Being Fred Hassan - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Being Fred Hassan


Pharmaceutical Executive


Most notably, Hassan led the acquisition of Akzo Nobel's Organon BioSciences, with five Phase III projects, which nearly doubled SP's pipeline. The purchase also brought in research expertise in CNS, women's health, and anesthesia. A bonus: Organon's new, state-of-the-art, GMP-certified, biological manufacturing plant—a timely fit for SP, which is now moving its first biotech candidates into human testing.

And SP's R&D engine is starting to kick in. It has four fast-track projects in Phase II: a thrombin receptor antagonist, which is being tested for the treatment and prevention of cardiac events in patients with acute coronary syndrome; vicriviroc, an HIV drug that is a CCR5 receptor antagonist (as a first-line treatment, the results proved disappointing, but Tom Koestler still believes this will be "a best-in-class molecule"); the protease inhibitor boceprevir, and the A2a receptor antagonist for Parkinson's disease.

The deals have helped fill the pipeline gap, but Hassan says that, in the long run, the company needs to have its own competence at developing new drugs. "If someone else does the R&D for you, they could also do the marketing," he says. "Why would they need you?"

5 Like Your Job

In the dog-eat-dog world of pharma M&A, you have to marvel at Hassan's elegant positioning of Schering-Plough to acquire Organon. Wall Street had been after him for years, speculating about targets, pinning SP as ripe for a takeover. Finally, four years after getting behind the wheel at the company, Hassan made his move.

At first, many called the $14.4 billion price too high—but that chatter has mostly ceased. Aside from the promise of Organon's Phase III pipeline and the reduction in costs due to synergies, most analysts think Hassan can easily revive Organon's core contraceptives and fertility businesses, given his role in building Wyeth's women's health business.

Ask Hassan how he landed the deal, and he'll credit it to something simple: He likes his job. "If you are interested in your job and really interested in your business, you remain in tune," he says. "If you are in tune with the business, then you are able to move quickly when opportunities open up."

Hassan had closely followed Organon and Akzo Nobel, Organon's parent company, over the years. At one point, the companies were even codeveloping a male contraceptive. Hassan said he could see change brewing. For years, Akzo had tried unsuccessfully to boost the profits of its pharma division. In September 2006, the company announced it would concentrate on its chemical and paint businesses and separate out the pharma business. But two months later came the death blow: Pfizer walked away from a codevelopment deal on asenapine, a treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

"We thought that was a good opportunity to present an offer that would be better than what they would get for the partial IPO price," says Hassan. "The fact that we knew about this asset, had followed it for a long time, made it much easier to move with confidence when the opportunity opened up."

6 Be a Market Shapeshifter

Have an unflinching focus on the consumer—it's a mantra that Hassan lives by. "You have to trust your own instincts and do your own homework, especially when it's a new technology," he says. "In many ways, it's about how you create and shape a market and consumer demand, how you predict consumer behavior. It's impossible for conventional marketing research to give you a good answer."

Hassan's deep involvement with brands has earned him a rep on Madison Avenue as a micromanager. He famously caused a three-month delay in the consumer campaign for Pharmacia's Detrol (tolterodine) by constantly reviewing and even rewriting ad copy. At SP, he sits in on every brand review.


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