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Biotech executive lends expertise to nonprofit organization

By Joe Ciolli | 21 Nov 2010

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Gail Maderis, president and chief executive officer of BayBio, a South San Francisco-based nonprofit trade association serving the Northern California life science industry, sees collaboration as the secret to success. (Photo: Joe Ciolli)

On the windowsill of Gail Maderis’s office sits a picture of her with George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, taken at this year’s BIO International Convention. When asked about the photo, Maderis glossed over her own interactions and focused on the exchanges she witnessed between the two former presidents. She recalled being surprised at their rapport.

“They find areas of common interest where they can do good,” she said, “and they use their political presence to actually have impact.”

Collaboration is what Maderis hopes to create through her work as president and chief executive officer of BayBio, a South San Francisco-based nonprofit trade association serving the Northern California life science industry.  Maderis believes that establishing a regional biotech community will empower companies and breed innovation. “We’re the largest biotech cluster in the world, but we haven’t been the most cohesive,” she said in a recent interview.  “My goal is to turn this cluster into a community, and get everyone pulling together in the same direction.”

By banding the region’s biotech companies and resources together, Maderis believes BayBio can help the industry bounce back from the lingering effects of the national recession.  She noted that venture capital investments in early stage companies have dried up and that the IPO market has been at a virtual standstill for several years.

“Our companies are really resourceful,” Maderis said, stressing the positive. “They’re coming up with creative ways of staying alive by doing more partnering, looking overseas for capital and being more aggressive (in) applying for government grant funding.”

In some ways, the U.S. financial meltdown helped BayBio define its role within the biotech industry. Recently, for example, the organization helped California firms claim $281 million in tax credits made available through the stimulus package. “We set up shop here at our office and had companies come in,” Maderis explained. “We linked up tax accountants with the companies to help them develop their applications and put the forms in.”

Maderis believes that such financial aid is crucial to maintain California’s competitiveness. BayBio was also instrumental in the campaign to defeat Proposition 24, which would have revoked tax breaks now benefiting the state’s businesses.  The organization was part of the No On 24 coalition, and Maderis herself was a vocal opponent of the measure, contributing Op-Ed articles to local news outlets.

Earlier this year, BayBio helped get a payroll-tax exemption extended in San Francisco.  Todd Rufo, director of business development for San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, said, “Gail worked tirelessly to make the case why [the exemption] was important to the industry.  She is a tireless advocate, and very well-connected.”

Whatever Maderis lacks in the way of a formal science education, she makes up for through a combination of business experience and acquired science knowledge. As an undergraduate at UC- Berkeley, she elected to pursue a business career. She said the choice was largely spurred by her identical twin sister’s decision to go into medicine, which sent her “as far in the other direction as possible.”

After taking a job with Shell Oil Company straight out of college, Maderis earned her M.B.A. at Harvard Business School and transitioned into management consulting at Bain & Company.  “It gave me a great chance to look really broadly across a lot of different industries,” said Maderis, who quickly became attracted to biotech.  “But every time I got around health care and science I found I really liked it.”

This interest led her to take a job with Boston-based biotech industry heavyweight Genzyme, where she held several senior executive positions.  Ultimately, Maderis founded and became president of a unit built around Genzyme’s cancer gene therapy technology; it would later go public and be renamed Genzyme Molecular Oncology (GZMO).

In 2003, Maderis left Genzyme to serve as president and CEO of Five Prime Therapeutics, a developer of protein therapeutics.  At Five Prime, Maderis enjoyed a complementary relationship with founder Rusty Williams, as they worked to develop the business.  “Rusty provided scientific leadership, allowing me to focus on financing, partnerships and building the company,” said Maderis.  “It was a very good match.”

It was early in her tenure at Genzyme that Maderis started her science crash course.  “I picked [science knowledge] up working with the scientists,” she said.  “I really acquired it by osmosis.  Now I can at least understand the concepts.  You have to understand the essence so you can assess risk and understand how the technology components fit together.”

When Maderis stepped down from her position at Five Prime in 2009 for health reasons, she fully intended to retire. But BayBio, for which she served as a board member, stepped in to offer her its president/CEO job on an interim basis.  After much consideration, Maderis decided to add another chapter to her career by entering the nonprofit realm.

As for the future, she said: “If you look at what’s getting funded (now), it’s less risky projects. But some of the biggest opportunities and unmet medical needs are in high-risk areas — the truly innovative projects.  These are the ones that are struggling the most for funding.”

It remains to be seen if Maderis’s collaborative efforts can attract this type of funding. But, regardless, she has a sound perspective on her role at BayBio.  “What I bring to this job … is understanding of the industry,” said Maderis.  “I think that’s helped focus us on really giving tangible benefits to our companies.”

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