Eight Lessons from Leonard Schleifer (Regeneron)
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Leonard Schleifer is the Co-Founder, President, and CEO of Regneron. Beyond the medicines Regeneron has brought to patients, the fact that Schleifer still leads the company since its founding in 1988 makes Regeneron one of the best case studies on founder-driven life sciences companies.
In 1988, Schleifer left his assistant professorship at Cornell to start Regeneron (a combination of “regenerating nerve cells”) as “Genentech for neurodegenerative disease.” While at Cornell, he encountered Genentech and caught an early glimpse on the potential of the biotechnology revolution that was starting. Inspired by Genentech’s success, George worked to build his own biotech company with the help of Alfred Gilman and Roy Vagelos. Despite a massive phase 3 failure in ALS with a few other setbacks, Regeneron persisted and achieved its goal to build a scientist-driven company.
1.“I was determined to build a company where we valued science and the scientists who did the science, as opposed to build a company which is more traditionally built by business people who in some respects just want to exploit science." The overarching goal for Regeneron was to build a company that does world-class scientific research - the products would follow.
2. “Our formula is surprisingly easy to articulate but difficult to emulate. We set out to have the world's best science and follow that science. That's what we've done for the past 25 years.”
3.“Now, people treat us like we're an overnight success. Twenty-five years of overnights is not quite an overnight success.” Regeneron’s business model (i.e. 50/50 deals) along with its antibody platform allowed the company to raise capital despite the initial failures.
4.“His advice was that I should get as well-educated as possible, because he believed that education was the weapon to fight the world with.”
Schleifer is referring to advice his father, a Depression-era sweater maker, gave him. Leonard played tennis in high school and was also a New York state chess champion, and ended up studying neurobiology at Cornell. After earning his PhD at the University of Virginia under Alfred Gilman, Schleifer joined the faculty of Cornell.
5.“Acquisitions don't give us a competitive advantage. Our competitive advantage is our science.” Regeneron’s internal capabilities led to Eylea for wet AMD along with a series of 7 approved medicines
6. “I always say that you can tell whether a company is rotten by the following little scenario. George and I are in the office and we're arguing about something, which we do all time, and two people show up and knock on the office door. One of them is waving last month's sales of Eylea in the latest country that we've launched in, and the other one is way waving an experimental result that doesn't have a chance in the world of leading to a product for at least a dozen years. If we're not equally excited about both of those – or perhaps even more excited about the long-term – then the company's rotten.”
7.“We're going to build a company where the administration, the businesspeople, management--whoever--were working for the scientists, rather than the scientists working for them.”
8. “He's one of the greatest scientists and entrepreneurs of his generation.”
Schleifer is referring to George Yancopoulos, Regeneron's chief scientific officer. Leonard convinced George to leave his professorship at Columbia in 1989 after blessing from his father. Both having grown up in New York City definitely helped. This quote only reinforced Schleifer’s focus on recruiting and keeping scientific talent, which is Regeneron’s main advantage.