BobReider_2.jpg

BobReider_2.jpg

Health Sciences Winner: Bob Rieder, CEO Cardiome Pharmacorp.

Taking pride of place on Bob Rieder's desk is the lower jaw of a polar bear. It symbolizes not only his recent 270-kilometre Arctic canoe trip up the Horton River to the Beaufort Sea, but the strength it takes to guide a fledgling B.C. biotech from its test-tube beginnings to emergence in the global marketplace. What started in 1991 as a small, under-funded drug-discovery company developing a pipeline of products for coughs, pain, erectile dysfunction and heart disease is today one of Canada's five most valuable biotech firms. Since Rieder took the helm in 1998, the company has changed focus and zeroed in on products designed to treat the underlying causes of cardiovascular disease. His strategy, born from more than 20 years successfully financing the Canadian biotech sector, may soon pay off. In the past five years, Cardiome has grown from a $30-million market-cap TSX company to a nearly $800-million market-cap operation that is also listed on NASDAQ. As BCBusiness went to press, Rieder and his team, headquartered on the UBC campus, were awaiting U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for Cardiome's flagship intravenous drug, Vernakalant, a promising treatment for atrial fibrillation. FDA approval would make Vernakalant available to health-care consumers, initially through Astellas Pharma US Inc., Cardiome's co-development partner, which in 2003 paid $90 million for the rights to produce and sell the drug in North America. Regulatory approval for Cardiome's lead drug candidate would open up huge potential markets, offering tantalizing prospects to Cardiome shareholders, many of whom have believed in Rieder's vision almost from day one. Rieder admits that today's success has come on the heels of failure and a tough corporate lesson on finding the right market niche. "Persistence is the other great virtue," he says with a laugh. "You have to keep going after it, even when it seems you will never get there." While he has shepherded his team through the hard times, Rieder's true expertise lies in financing. "It's one of the reasons they hired me," he points out. "They believed I could do a good job of raising the sort of money we needed to move forward." However, his financial savvy was sorely tested in 2001 when a severe decline in the capital markets, combined with the impact of 9/11, virtually shut down the biotech financing business. At the time, Cardiome had only one year's cash left in the bank and a Phase-2 clinical trial to complete. Rieder's solution was a merger with private U.S. biotech firm Paralex Inc., with the dual goal of expanding Cardiome's product pipeline and providing an added incentive for potential investors. It certainly paid off; Rieder doubled his product base and raised $30 million from institutional investors at a time when most B.C. biotechs were struggling to stay afloat. This year Rieder completed an additional $113-million equity financing and acquired a strong new drug candidate from global pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Co. "Success in our industry is achieved by bringing benefit to patients," Rieder explains. "This exciting drug, which focuses on the role played by inflammation in heart disease, offers great promise to patients suffering from conditions for which there are few effective treatments." It is, he adds, a near-perfect addition to Cardiome's pipeline, as it strives to become the biggest and best cardiovascular therapeutics company in the world. A Port Alberni native who began life as a mechanical engineer and got sidetracked into venture capitalism, 62-year-old Rieder is clearly one contented CEO. "I really love what I do," he says. "Running this company is a very rewarding role, one that demands absolutely everything I've got. It's a privilege to have this kind of an occupation, especially at such an exciting time in our company's growth." As with other successful B.C. biopharmaceuticals, FDA approval would inevitably make Cardiome a target for one of the industry majors. "It's just a fact of life in our business," notes Rieder, adding that if anyone acquires his company, they would be getting something really special. "In all seriousness, I have never met a stronger team of people. It gives me enormous pride to be able to say that." Runners-up Scott Cormack Cormack is one of B.C.'s most dedicated foot soldiers in the war on cancer. As president and CEO, he has led OncoGenex Technologies Inc. through financing and built a strong cross-border team to develop three drug products offering new hope for patients suffering from certain treatment-resistant cancers. Its leading candidate, OGX-011 shows promise extending life in patients with prostate, lung and breast cancer. "Everyone here is pretty driven," says Cormack. "We realize that we have the potential to help people who have run out of other treatment options." Gordon McCauley Allon Therapeutics Inc. aims to prevent and cure a host of crippling brain diseases, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and schizophrenia. Drugs currently on the market treat only the symptoms of disease, says president and CEO Gordon McCauley, which leaves Allon's research in a class all its own. Under his guidance, Allon fast-tracked one of its drug candidates from an investigational new drug application to a Phase-2 clinical trial in humans in only 14 months. With two drugs currently in Phase-2 trials, McCauley plans to move his company forward by partnering with an international pharmaceutical company. Winners:

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