Richard Pops - Alkermes

Biotech leader, spokesman and all around class act

Name: Richard Pops
Title: Chairman and CEO, Alkermes

Richard Pops has been a class act to follow for biotech executives for more than a decade. With a potent combination of intelligence, social graces and ambition, he has led Alkermes for 22 years through ups and downs with an unfailing smile on his face, inspiring his peers and those who have come after him to do the same.

Alkermes develops, manufactures and markets treatments. As simple and straightforward as this may sound, not enough companies have achieved this level of integration in biotech. Some just do development, others may only do discovery. The integrated model packs tremendous power, power to create medicines and deliver them to patients, power to build the next really big biotech.

Indeed, Pops is aiming higher, doing what successful chiefs must in biotech. He led the company to the $1 billion merger with Elan Drug Technologies, the drug formulation and manufacturing business unit of Elan ($ELN), in 2011, roughly doubling the annual revenue of Alkermes and becoming an Ireland-based enterprise in the process. This major deal helped set the stage for growth.

He has brought his message and energy well beyond the boardroom and hallways at Alkermes. He's one of the few high-profile CEOs in biotech with an active Twitter account, engaging in social media at a level that few others at his pay grade dare but many applaud. And for years he has been an advocate in biotech circles, winning over industry insiders and outsiders along the way.

Alkermes makes the lion's share of its money from royalties on sales of several important medicines, which use the biotech's technology for enabling meds to be stable and last longer in a patient's system. In fiscal 2012, the royalty stream brought in $326 million, including $168 million from Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) long-acting antipsychotic Risperdal Consta. It's other important moneymakers include the J&J antipsychotic med Invega Sustenna and Vivitrol, a long-acting drug against addiction.

Pops wants to build on this moneymaking platform with new proprietary products for central nervous system conditions. Letdowns from major partners have thrown Alkermes off course in the past, including Eli Lilly's ($LLY) decision to ax inhaled insulin from Alkermes in 2008 and J&J's move to scuttle work on a once-monthly version of risperidone in 2009.

Alkermes now wants to control the fate of its next blockbuster hopefuls. Its lead developmental drug is a long-acting version of Otsuka Pharmaceutical and Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) blockbuster antipsychotic Abilify, called ALKS-9070, for which Phase III trial results are expected later this year. It's also working on an antidepressant, ALKS-5461, which could aid patients without the weight gain associated with Zyprexa.

Since Pops took the helm in 1991, Alkermes has grown from a small shop with 25 employees to one with about 1,200 workers and at Friday's close a market cap of $2.8 billion. If Alkermes succeeds in creating its own $1 billion-plus product or two, the value could easily more than double.

"We're going to build a Biogen or a Vertex," Pops said.

Yet he's also the kind of polished biotech citizen who tends to turn people outside the industry into believers in the promise of the industry.

"Beyond his CEO role at Alkermes," Michelle Dipp, CEO of Cambridge, MA-based OvaScience, told FierceBiotech, "Pops is a steadfast advocate for the issues that give biotech companies a voice in Washington, DC, serving as a leader and spokesperson for BIO and PhRMA."

-- Ryan McBride (email | Twitter)

Richard Pops - Alkermes