Who's the most influential CEO in the biotech business? The answer to that question might be largely a matter of opinion; however, there are definite standouts in the sector -- three of whom receive an enthusiastic "thumbs-up" from these Motley Fool health care contributors.
Todd Campbell: Phillip Frost gets my nod as the most influential CEO in biotech. Frost is the visionary behind Ivax, a generic drugmaker that was sold to Teva Pharmaceutical (NYSE:TEVA) for $7 billion in 2006.
That sale not only catapulted Frost onto the short list of billionaire biotech leaders, but eventually seated him firmly in the top spot as Chairman of the Board at Teva, one of the globe's biggest drug companies. Frost's success at Ivax and later at Teva (including his hand in selecting the management team and providing strategic guidance that led to a doubling of the company's revenue since 2008) places him among one of the few biotech guru's that investors should be tracking. That is especially true since Frost remains a prolific entrepreneur.
In addition to his role at Teva, Frost is the CEO of Opko Health (NASDAQ:OPK), a development-stage company working on a slate of drugs and diagnostic tests. Frost's past success and private-equity chops, including a string of acquisitions at Opko, make him worth watching in this fast-moving industry.
Cheryl Swanson: Chris Viehbacher, until recently the head of French biopharma Sanofi (NASDAQ:SNY), gets my vote for the most influential CEO. In a surprise move, Sanofi's board sacked Viehbacher in October. Viehbacher was considered investor-friendly, and his exit pummeled the stock's price. Sanofi dropped 5.9% on the news, and is now down 18% from its peak share price on Sept. 20.
There are two sides to every decision, and Viehbacher, a dual citizen of Canada and Germany, had his troubles with French unions. But he achieved a major turnaround for Sanofi by cobbling together more than 20 mergers, including the takeover of Genzyme. He also rejuvenated the company's research and development by recruiting top scientists from institutions in the U.S. and elsewhere.
It seems likely that dumping Viehbacher so abruptly will make it hard for Sanofi to replace him with another top-level pharma CEO. If Sanofi replaces him with a nonpharma French CEO, the company will be much less investment-worthy. Meanwhile Viehbacher is too young to retire, and he's likely to end up running another biopharma. Investors should keep an eye on where the man goes. He's a force to be reckoned with.
George Budwell: I like those picks, but when it comes to the crème de la crème of biotech CEOs, my choice is Gilead Sciences' (NASDAQ:GILD) John C. Martin. Since Martin took the reins as CEO in 1996, Gilead's share price has appreciated a jaw-dropping 9,991%. Martin's stunning success story has revolved around his ability to execute a series of key mergers and acquisitions that have added tremendous value to Gilead's product portfolio.
Prior to Martin's tenure, Gilead was focused solely on developing antiviral drugs for HIV patients. By acquiring 12 clinical-stage biopharmas in the last 15 years, Martin has greatly expanded the scope of the company's operations. Specifically, Gilead has launched important new drugs in the cardiovascular, hepatitis C, pulmonary, and, most recently, oncology markets. To top it off, these acquisitions have also helped to greatly strengthen Gilead's HIV franchise.
Martin's strategy of buying smaller, innovative biopharmas to generate growth hasn't gone unnoticed. Actavis and Valeant Pharmaceuticals, for example, have both followed his blueprint for success almost to a tee in recent years -- showing this CEO's widespread influence on the biotech industry.