Gilead a lead bidder, joining a select group of busy biotech dealmakers, he's helped improve terms for every seller in the industry. And he's set a pace that others will try to mimic, a healthy tonic for an industry looking for leadership and a bold style.

Of course, luck has helped. And any setback could leave a shiner on that reputation.

-- Eric Palmer (email | Twitter) | John Carroll (email | Twitter)

John Martin - Gilead Sciences