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Oct 1, 2011 (Vol. 31, No. 17)

Success in Biotech Depends on Timing

Being in the Right Place at the Right Time Benefits Both Individuals and Companies

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    Stelios Papadopoulos, Ph.D.

    Editor's Note: Biotechnology is all about the commercialization of basic science. Perhaps no one better illustrates the path from the research bench to the boardroom than Stelios Papadopoulos, Ph.D. As one of the very first academics to grasp biotechnology’s financial potential, Dr. Papadopoulos traded in his laboratory whitecoat for a business suit and rose to become one of Wall Street’s early biotech analyst stars.

    As GEN prepared to celebrate its 30th anniversary, we asked Dr. Papadopoulos to recount his journey from academia into the world of corporate finance. We believe that his personal story mirrors, in many ways, the history and evolution of the biotechnology industry itself.

  • I walked down the hall on the sixth floor of the Medical Science Building at NYU Medical Center holding a cup of coffee in one hand, the other comfortably resting in my lab coat pocket. There was a spring to my step. The week before I had defended my Ph.D. thesis and that long period of self-doubt, also known as graduate school, had come to an end.

    My stroll brought me to the tissue culture lab where I was planning to engage in a series of meaningless exchanges with colleagues. But no one was pipetting that day. Even that unmistakable odor of bacterial colonies thriving at 37°C was not evident in the room, almost as if no one had opened the incubator door for a long time.

    As I turned left into the adjoining lab, it all became clear. All lab members were standing around having an animated conversation. One of them was pointing excitedly to the cork-board on the wall. But it was not a picture of a pet, a newborn, or a lab alumnus scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro. Instead, the source of excitement was a clipping from that day’s New York Times—October 15, 1980.

    I listened carefully trying to decode the essence of the conversation. I heard words like genetic engineering, stocks (I thought viral stocks), and millions of dollars (self-explanatory). The message wasn’t clear to me at first, but later on I realized they were talking about the initial public offering (IPO) of Genentech. The details eluded me but the excitement of the scientists did not.

    Right then and there the proverbial lightbulb flashed. This had to be a big idea, a unique marriage of business and science. I, too, was looking for something to do that could take me beyond laboratory science. Without much thought, I decided I would become the one who was going to explain science to business people and business to scientists. Whether or not I had the credentials or the knowledge was a separate issue. I knew that I had to do it and what I didn’t know I was going to learn.

  • GEN Directory

    VIDEO

    Biotech’s key contribution to society since 1981 and factors that will push development to the next level over the next 30 years, according to Stelios Papadopoulos, Ph.D., in a skype interview with John Sterling, GEN’s editor in chief

    That decision led me to a multiyear campaign that took me to business school at night (while I was a scientist by day) and a desire to identify and classify every bit of information relating to the emerging world of biotech. My first data breakthrough occurred when I came across one of the early issues of GEN and I saw the first-ever directory of biotech companies.

    With my newly found Rosetta stone, I went about trying to make sense of the nascent sector. Soon, based on my own research, I had created an updated and expanded version of the GEN directory, which I mailed with a note to Mary Ann Liebert. She was appreciative and generously invited me to become a contributor to GEN.

    As it turned out, my first formal entry into the biotech sector was an article I published in the March 1985 issue of GEN entitled: “Assessing University-Industry Ties in Biotechnology”; I was still a scientist at NYU Medical Center.

    Finally, my determination paid off. After multiple futile attempts to get anybody on Wall Street to pay attention to me, I was offered a position at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette (DLJ). In June 1985, almost five years after my eureka moment in the lab, I put on my new Brooks Brothers suit, took the subway to 140 Broadway, and rode the elevator to the 33rd floor. I was DLJ’s first biotech analyst.

    In the 1980s there was no better place to be an equity analyst than DLJ. I would pinch myself every time I realized that I was standing alongside one of DLJ’s superstar analysts. So, with fear, humility, and determination I began to work on a comprehensive analysis of the biotechnology sector and launch coverage.


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