Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Executive Spotlight: Bill Lis, CEO Portola Pharmaceuticals

Bill Lis, CEO Portola Pharmaceuticals
Bill Lis, CEO of CHI-member company Portola Pharmaceuticals has almost 20 years of experience in the biomedical industry. In 2007, he joined his old colleagues there after being at Scios Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company, for four years. He came in as chief business officer, was promoted to chief operating officer and then CEO. For Lis, it was a unique opportunity to join Portola as a senior executive and work again with a talented group of scientists whom he had had success with several years ago at COR Therapeutics. “We’re very passionate about thrombosis. It remains one of the most important areas for drug discovery and development because of the significant unmet medical need and our scientists have contributed several significant advances to the area over the past two decades,” said Lis in a recent interview with CHI.

“We’ve also begun to use our expertise and understanding of biological pathways and cell signaling in cardiovascular disease to expand our efforts into inflammatory diseases. What continues to emerge is the role of inflammation in cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disorders. So, I’m excited by the combined opportunities ahead of us.”

Q: What does the company look like today?

A: We now have roughly 86 employees. About 30 percent to 35 percent of them are people that have worked together for more than 15 years at COR Therapeutics and Millennium Pharmaceuticals. That is very unique in our industry and it’s what provides the foundation for the success we’ve had thus far. We also have a talented group of people who’ve joined Portola from other biotech companies and academia and they have enhanced our capabilities. What’s also unique about Portola is that we have fully integrated discovery research and development capabilities. We believe this gives us a competitive advantage and increases our R&D productivity.

Q: Who financed its early days?

A: Initially, we got funding from a very distinguished group of venture capitalists. We have, since then, added additional institutional investors or what you would call cross-over investors. These investors will, hopefully, help us expand and access a larger market for financing opportunities in the future.

Q: How did you get to the point where you are today, with roughly $1 billion in licensing deals with Merck and Novartis?

A: The value of Portola is really built around its people. These are people truly committed to the science of developing drugs that positively impact the lives of patients with very serious diseases and disorders.

As a team, we’ve executed on financing the company with private equity financing and on partnerships. But, as I said, we really got to where we are today based on the world-class R&D team that we have put into place. This is a unique team and we’ve built what we think is the appropriate amount of infrastructure and drug discovery and development capabilities. We really focus on the serious illnesses, the conditions that we think have the greatest medical needs, and then we’ve built compounds that we believe have pharmacologic properties that can significantly advance patient care over current standard-of-care agents.

Q: Talk about Portola’s lead development programs, elinogrel and betrixaban. What are these products addressing, from both a patient and a market standpoint?

A: As far as our lead products and their ability to address unmet needs — these are pretty straight forward. Elinogrel, a P2Y12 platelet receptor antagonist, and betrixaban, a direct acting oral Factor Xa inhibitor targeting the coagulation cascade, target a combined antiplatelet and anticoagulant market, for patients at risk for life-threatening blood clots. This market is projected to surpass $20 billion in the next several years. The products follow our R&D philosophy to discover compounds based on validated targets. Importantly, their pharmacologic properties are distinct from those of our competitors. Our goal now is to demonstrate in Phase 3 trials that these properties provide clear clinical advantages for patients. We hope to distinguish them broadly and for specific high-risk subpopulations.

Q: If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?

A: I have always had an interest in politics and world events. But I can’t think of any other industry that does more to improve human health and the quality of people’s lives worldwide.

CHI-Advancing California biomedical research and innovation

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