(3) The Biotech Industry

Kandel and Axel, 2000

In 1985, Richard Axel asked me to talk about Alzheimer’s disease at a meeting in NYC of the board of directors of Biotechnology General, a company for which Axel consulted…After that meeting, the chairman proposed that we start a new biotechnology company focused exclusively on the brain. At first I was reluctant…I shared the view held earlier by a large part of the academic community that biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies did humdrum science…

In 1987, we formed Synaptic Pharmaceuticals…I asked Walter Gilbert to join the board. Wally is an extraordinary person, one of the most intelligent, gifted, and versatile biologists of the second half of the twentieth century…Denise and I developed a habit that continues to this day—dining with Wally, usually at a wonderful restaurant, the night before scientific advisory board meetings…We formed effective partnerships with Eli Lilly and Merck. The company went public in 1992 and disbanded its extraordinary scientific advisory board….

In 1995, as Denise and I were having one of our dinners with Walter Gilbert, Denise suggested that we start a company to develop a “little red pill” for age-related memory loss. In 1996 the four of us formed a new company, Memory Pharmaceuticals….Both Columbia and Howard Hughes have experienced lawyers who helped me work out consulting agreements….In 2004, the company went public. It has developed four new families of drugs…Some of the compounds improve a rat’s memory of a new task for months! (p.324)