Richard A. Gonzalez - The 25 most influential people in biopharma today

A new CEO at the helm of Abbott

Richard A. Gonzalez
Pharma-designated CEO
Abbott Laboratories

It's going to be an exciting year for Richard Gonzalez--from being No. 2 at Abbott Laboratories' ($ABT) he will be vaulted into the head role at the spun-off (and still unnamed) pharma unit, due to take flight from the parent company sometime around the end of this year. And all this for a man who actually retired, at least for a couple of years, in 2007. The split, which will separate the company into pharmaceuticals on one hand and medical implants, diagnostic tests and baby formula on the other, was announced in October, and is expected to create one of the world's biggest drugmakers with revenues of around $18 billion.

Will this herald similar moves for other big pharma companies with diverse portfolios, in uncertain financial times when diversifying would seem to be the safer option?

Gonzalez is currently executive vice president of the pharmaceutical products group, and has just presided over Abbott's deal with Reata for preclinical-stage molecules that follow-on from its potential blockbuster bardoxolone, which is in Phase III trials. While Abbott has the security of knowing that bardoxolone, also licensed from Reata, is showing efficacy in the clinic, these related molecules are at a very early stage and so are, at least to an extent, unknown quantities until proof of concept data is available. There are many small biopharma countries across the world who must be eyeing this deal with interest, wondering if they could be the next small company picked as a partner by a pipeline-hungry multinational corporation with money and resources to invest. If it encourages the industry to look again at early stage research, it could lead to some major steps forward to plug empty pipelines in companies facing the perils of the patent cliff.

A familiar figure at Abbott and longtime friend of the current CEO, Miles White, Gonzalez has been with the company since 1977. Though he took a brief retirement in 2007 from his role as president and chief operating officer, he came back into the Abbott fold in 2009 to head up the medical venture investment division, Abbott Ventures. Because this cross-company enterprise fund can fund investments bigger than the individual units would be able to, it makes a larger impact on Abbott's access to technologies and early research such as that at Reata, and could show the industry a clearer route to finding ways to marshal precious funds that would otherwise be spread rather thinly across an entire organization. And these are funds that could make a real difference to the smaller fish in the industry, the ones with the ideas, the innovation and the creativity.

Richard A. Gonzalez - The 25 most influential people in biopharma today