Few industries are as risky as the biotechnology-based pharmaceutical business. For every drug tested in human clinical trials the critical proving ground of the business dozens of research projects are derailed on the way. Even among the drugs promising enough for clinical trials, some 80 percent are eventually rejected. On average, it takes more than 10 years for a successful drug to become a finished product. And once that happens, a company merely has to peddle its wares in a competitive marketplace, as investors scrutinize its performance at every turn.
The result is an industry as brutally selective as the research process itself. Just as hundreds of research projects may only yield one worthwhile drug, hundreds of biotech companies have been founded in the last three decades in the United States, yet only a relative handful exist as profitable public corporations. But James Mullen ’80 has prospered as CEO at one of them: Biogen Idec, the Cambridge, Mass.-based company high on anyone’s list of biotech successes.
Indeed, much of Mullen’s job is to address the challenge shared by every biotechnology executive: How do you run a company in a hyper-competitive industry where it takes a decade to make a product, but also has Wall Street demanding ongoing growth?