The Colgate Scene
September 2002

A showcase of alumni talent
First biotechnology conference a success

Part of the panel, from left: Harvey Berger '72, Christine Cronin Gallagher '83, Don Pogorzelski P'02'04, Brian Dovey '63 and Kirk Raab '59. [Photos by John D. Hubbard]

More than 150 people, a record number for a Colgate alumni event in New England, turned out for a conference on biotechnology in June at the Copley Marriott Hotel in Boston. Hosted by the alumni club, the event attracted one of the largest audiences of any alumni event held in Boston, said Murray Decock '80, associate vice president for development, who was actively involved in planning the daylong event.

The event was a showcase of Colgate alumni talent. Every participant, from the keynote speaker to panelists who addressed a broad range of issues, was a Colgate graduate or parent.

"Colgate has an unusually high profile in the biotechnology sector," said Decock, noting that at least 14 senior executives of leading biotech firms are Colgate alumni and nearly 20 more alumni are leading venture capitalists with an interest in the field. Many of those industry leaders participated in the program. They included Kirk Raab '59, former chief executive officer of Genentech and member of the board of directors of InterMune and Connetics; Harvey Berger, M.D. '72, chief executive officer of Ariad Pharmaceuticals; Brian Dovey '63, senior partner with Domain Partners; Christine Cronin Gallagher '83, managing director at C. E. Unterberg, Towbin; and Jack Douglas '75, legal counsel, Millennium Pharmaceuticals.

"The ultimate objective of the conference was to better connect our alumni and parents in the biotechnology `space,'" noted Decock. "Our ability to help build bridges between these people will ultimately help us build better bridges back to Colgate."

Brian Dovey '63
By all measures, the conference was a success, attracting alumni and parents not only from the Boston area, but participants from all over the nation who came for the opportunity to hear industry leaders offer their insights into all aspects of the biotech industry.

"At any given time, there are ideas and issues that an educated person should know about," said Dovey. "Biotechnology is one of those ideas for our time, and programs like this conference are an excellent way to help participants understand what is going on in the field."

Just what is going on in the field?

"Academic institutions and companies are building employment in centers around the world with high-quality, knowledge-intensive jobs, and together they are inventing new diagnostics, vaccines and cures for disease," said Raab, keynote speaker for the event. "Millions of people worldwide are leading longer, better and more productive lives."

Not bad for an industry that is barely a quarter of a century old. Declaring it a "stunning worldwide industry," Raab noted that Genen-tech, alone, has $2 billion in annual sales and some 4,000 employees. "The industry is propelled by academic and industry collaboration," he noted, "and we're on the cusp of a whole new era supported by new sciences, such as genomics, proteomics, gene therapy and target validation technologies."

Indeed, the human genome project -- thought only a few years ago to be the apex of gene research -- has simply opened new doors through which scientists have plunged at a breakneck pace. In laboratories worldwide, the future of health is unfolding at an increasingly rapid pace.

And why have so many luminaries in the field emerged from a liberal arts university in upstate New York, hundreds of miles from where most of the industry's leading firms are situated?

"Colgate has a longstanding history of excellence in biomedical research," noted Berger. "Consequently, there are extensive ties to the field. The undergraduate science programs also have tremendous strength."

Harvey Berger '72
Equally important, said Dovey, is the spirit of entrepreneurism that has always been a singular characteristic of Colgate students. "When the university is far removed from large urban centers, students must be inventive," he said. "This gives Colgate students an edge. If you're going to succeed, you must make things happen for yourself. The university encourages this sort of independent thinking and initiative. And the result is students who are ideally equipped for the demands of the biotech field."

"Biotechnology is changing the world," said Gallagher. "We have pills today for simple diseases people would have died from in the past. The field constantly produces new tools, new ways of approaching old problems and new opportunities. In the past, many of the advances in health have been grounded in chemistry, but that is very rapidly changing. It's an enormously exciting field. But, in order to flourish in biotechnology, you need to understand and embrace change."

Colgate students, she said, embody that ability. Active in recruiting on campus over the last several years, Gallagher said that she has been gratified to find Colgate graduates are not only highly intelligent, but, more important, demonstrate the capacity to "put it all together" that biotechnology companies seek in new employees.

The conference was such a success, said Decock, that follow-up programs are now on the drawing board. Sometime next spring, he expects a similar event will be held in San Francisco, the epicenter of West Coast biotechnology. Many of the leaders who participated in the Boston event have already committed to participate. At a later date, an event on campus will present students with opportunities to hear and meet the leaders and consider careers in the field.

"This is a great time for the industry," said Berger. "Great progress is being made and there are extraordinary opportunities."

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