Vertex on the Verge

Vertex on the Verge

04.26.11 | By Kate Connors

Sunday's Boston Globe included a multi-part series detailing Cambridge, Mass.-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a growing biopharmaceutical firm that is hoping to find itself on the cusp of moving from a young start-up to a commercially viable company. In this sense, it's a great example of the many emerging companies that contribute to the work done throughout the biopharmaceutical research sector, and we'll continue to highlight similar emerging companies in the future here on The Catalyst.

According to the Globe, Vertex is currently awaiting Food and Drug Administration review of a potential new medicine to treat the fatal hepatitis C. One of the articles in the series details the process that the company used in its development, from trying to learn from other researchers' experiences battling HIV to the unforeseen challenges presented by an economic downturn.

Medical implications aside, the medicine could represent a financial breakthrough for the firm, which was founded in 1989 and has since reportedly invested $4 billion in R&D without ever being a company that "consistently makes money," the Globe says in "Rearranging the Corporate DNA." However, that also means a new set of challenges for a company that is trying to transition itself "to an integrated research and commercial organization."

In the series' two other articles, the Globe demonstrates this organizational shift by highlighting a scientist - and 22-year Vertex veteran - who had been a bit of a renegade researcher when he joined the then-fledgling firm as well as a marketing expert who left a career at established biopharmaceutical firms to create an entire new department at Vertex, mirroring those start-up scientists of the firm's early days by gathering marketing professionals who are similarly willing to take a chance.

To hammer the point home, the Globe published a timeline of Vertex's corporate and research development.

The series tells the story of one company, but to me, it's just one microcosm of the industry as a whole. It's an industry of dedicated researchers, of people taking a chance on the unknown each day and, unfortunately, of failing nearly just as often. As a former Vertex employee - now a CEO of another growing biopharmaceutical research company in Massachusetts - says, "The easiest thing you can do in this industry is say something is going to fail, because 95 to 99 percent of the time you're right."

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