Len discusses his motivation for starting the company

Cause I was interested in molecular biology, but I have been trained as a biochemist because when I did my training, molecular biology really hadn't come to life. And then after four years of clinical training, I'm going back into lab. I wanted to learn about molecular biology and start to do some combine that with biochemistry and I kept reading the journals. I love to read the articles and sure enough, just a bit seemed like to me every other paper was a publication by this company, Genentech. And I said, “who are these damn guys at Genentech”. Every other paper and it's not a university. I really never heard of it, so I did a little digging and found out they were so called biotechnology company.

So I called up my buddy Gilman and Al was a rising star in the in the world of science, and it was pretty clear that he was on his way to win the Nobel prize, it was just a matter of time. And so he was a great advisor to me, even though we were separated now, I was in New York and he was in Texas. And so I said, Al, these guys are Genentech, they seem to be seem to be doing all the great work and the notion that a company can do great science seems to me is quite intriguing. Maybe we should start a company to do this science in the field of neurology and neurobiology, which is what I was interested in. He, of course, immediately said no. It's a dumb idea. Just stick, you know, get back to the lab and stop wasting your time on this nonsense. But I continue to think about it.

And the bottom line to me was that it seemed to me that there was a wide-open field that is that while the Genentechs of the world were working on the molecular cloning of a variety of these so-called growth factors, insulin, human growth hormone and then things that weren't known in the hematopoietic field like Amgen started working on an EPO at the time.

And this was about a year or so before Amgen brought that to market. There were these various growth factors that struck me that if cells use growth factors, there had to be a bunch of growth factors for the nervous system. I started to learn about the only known neurotrophic factor for the nervous system of growth called nerve growth factor. I assume that there had to be many more. The notion was that we could identify them, clone them, spritz them on to people's brains or where was necessary, cure a few diseases and sail off into the sunset. That was the basic notion. And I was determined to build the company where we've valued science and the scientists who did the science as opposed to build a company which is more traditionally built, by businesspeople who almost in some respects just want to exploit science and have some disdain and don't know how to reward and deal with it. 

to top