Headliner: Genentech's Bill Anderson

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Genentech's Bill Anderson says he has always felt a drive to make a difference in people's lives.

“I wanted to get somewhere where the output of my work had a more substantial impact on people, ” he says. This April marked a major achievement in the realization of Anderson's goals when, at age 39, he accepted the role of VP at Genentech, as head of its new immunology products department to support Rituxan.

Anderson attended the University of Texas in Austin, where he studied chemical engineering “because I always liked science,” he says. “That always seemed like a good place to contribute.” Upon completing his undergraduate degree in 1988, he went to work as an engineer designing and building chemical plants and producing chemicals for consumer products.

But after working two and a half years as an engineer in the Netherlands and Belgium, he found himself searching for something more. So he returned to the US to enroll at MIT. There, Anderson earned masters degrees in management and chemical engineering.

“I knew I wanted to go and work on the business side of things, but I also felt, in order to be fully effective, it was important to have a good, solid technical base,” he says.

After completing his studies at MIT in 1995, Anderson went to work for a high-tech start-up firm called Raychem Corporation and, soon after, for a spin-off unit of the company, in various roles involved in the marketing of components used in the manufacturing of digital projectors.

After two years, Anderson concluded that the best way for him to “make a contribution” would be to apply his vast science and business knowledge to healthcare, and in 1997 he returned to Cambridge, MA, to sign on with Biogen Idec.

“I started out as a financial analyst supporting the operations and product development areas. After two years, they sent me out to run business in the UK and Ireland.”

His first task was to lead Biogen through an evaluation of a multiple sclerosis product by the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, the independent organization responsible for providing national guidance on the promotion of good health.

“We basically helped people to understand (the review) wasn't just the matter of a dispute between the company and the government,” Anderson explains,  “but it was a matter of us standing up for the rights of people with MS and to have the drug reimbursed by the national health system. We kept the whole team on board. We fought and we lost in the first round, but we won on appeal. In the end, we reached a very good solution. That resulted in a huge increase in the number of patients that were able to receive treatment. It was actually a great leadership test for me.”

Anderson's next test came when he was called back to the US by Biogen to run its neurology business.

“Basically my role there was to launch Tysabri and then to work with the development organization and the FDA to sort through the aftermath of a withdrawal, to make Tysabri available again.

“We could have had another disaster scenario similar to some of the other events that have happened in our business and we didn't. In the end, people from all parties would say we did the right thing, that they trusted us.”

In April, Anderson brought his skills to Genentech, where he is helping drive the south San Francisco firm's burgeoning immunology franchise. “We are off to a very good start,” he says. “We have Xolair directed at asthma, Raptiva directed at psoriasis and Rituxan recently approved for rheumatory arthritis.”

When Anderson is not helping biotech companies build their business, he likes to play electric guitar and spend time with his wife and three young children. “I do a lot of soccer, softball— things like that,” he says laughingly.

As for his new home at Genentech, the thing that impresses him most is the pace of business. “People here are just extremely committed to moving things forward. The pace at which decisions are made is pretty awesome to see when you first arrive.”


 

HEADLINER STATS:

Bill Anderson

VP, immunology

business unit, Genentech

 

1997–2006

Biogen Idec—VP, finance, business planning; VP/gen. manager, neurology business unit

 

1995–1997

Raychem Corporation—marketing and development

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