Gantz' leadership gives biotech a needed boost

October 18, 2004

BY MICHAEL KRAUSS

Prescription drugs are expensive and grist for election year debates. Call me silly, but I want more of those profitable pharma firms here. They pay good wages. They offer interesting jobs. Why in the world do they locate in New Jersey?

I'm glad Gov. Blagojevich fights for cheaper drug imports, and I'm even happier he supports Illinois' burgeoning biotech sector with a million-dollar grant backing BIO 2006, an upcoming mega trade show.

But most of all, I'm glad Bill Gantz is at the helm of iBio, a local confederation of biotech boosters. When Gantz convenes the iBioMarketplace Conference on Oct. 25 at Navy Pier (a prelude to the bigger show in 2006), I'll applaud. It feels like our biotech sector is showing signs of life on his watch.

Gantz is a rare thing in Chicago's technology milieu. He's a proven entrepreneur and commercial leader who's running a start-up and supporting the community with vigor.

Serial entrepreneurs

Gantz is the former COO of Baxter Labs, where he spent 26 years. He left Baxter in 1992 and launched Pathogenesis Corp. in Seattle, where he developed an inhaled antibiotic called TOBI. In 2000, he sold the company to Chiron Corp. for about $725 million, according to Gantz.

Two years ago, Gantz launched Ovation Pharmaceuticals in Deerfield, with $150 million inback from GTCR Golder Rauner. He's striving to bring drugs to market that are overlooked, and that help difficult-to-treat patients. And he's sensitive to the issue of the high cost of pharmaceuticals.

The upcoming iBioMarketplace is "a great opportunity for networking," says Gantz, who expects representatives from small firms and large organizations including Abbott, Baxter, Fujisawa and Takeda. He anticipates researchers and investors to turn up looking for deals. There will also be a career day for university students interested in health care.

What about the high cost of drugs?

"It is enormously expensive to develop these drugs," says Gantz, whose first start-up spent $120 million to develop a drug to treat cystic fibrosis patients with serious lung infections.

"We need to charge prices that make it worthwhile economically. These treatments are actually miracles, and they turn out to be very costly."

Despite the high cost of development, Gantz says, "I don't think there's anything more enjoyable than building a business. I'm one of those who has no interest in retiring."

I hope Gantz stays at it. We need the medicines he'll produce, and the jobs he'll create.

Google recruits women here

Alan Eustace, vice president for engineering research and systems for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google, hit town to do some recruiting.

"Google is incredibly supportive of women in technology," says Eustace. "Our founders are committed to building technology that's usable by everyone around the world, and they believe women have to be involved. They're committed and I am committed to hiring the best women."

Eustace made stops at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern, IIT and the University of Chicago.

Split Coalition

Smart money says the Illinois Coalition will be split into two groups when the board meets Thursday.

Watch for the board to focus the organization on the traditional roles of technology advocacy and seeking federal funding for science and technology in Illinois.

Look for a new entity to be created to oversee local technology commercialization efforts, with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in the driver's seat. My bet: the Coalition's Tom Thornton goes with the new entity.

Bits & Bytes

IIT hosts the Invention to Venture workshop Saturday, an event to encourage student entrepreneurs. Guy Kawasaki, founder of Garage Technology Ventures a California venture capital firm keynotes the event.

Why do nearly two thirds of corporate technology projects miss their objectives? Northwestern University IT Professor Mark Jeffery explains Wednesday at the Society for Information Management lunch at Spiaggia.

Thom H. Dunning Jr. is the new director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois in Champaign. It's one of the premier tech positions in Illinois.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago-based tech writer and consultant.

 

 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners