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Mark Taylor writes about the life and legacy of Milan Panic in new book titled, “Warrior CEO”.
Pharm Exec talks with Mark Taylor about his new book "Warrior CEO" which talks about the life and legacy of Milan Panic.
Pharm Exec: Tell us a little about yourself.
Mark Taylor: Life has been good. My wife and I have been happily married 30 years and have three wonderful daughters. We live in Orange County, a thriving Southern California community with a vibrant medical device and pharmaceutical sector.
Over the years, I’ve come to know many high impact executives in the drug industry, connections I made through the years with Milan or during my time as a Wall Street drug analyst publishing buy and sell recommendations on stocks. My father was a stockbroker. He helped Milan raise his first million institutionally back in 1966, the financing that first put ICN in the pharmaceutical business. Milan went on to raise over $5 billion after that. I’m now on a pharmaceutical discovery journey of my own, working with several talented drug developers in a startup we founded. Our mission is to improve the cure rate of topical therapy for onychomycosis, a chronic infection that is one of the few unmet needs remaining in dermatology. My girls are living away from home now so I can devote myself fully to the company.
When I need to unwind, you can usually find me at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia watching thoroughbreds. I love race horses. My Grandfather was a top trainer in the 30s 40s and 50s. I carry on the family tradition through participation in Medallion Racing, an owners syndicate managed by Taylor-Made of Kentucky. We compete in graded stakes with high caliber fillies and mares.
PE: You’re currently, the co-founder of Hallux and have served as CEO and Treasurer since the company’s inception in June 2012. Tell us about the company and why you co-founded it.
Taylor: Onychomycosis is a chronic infection affecting 35 million people in the United States. It’s extremely tough to cure and the currently approved topical drugs have drawbacks. Patients are unsatisfied. We founded Hallux to pioneer a completely new treatment approach. We’re developing a new dosage form of a well-known drug combined with a completely new route of administration. The market opportunity is vast, but the clinical trials are long and the endpoints tough to hit. Still, I have investors that have placed their faith in me so I’m driven to deliver for them.
Start-ups require huge personal sacrifices, something I didn’t fully appreciate when we began. But it’s my number one priority. That’s what it takes. You must own it. The successes, the failures, the mistakes. It is all your responsibility. And what you don’t know, or are uncomfortable with, you must master. It’s not easy to hide in a start-up. You either succeed or fail. For me, failure is not an option. That’s what propels me now.
PE: A more recent title you have added to your professional career is author. You recently wrote “Warrior CEO”, a pictorial chronicle of the life and times of Milan Panic and his ICN team, now Valeant Pharmaceuticals. What made you want to write this book?
Taylor: Several reasons. First, Milan’s sheer body of work is underappreciated. I believe he may have been the longest reigning founder/CEO of a NYSE pharma company ever. His four decades at ICN faced an enormous amount of change in health policy, the way drug companies were regulated, valued by Wall Street, and structured so the high cost and risk of R&D could be absorbed. The book is a look back over four decades of change in the industry.
Milan started from scratch and in the end delivered a billion-dollar drug. But he and his colleagues had to overcome huge roadblocks along the way, some out of their control and some self-imposed. This includes the perils of having to compete abroad. In Warrior CEO you get currency devaluations, hyperinflation, U.N. sanctions, even a plant seizure by a hostile government. On the new drug front, the reader is taken back to the discovery of the company’s flagship antiviral, a broad-spectrum agent whose final approved indication wasn’t identified for 19 years after it was synthesized. Imagine trying to fund that idea today. Also, the book re-lives the early days of L-dopa for Parkinson’s and the FDA’s struggle to ensure safety when over 300 neurologists already had access to the drug through treatment INDs. Then there was the devastating AIDS crisis in the 80s and the identification of a new scourge called hepatitis C in the 90s. ICN and Milan were at the center of each of these events.
Second, Milan was a special entrepreneur. Anyone who met him or worked for him would attest to that. My hope is that after reading Warrior CEO, pharma insiders may gain a deeper appreciation of his achievements. He bet the ranch more than once, and always seemed to land on his feet. Sometimes that risk taking is required in the David versus Goliath pharmaceutical industry. The book combines so many stories in one. The rags to riches immigrant, the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia, the combative head of ICN, the tireless believer and champion of ribavirin, the globe-trotting privatizer of Eastern European state-owned drug companies after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the brazen raider who had the audacity to try and take out the Swiss treasure F. Hoffman La-Roche. The story entertains.
Lastly, I wanted to provide former employees, bankers, advisors, board members and their families with a glossy, pictorial, coffee table historical treasure to remind them of their ICN past. Milan was incredibly loyal to his global family and they were to him. Tens of thousands of workers in Russia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Poland touched capitalism for the first time through their association with Milan. Many of us were too young and inexperienced at the time to realize how important the work was, or how difficult it would be to replace those exciting times later in our careers. I wanted to make sure this history was captured in print.
PE: You have a unique relationship with Panic. He was your step-father. What, if any, baring did that have on your decision to go into the pharmaceutical industry?
Taylor: Everything. I met Milan at ten years old and was fascinated by him from the start. Within a few years, I was working at the company during summers. At eighteen, right after high school, I asked him for a job hoping to work in shipping or something like that at one of the local plants. Instead he sent me to Brazil for a year. Sao Paulo of all places. He called it the next America! I was scared to death flying there. But it changed my life. And so, the drug industry became my career. I guess I could have gone into horse racing. Maybe I’d be a Bob Baffert today.
PE: You also served as ICN’s executive vice president from 2000 to 2002. What did you learn from him about the pharmaceutical industry, and how does that influence the way you currently run your company?
Taylor: He provided the opportunity to learn from others. Milan was a businessman. With him, it was all about balance sheets, P&L’s, cash flow, how to do deals, how to manage a global company across cultures, markets, currencies, and languages. He was a numbers guy, and a problem solver. His management meetings were brutal. He’d make you stay until three in the morning to fix a problem. He usually knew the business better than anyone in the room and as a biochemist understood the science. He was incredibly disciplined and prepared. He could recite from memory every number in the P&L from every division. He taught us how important the details were, and to always know the entire picture.
Much of my industry knowledge – regulatory, sales and marketing, QA and compliance – was learned on the job, from other experts. ICN had tons of talent. And Milan would throw you deep into the problem, so it was often sink or swim. Many ICN executives who once worked with Milan went on to become huge successes in the industry, even a few billionaires. I’m 62 now, and CEO of a drug start-up working on a single asset. My aspirations are more modest. I want our drug to advance and our shareholders to see a return.
PE: Describe and compare the pharmaceutical industry of Milan’s day to the current state of the pharmaceutical industry? What are the major issues he faced as CEO, as compared to what you face as CEO of a pharmaceutical company?
Taylor: Milan started in the early 60s. The Kefauver-Harris amendments created the modern NDA. New exciting drugs were launching like the oral contraceptive. A deeper understanding of molecular biology paved the way for Genentech twenty years later. But the FDA often struggled to adapt, especially when confronted with a medical crisis. Milan’s confrontations with Commissioner Charles Edwards over L-dopa in the early 70s illustrate this. Fifteen years later he finds himself in the middle of the AIDS crisis.
Imagine during an epidemic like AIDS you are forced to run a placebo arm to ensure data objectivity. But people are dying. AIDS victims and their families questioned the morality of that. AZT was FDA approved, but toxic. Ribavirin was placed on clinical hold, yet it was nontoxic at 800mg and at that strength efficacious in preventing pre-AIDS from advancing. Ireland approved the drug based on the very data the FDA rejected. Admittedly, Milan didn’t handle things well and he and the company paid a huge price. But you could argue both sides. ICN and Milan found themselves in a number of these controversies over the years. It was fascinating to go back over the events. Fortunately, ribavirin eventually made its mark by combining with Schering’s Intron A to drastically improve outcomes for hepatitis C patients.
This is the clinical story of that broad-spectrum antiviral always in search of a disease. But it took a tireless, creative financier to keep this hope alive. Anyone developing a drug today faces similar challenges. Things go wrong. Your trial doesn’t succeed, and sometimes not because of the drug but rather the trial design. Try explaining that to your investors. You must have a little Milan in you to keep going. Warrior CEO tries to balance the highs and lows. You see what worked, and what didn’t. But in the end, the company ultimately achieved its goal, a lifesaving drug. May we all be as fortunate as Milan to land on our feet and improve life in people’s lives.
PE: During the research for this book, what was the most interesting fact you learned about Panic, as well as the pharm industry as a whole?
Taylor: In all my years with him I never knew the true story of how he got started…how he got the company funded. How he got his ownership back. How ICN rose from penny stock to NYSE in less than ten years. Turns out Milan was just an incredibly gifted and creative financier right from the start. He was a natural. He easily made the transition from bench chemist to businessman. He had good ideas, but more importantly he knew instinctively how to structure vehicles to get the ideas funded.
You read about it over and over in the book. Five billion raised and seventy-five companies purchased. And that doesn’t include the Roche bid and subsequent product acquisitions, the Viratek and Ribapharm spinoffs, or the Kodak partnerships. Drug development is high risk and incredibly high cost. CEO’s must be able to fund their companies. Milan was a master at this.
PE: What do you want current executives in the pharmaceutical space to take away from reading this book?
Taylor: If they have a past connection to Milan or the company, I hope the story brings back some fond memories. It may also provide some new facts not previously known. If you're a Valeant executive, the story may offer some new history about how a product originated, or a subsidiary. If you like to study pharmaceutical history or read about deals, the book describes every transaction in detail. If you're a clinical researcher interested in antivirals, the book provides the history of one of the first truly broad-spectrum agents. Or if you’re like me, a pharma executive hoping to make a difference, the book may teach you how to be your own Warrior CEO by continually persevering to reach the ultimate prize.