Alfred E. Mann, philanthropist and entrepreneur [Angela George]
Alfred E. Mann, philanthropist and entrepreneur [Angela George]

Alfred E. Mann, the philanthropist and entrepreneur who founded and funded 17 companies in biopharma and other technologies during a 70-year professional life that wound down only in recent weeks, died yesterday at age 90.

Of those 17 companies, three became public and 10 were acquired at an overall total of almost $8 billion. Nearly half of that total, $3.3 billion, came from a single deal—medical device giant Medtronic’s 2001 acquisition of MiniMed, a developer of insulin pumps for people with diabetes.

Diabetes was also the focus of another Mann company, MannKind. Just last week, Mann resigned as executive chairman of MannKind, which he founded in 1991 and which now markets an inhaled form of insulin called Afrezza®. Mann also resigned from MannKind’s board, but was to continue advising the company as a nonexecutive employee.

Mann spent more than a decade and about $1 billion of his own money to develop Afrezza and advance it to approval by the FDA. Last fall, as it became apparent that Afrezza sales did not match expectations, Mann returned to MannKind as interim CEO, following the resignation of chief executive Hakan Edstrom. He gave up the interim position once the company named its current CEO, Matthew Pfeffer.

Pfeffer told the Los Angeles Times that Mann died yesterday in Las Vegas, where the entrepreneur had spent the majority of his time in recent years. The CEO said he was about to board a plane for Las Vegas when his assistant called to tell him not to come, and later received the sad news from Mann’s son.

“(Mann) was an inspiration to me and everyone at MannKind,” Pfeffer said. MannKind chairman Kent Kresa said in a company statement that “Al's contribution to the diabetes field is unparalleled, and he truly represents an iconic influence in the philanthropic and business arena for our generation.  I'm honored to have worked for so many years with Al, and am proud to have called him my friend.”

MannKind said no changes are anticipated in the company’s day-to-day business activities, and that its loan agreement with The Mann Group is unaffected by Mann's passing .

Mann was born in Portland, OR, in 1925, to an English immigrant father who was a grocer and a Polish immigrant mother who was a singer and pianist, according to obituary information published by the Los Angeles Times. Mann graduated high school at 16, served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, though he did not see combat duty, then settled in Southern California, where he earned a physics degree from UCLA.

In the 1950s, Mann won a contract to design solar cells for spacecraft. That experience, plus his work improving guidance systems for missiles, led Mann to found his first two companies, Spectrolab and Heliotek, both of which he sold in 1960.

Mann had long said he would leave much of his fortune to charitable institutions, and those include his foundation and the engineering institutes he established at several universities.

More recently, Mann resigned from the board of Second Sight Medical Products, which develops, manufactures, and markets implantable visual prosthetics designed to offer rudimentary sight to blind individuals.

“The world is a little darker without his presence,” stated Second Sight chairman Robert Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D. “But his spirit will live on in every blind person who is brought back into the light by our products.”

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