Developing Products that Save Lives
I have to say I give the company a lot of credit because, basically, I think it has paid off for them. But it took me two years before I had any idea what I was even doing in business. I mean, I knew about science but it really was a steep learning curve but not something that happens overnight.
One of the huge differences is, I found that in business, you actually get feedback on how you’re doing.
Well, gee, people say I’m aloof, dismissive and arrogant and I can understand this. I mean, my parents said that. My wife says that, my colleges at Stanford say that. You say that. I cannot figure out how you’re all wrong in the same way.
So, I would say, from the concept of “maybe this molecule would work in this disease” to actually marketing the drug, well, it depends. If it went incredibly fast it could be ten years. It’s more like 15 years and the average cost is about $1.5 billion to get it to the market. Now the $1.5 billion includes the failures. So that’s taken into account. So how many make it? That varies from company to company. I would say probably on the average 10 percent make it. For us, it’s probably more like 25 percent. But I think the industry is going to do much, much better in the next decade. And the reason is that there’s been an explosion in knowledge about biology.
I voted for Obama that is charging Genentech $550 million this year to pay for Obama care. Now, where do we get $550 million? We fired $550 million worth of people. Where else are we going to get the money? So now they don’t have jobs or health care.
What are the things do you wished you have learned when you were in school? What would have been the most valuable things that would have helped you really hit the ground running when you were walking into a really important leadership position?
People ask that and I think any time that I would have spent getting an MBA, for example, wouldn’t have been worth it. I really think that the reason I was hired is because I was a really, really good scientist and taking-you notice the was-any time away from that would have frankly been a mistake, I think. And the only reason our company will be successful in the future is if the right technical decisions are made. And people don’t get that. It all depends on the science. If we pick the wrong target, if we make the wrong molecule, if we choose the wrong disease, we try and develop it and it doesn’t or run over and over again, the company is finished. It’s all driven by the scientific decisions that are made at the early stages and through development. You can have all… I mean we need the commercial folks. So they’re terrific, I love going to the sales meeting and the manufacturing people and the finance folks, that’s all absolutely critical. But if the science is wrong, there’s no foundation, there’s no basis for the company. So I think just becoming the absolute best scientist that I could be in being just so focused on that was actually the best use of my time to be the best head of R&D. So, nothing. Nothing different.
How much science is needed between your job versus the management and leadership skills?
You can go really far in life with a little common sense. The kinds of leadership issues that come up, I just sort of resort back to my roots and my beliefs and why I’m at Genentech. If you keep patients in mind, and if you’re always doing the best thing for patients in your decisions, usually, it’s just pretty clear what to do. So it’s sort of hard for me to say much more than that. And by the way, I have a small lab. So I have every Tuesday at noon, a lab meeting. And most of the higher level management people at Genentech have a lab. I think that’s really, really important. Otherwise, it gets too easy. You go sit and some big rooms and when one makes a presentation, you say, “Do this, spend some money here, do that,” You forget how hard it is to actually make an experiment work unless you’re sitting with your lab group. And then when you see how “Jeez, it didn’t work again. What are we going to do?” It keeps you grounded in reality. So I think that’s extremely important and I’m extremely proud of the fact that the high level scientist at Genentech still have labs and white papers and so on.