A Former Lieutenant’s Tribute to Henri Termeer

I joined Genzyme in 1995, and worked there for almost eight years. Henri Termeer had been running the company for about a dozen years by then and was well on his way to establishing himself as an industry pioneer. He was way ahead of his time in many, many ways.

Chris Rivera, CEO, Nativis

Chris Rivera, CEO, Nativis

Henri recognized that companies were much more than brick and mortar assets, more than just intellectual property on paper. Talent was key. He concentrated on finding the right people for the job to be done, and removing whatever obstacles he could to allow them to excel. One of the reasons I joined Genzyme was that the company allowed me to commute from Seattle to Cambridge, Mass. while advancing my career on the sales and marketing side, ending up as an SVP.  They were one of the only companies in the mid-1990’s that would let key employees do this. Today, long-distance commuting in biotech is nothing unusual.

I remember many flights back and forth and sitting next to other executives from Big Pharma companies.  The conversation would inevitably turn to Genzyme and what we did.  Back then, not too many people knew about Genzyme. When I told them that we developed and marketed drugs for rare diseases, they would always say: “You can’t have a successful company with only a few thousand patients.”

These were the days when Big Pharma focused almost entirely on mass marketed drugs like statins for lowering cholesterol. Henri Termeer not only helped create the biotech industry we know today, he also did more than anyone else to demolish the pharmaceutical industry’s conception of itself. He proved that you could build a hugely successful business by addressing the needs of just a few thousand patients. It took tremendous guts, and a willingness to endure tough questioning from payers and the media, to articulate and defend the necessary high prices. Years later, his rare disease business playbook is standard operating procedure. Every drug company has a “Specialty Division,” code for Orphan Disease.

Henri would hold quarterly business reviews with each business unit.  They were usually at 8am on Monday, and I would usually take the red-eye from Seattle on Sunday night to walk straight off the plane into the meeting, in hopes of preserving more weekend family time.  Bleary-eyed as I may have been, I distinctly remember Henri being amazing in these meetings. I cannot remember him ever taking notes, yet he could look at your budget or forecast and question a specific line item and ask why it changed, up or down compared to what you showed him 3, 6 or even 12 months ago.  There was always a sense of relief if you could get out of those meetings unscathed.

I was fortunate enough to help be part of the team that launched sevelamer (Renagel), a drug to control phosphate levels in the blood, which was the cornerstone of Genzyme’s Renal Division.  I remember when we were asking Henri to approve doubling my sales force from 40 to 80 reps.  Genzyme had never had such a big commercial group and we were unsure if he would approve the expense.  We asked our consultants to send the top guy to present to Henri, and after more than an hour of presentations, questions and answers, Henri asked our consultant, “what would you do?”  He responded, “I do these analyses for most of the industry, sometimes it’s a flip of the coin of whether you should do this, or how big to go.  In your case, this is a no-brainer. You will be leaving a lot on the table if you don’t do this.  Henri looked at me and said, “what are you waiting on?”

On 9/11, Henri was traveling to Palm Springs to speak at a meeting of Genzyme’s entire worldwide renal commercial business. I was in charge of the meeting, and more than a little nervous after seeing the news about the Twin Towers.  I remember my hotel phone ringing that morning when my meeting coordinator called me and asked me to come downstairs.  We began working with our security team to locate everyone on their way to Palm Springs.  Henri was supposed to be on Flight 11 out of Boston’s Logan Airport on his way to LA and then to Palm Springs.  I called his assistant to find out what flight he had taken, and she told me that I would be happy with her because she found a flight through Chicago that would get him to Palm Springs an hour earlier.  When Henri landed in Chicago, he saw the tragic news. All flights were temporarily grounded that day, so he immediately rented a car to drive back to Boston. Thankfully he was not on one of the planes that went into the World Trade Centers that day.  If Henri had gotten on Flight 11 that morning, who knows what Genzyme or the biotech industry would look like today. While Henri was fortunate to make it home safely, we mourned the loss of Genzyme’s VP of Advocacy, Lisa Raines, who was on Flight 77 out of Washington Dulles that day.

Another distinct memory of my Genzyme days with Henri. While I was running the US Sales group for Renagel, Henri would walk down to my office every week when the new prescription numbers would come to us from IMS.  I could recognize his footsteps and was always happy to report to him when we had a good week.  He could remember trends and numbers like no one else I have been associated with.  Henri also loved to get up on the stage in front of my teams.  My managers and I would always have a side-bet to see how long he would speak for.  Our “over-under” was usually an hour, if you took the “under” you usually lost.  He was very proud of his company, you could hear it in his voice every time he spoke.  It was his passion and vision that built the “culture” that made Genzyme great.

Henri and other Senior Executives tried several times to get me to relocate to Boston.  I was told that I could eventually run one of the business units.  I left Genzyme in 2003, not because I was unhappy with my job or the company.  Genzyme was one of the best employment experiences I’ve had in my career.  I left because I was not going to relocate to Boston, and the travel was no longer making sense.  When Henri found out that I was leaving, he asked to see me in his office.  We spent nearly an hour talking about Renagel, Genzyme Tissue Repair and what a great team and organization we had built.  But the most important message that I remember from that conversation was that “we have made a tremendous difference in thousands of people’s lives around the world. You should be very proud of that.”  He wished me success and let me know the door was always open if I wanted to return.

Over the years, I would frequently run into Henri at BIO or the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference.  He always stopped and spoke to me as if I had never left the company.  The year that Genzyme was acquired by Sanofi, 2011, I was at the annual Genzyme alumni reunion at JP Morgan.  The rumors were rampant that Genzyme was going to be acquired, you could see the sadness in Henri’s eyes.  I was lucky enough to share a car ride with him back to Union Square that night.  We were talking about the good old days, Renagel, the people that we met and about making a difference.  I remember saying to Henri, “you must be very proud tonight”.  He asked me what I meant, and I said, “did you see all of those CEOs in that room tonight that came from Genzyme?  You helped all of us get to where we are today.  The impact that you have had on this industry is immeasurable!”  He thanked me, but he was always very humble and did not acknowledge what I meant.

I saw him for the last time this year at JP Morgan at our Genzyme reunion.  He was in good spirits and looked great.  I wish I could say good-bye to him again.  I would have thanked him for all that he has done for me and for our industry.

The impact that he has had on our industry, and countless others, including myself is immeasurable!

Chris Rivera is the Chairman, President and CEO of Nativis.

[Editor’s Note: A celebration of Henri Termeer’s life will be held at 11 am Saturday, May 20th in Kresge Auditorium at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 48 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. A reception will follow until 2 pm. A funeral mass will be celebrated on Monday, May 22nd in Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, 85 Atlantic Avenue, Marblehead, Mass. For more information, see the Joyce Funeral Home.]


Seattle Biotech: See You at the TR 2nd Anniversary Party Tuesday at Adaptive

Seattle biotech, you’ve been with me on this journey since Day 1. Since Timmerman Report was founded in 2015, it has gone against the grain of the media economy in many ways. You put your faith in me that I’d deliver high-quality biotech journalism and analysis, and I’ve worked hard to deliver the goods.

Good news: TR is not only still alive two years later, it’s thriving.

That’s a good excuse for a party. I want to thank all of you who have subscribed for the past two years, past year, or past week. Come celebrate, and mix and mingle among some of the best and brightest in Seattle biotech—people who know valuable content when they see it!

More than 110 people are RSVPd at last count, so don’t miss this networking opportunity. Last-minute attendees, RSVP here.

Here are the basic details:

  • 4:30 pm-6:30 pm
  • Tuesday, May 9
  • Adaptive Biotechnologies
  • 1551 Eastlake Ave East, Seattle



5:15 pm: Host welcome. (Chad Robins, CEO, Adaptive Biotechnologies)

5:17 pm: Luke Timmerman welcome

5:20 pm: What’s new in biotech investing? Conversation with Charlotte Hubbert, partner, Gates Foundation Venture Capital, and Thong Le, CEO of Accelerator Corp.

5:35 pm: What’s new at local companies? (3 minutes each)

Colleen Delaney, Nohla Therapeutics

Leen Kawas, M3 Biotechnology

Amanda Paulovich, Precision Assays

5:45 pm: Why do I subscribe to TR? (2 minutes)

David Miller, Alpine Bioventures

5:47 pm: Luke Timmerman closing remarks

6 pm: Book signing. “Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age”

6:30 pm: END



David Baltimore on What it Takes to Create the Future

[Editor’s Note: This post is a new foreword for my book, “Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age.” It’s written by David Baltimore of Caltech, a Nobel laureate who has known Lee Hood for more than 40 years. This foreword is included in the hardcover and audiobook.] 

Yes, ‘Hood’ is now an audiobook! Click here to listen to a sample.

By David Baltimore

David Baltimore

David Baltimore

Lee Hood is a legend. He has produced a raft of scientific accomplishments and that is only a part of the story. He has a perspective that gives each of his talks a distinctive quality: he is always looking ahead. Other visiting speakers may come to a university to display what they have accomplished. For Lee, that is old news. He comes to tell his audiences what he sees happening in the future. He regales us with how he is helping to create that future, giving hints of what is to come. He has been doing this for decades and I have heard various renditions of his futurism at scientific meetings, at university seminars, and in living rooms in Montana, where we both have gone together to enjoy outdoor activities. The remarkable thing about Lee’s predictions is how often they come to pass.

But even if his predictions are not fulfilled—and usually he promises more than is delivered—his talks have one remarkable consequence: the young people who come are transfixed. They realize that the enterprise they are preparing themselves for is a huge one with wide ramifications. They realize that the reality of the small advances that they struggle to make daily has another dimension. It is part of a greater struggle to understand living organisms, to deal with the imperfections of inheritance, and to counter disease. They see in Lee someone who has encompassed this larger vision and is consumed by making it the reality.

'Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age" is now available as an audiobook on Libro.fm.

‘Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age” is now available as an audiobook on Libro.fm, a platform that supports indie bookstores.

Lee studied and worked at Caltech, the university where I have been for the last twenty years. He had left years before I arrived, but his outsize personality and his drive left a huge legacy at Caltech. People remembered his many ideas, his large and ever-increasing laboratory, his leadership and his friendship. He had started at Caltech as an undergraduate, went off to medical school at Johns Hopkins, came back as a graduate student, went off to NIH for a short stint and then returned to Caltech as a faculty member for more than twenty years. His impact on immunology was enormous. For his graduate work he filled out the thoughts of his mentor, Bill Dreyer, and they presented strong evidence that antibody genes had both variable and constant regions joined into one molecule. How that might happen was a mystery solved by Susumu Tonegawa, who showed that joining DNA was a key mode of diversification for antibodies. In the mid-1970s, when Tonegawa’s work was published—and when recombinant DNA methods were developed—I was seduced to become an immunologist. That brought me in contact with Lee because we were both trying to understand the mechanisms that generated antibody diversity. We were really trying to work out the molecular biology of a process that had much earlier been recognized by Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet and Joshua Lederberg and enshrined as the clonal selection theory.

Lee attracted some remarkable trainees, notably Mark Davis. My equally remarkable trainees, including Fred Alt, and I found ourselves vying with the young hotshots under Lee’s direction. Looking back, we and others gave life to an understanding of how immune cells can use DNA rearrangement to generate an immune system.

For me, understanding this process was a driving force that lasted years. For Lee, it was a beginning of a career that quickly moved into other realms. In particular, Lee saw that the huge variety of antibodies that allow us to be protected against viruses, bacteria, and fungi represented a myriad of protein structures. Early on, he recognized that automated equipment and methods were essential if we were ever going to unravel the complexity of the system. This sounds simple, but was not a mainstream view at the time. The traditions of molecular biology had developed in an entirely different way. It was a field dominated by small laboratories, by simple experiments often read out overnight, by remarkable investigators who combined complex theory with their revealing experiments to create deep understanding, usually of single biological mechanisms. The idea of automation to speed up the process and ask an ever-widening set of biological questions was either anathema or repugnant to senior molecular biologists. It turned out that they were seeing the past and Lee was seeing the future. He brought into his orbit engineers, machine builders, and many others who helped him create a new way to do science. In particular, he showed us how to find, wholesale, the structures of proteins and DNA sequences, providing tools that matched the complexity of living processes and opening new ways of doing biology.

But that was only the beginning. Lee moved from Caltech to the University of Washington in the early 1990s because his vision of the future was broader and more complex than Caltech—a boutique university—could handle. Even the UW, a huge state university with basic research and a medical school, was not able to satisfy his voracious appetite for science. In early 2000, he left to form an independent institute, the Institute for Systems Biology. There he has evolved a view of medicine and science moving to a new paradigm of maintaining health enshrined as the four Ps of medicine: predictive, preventive, personalized, and participatory. He is involving people in their own health care. Wellness is his concern, not so much the treatment of disease.

Lee is a self-controlled person. Many find him hard to penetrate, hard to warm up to. But for me, Lee represents an important mode of doing science. Not only doing the obvious which we all do, not only doing the detailed investigation of systems that cry out for understanding, but constantly asking: “What do we need to get to the next level?”

Sometimes he appears to be superficial, but he is always on to something, always striving to create the future. Actually, it is often others who find their way to the next rung of the ladder of biological understanding, but they are hearing Lee and responding to his inspiring message. He is the pied piper. I believe that the advancements of science are created by the intersection of people who have different styles, different visions, different strengths. To this amalgam, Lee had contributed a special set of capabilities, ones that are in short supply. Our science would be less powerful, less explanatory if it were not for Lee’s insights and his determination.

Lee’s life story provides rich subject material for a biography. His experience reveals much to us about the character of those who drive progress, and science itself. Luke Timmerman has captured Lee’s complexity and laid it out for the world to appreciate. Enjoy your encounter with this deep personality carried along by a fine biographer.

David Baltimore

President Emeritus
Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology
California Institute of Technology

Yes, ‘Hood’ is now an audiobook! Click here to listen to a sample. Also available on Kindle or as a hardcover directly from me.


Steve Holtzman on Why Biotech Should Stand Up for Science

[Editor’s Note: Steve Holtzman, CEO of Decibel Therapeutics, delivered these remarks in a speech today at the March for Science Boston. This article is free and shareable.]

Thank you to the organizers of today’s rally and to all of you gathered here today to raise your voices in solidarity and in support of the scientific enterprise.

Over the last 30 years, it has been my privilege to work in the biotechnology industry.

Steve Holtzman, CEO, Decibel Therapeutics

Steve Holtzman, CEO, Decibel Therapeutics

Biotechnology owes its existence to advances in fundamental, basic science.  Our industry’s role in society is to transform the revolution in the life sciences into innovative new medicines to address unmet human needs and to save and improve the quality of human life worldwide.

Today, we find ourselves in a time when science and its practitioners are under siege.

An assault on science is an assault on the future of the biotechnology industry.  We can only continue to harvest basic science and convert it into new medicines if it is renewed and nurtured.  Hence, pragmatically, it is in our industry’s self-interest to advocate for support of the basic sciences.

However, that is NOT my main point in speaking to you today.  The leadership of the biotechnology industry has a much deeper set of reasons to raise our voices in opposition to anti-science rhetoric and policies.

Modern scientific inquiry is founded on grounding principles among which is the belief that the quality of the data, not the economic, political, religious, or physical power of their proponent, should determine their authority.  We share a conception of standards of evidence and argumentation for the existence of a fact.  This conception of scientific inquiry does not admit of so much as the concept of an alternative fact, much less the existence of one.

Perhaps not so obviously however, intrinsically bound up with this conception of rational, scientific discourse, are the ideals of equality of participation and justice. As citizens, we all have an obligation to contribute to the conditions that enable the creation of a community of open discourse involving everyone with something to contribute — regardless of skin color, ethnicity, religious belief, country of origin, gender, or sexual orientation.  Excluding any voice from that community on such a basis is repugnant to the rationality that undergirds the scientific endeavor. It is the moral equivalent of excluding data that potentially contravene conventional belief.  That community of open, reasoned discourse is essential to the quest for truth as best we can know it, whether in science or society.

These scientific and societal ideals are threads woven together in a glorious tapestry.

Pull out one thread and the whole begins to unravel.

Conversely, anti-science views, such as those espoused by some on creationism, vaccination, and climate change, are equally bound up with expressions of misogyny, racism, religious intolerance, and other shameful bigotries.

Anti-science rests on the authority of the powerful, not open rational discourse, to carry the day. Bigotry is about the systematic exclusion from the discourse of a subset of those with rationally and respectfully held competing views.

This, too, is a tapestry of intertwined threads. Do not think it possible to approve, or even quietly disapprove of but countenance, one without thereby endorsing the other.

Thus, the modern biotechnology enterprise is an industry with noble origins not just in science but also in the advancement of the social preconditions necessary for an open society and polity to flourish. These dual ideals are the bedrock on which biotechnology is built.  They compel us as an industry to lift our voice in unwavering support: for the advancement of science, yes, but also for the freedom of all with something to contribute to participate in the discourse.  Without both, our quest to transform basic research into meaningful new medicines will wither and die.

Thank you for standing with us today, together raising our voice in solidarity and support of these intertwined ideals: of rational scientific inquiry and of social justice.


Photos from the TR Anniversary Party and Boston Marathon

Thanks to everyone who came out to the Timmerman Report Anniversary Party last week at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, and those who volunteered and cheered Monday at the Boston Marathon.

This was the third year in a row I’ve visited Boston in mid-April to run a TR subscriber party and run the marathon. It’s fast becoming a favorite TR tradition. It’s also a great way to mix business and pleasure (or pain).

Enjoy a few of the photos from the party, taken by my lovely wife Tracy Cutchlow, plus a couple shots from the iconic race.

For those of you on the West Coast, never fear. There will be another TR Anniversary Party on May 9 at Adaptive Biotechnologies, 1551 Eastlake Ave East, Seattle. Charlotte Hubbert of the Gates Foundation and Thong Le of Accelerator will talk investment trends. Three interesting startups — M3 Biotechnology, Nohla Therapeutics, and a stealth spinout to be named later from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center — will make quick pitches. Personally signed copies of “Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age” will also be available for purchase. The event is free, but you have to RSVP to save a spot.

Now, on to the photos:

Standing room in the back as the TR Anniversary Party got underway

Standing room in the back as the TR Anniversary Party got underway

Hard to believe it's been two years. I've learned a lot on the fly about building a bootstrapped, independent biotech media company.

Hard to believe it’s been two years. I’ve learned a lot on the fly about building a bootstrapped, independent biotech media company.

Phil Sharp of MIT, one of the most distinguished biologists of his generation, compared "Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age" to "The Double Helix," the controversial classic by James Watson. I'm honored.

Phil Sharp of MIT, one of the most distinguished biologists of his generation, compared “Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age” to “The Double Helix,” the controversial classic by James Watson. I’m honored.

Abbie Celniker, partner at Third Rock Ventures and chair of MassBio, discussed some of the work going on behind the scenes to advance women in biotech leadership.

Abbie Celniker, partner at Third Rock Ventures and chair of MassBio, discussed some of the work going on behind the scenes to advance women in biotech leadership.

TR contributor Leora Schiff, a consultant with Altius Strategy focused on defining pharmaceutical value, had a chance to introduce herself to readers. She had the line of the night, quoting a colleague whose reaction to TR was “Oh, that’s the publication that’s willing to say when the Emperor Has No Clothes.” Darn right.

The TR Anniversary Party is a family affair. Here's my 5-year-old, who gamely snapped a photo of her Dad with Phil Sharp. She was well-behaved, enduring Dad's "boring, boring, boring" biotech event.

The TR Anniversary Party is a family affair. Here’s my 5-year-old, who gamely snapped a few photos. She was very well-behaved, although afterward, when I said the event was “fun” she corrected me. “It was boring, boring, boring, boring, boring,” she said.

Me with Phil Sharp. Pretty sure my wife took this one, as the little one would've have had to stand on a chair.

With Phil Sharp. Pretty sure my wife took this one, as the little one would’ve have had to stand on a chair.

Last but not least, we talked science. Naveen Mehta, a fourth-year grad student at MIT, talked about a new idea for cancer vaccines.

Last but not least, we talked science. Naveen Mehta, a fourth-year grad student at MIT, talked about a new idea for cancer vaccines.


Daniel Dadon, a newly minted PhD from MIT, described a new idea for a company that seeks to deliver biologic drugs in higher concentrations. He told me later he was approached by a couple of people who were quite interested, and maybe able to help. Sparks flew! Love it.

Boston Marathon Expo day was a great time to feel the community excitement around the big run.

Boston Marathon Expo day was a great time to feel the community excitement around the big run.

Coming down the homestretch on Boylston Street, Boston Marathon 2017. Finished in 3:10:21. This year was especially tough, as it was a bit hot with temperatures in the 70s. But I ran fast enough to qualify again for a fourth straight year. See you in Boston again in April 2018.

Coming down the homestretch on Boylston Street at the Boston Marathon. Finished in 3:10:21. Temperatures were high, over 70 degrees Fahrenheit, making this especially hard. But I still ran fast enough to qualify for a fourth straight year. See you again at the great race in April 2018.


Boston Biotech: See You At The TR Anniversary Party Thursday Afternoon

More than 175 people are RSVPd for the TR 2nd Anniversary Party at 4:30 pm Thursday at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals in Kendall Square. This fun, free networking event is fast becoming a favorite tradition at Timmerman Report.

There’s still a little room left, but space is limited and registration will close by 3 pm ET Wednesday, Apr. 12. So if you plan to stop by, now’s the time to save a spot. No walk-ins will be allowed.

Also, be aware of some program updates:

The start time is moving back a half-hour to 4:30 pm. Special guests Phil Sharp and Abbie Celniker will be on hand to discuss impressions of the Hood biography and women’s leadership issues, respectively. Hear briefly from an MIT grad student and newly minted MIT PhD with startup ideas, and from TR contributing writer Leora Schiff on the value she sees in an independent, subscriber-supported biotech publication. There will also be an opportunity to purchase signed copies of “Hood”, and to get a FREE signed copy when purchasing a new group license to Timmerman Report.

Most of all, this is a great opportunity to get out and network with your biotech community peers and do it while supporting independent biotech media.

See the detailed program below. Don’t miss it!


4:30 pm-6:30 pm

Apr. 13

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals

300 Third Street

Cambridge, MA


4:30 pm-5:15 pm: NETWORKING

5:15 pm: Host Welcome. (Alnylam) (2 mins)

5:17 pm: Luke Timmerman welcome. (2 mins)

5:19 pm: Discussion of “Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age” with Phil Sharp (15 mins)

5:35 pm: Interview with Abbie Celniker on advancing women in biotech leadership (15 mins)

5:50 pm: Introducing TR contributor Leora Schiff (3 mins)

5:53 pm: Startup pitches (6 mins). Naveen Mehta & Daniel Dadon

5:59 pm: Luke Timmerman Final Thank Yous (1 min). Reminder of Hood book signing, opportunity to subscribe/ purchase group sharing licenses to Timmerman Report. FREE signed Hood book ($33 value) for new small group subscribers. FREE Timmerman Report New Balance workout T-shirt ($35 value) PLUS signed Hood book for larger groups.


6:30 pm: END