TR: You regularly convince the top drug companies to give Millennium what BusinessWeek refers to as “obscene amounts of money.” How do you do that?
Levin: Well, first of all, we don’t think they’re obscene amounts of money-we think we should have actually gotten more. But what we’ve done from early on is to tell a vision for the future of the industry that is at the center of not only their profitability but also their survival. Our first alliance was in early 1994 with Roche, and we sat down with Jrgen Drews, who was the president of R&D and who has written a lot about productivity in pharmaceuticals. Right away, Jrgen and the Millennium team came to a real understanding and agreement about what the vision was. As we moved on and talked to other pharmaceutical partners, we found this same understanding about how critical our vision was for the future of genomics, productivity and personalized medicine.
TR: What’s in Millennium’s pipeline?
Levin: We’re developing three major businesses today: oncology, inflammation-which includes rheumatoid arthritis and asthma-and metabolic diseases, including obesity and diabetes. We now have seven drugs in the clinic. One of our most exciting drugs in the oncology pipeline is based on inhibiting the proteasome, which is a mechanism responsible for the orderly regulation of proteins and involved in the control of cell growth. We are now [conducting clinical trials of that drug for] multiple myeloma, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer and many others. We’re also developing a molecule with Genentech for inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerated colitis; this is an antibody that hones in on T cells that attack the gut. We also have drugs in the clinic for asthma and prostate cancer.
TR: Once you start marketing your own drugs, how does that change your collaborations with the pharmaceutical companies? Are you now the competition?
Levin: Well, it’s certainly been an evolution. Early on, we worked on just genes and drug targets; we would deliver targets to our partners, and we would get royalties on those as they become drugs. Today, we have 50-50 partnerships with Aventis and Abbott Laboratories where we work together to bring drugs from the gene to the market. However, I think it’s fair to say that just like pharmaceutical companies see each other as competitors, they are starting to look at us more as competitors. But it’s becoming a bigger world: the technologies are more complicated, the biology is more complicated, and in order to do all of this well, you do need to have partners. So although pharmaceutical companies now see us as competitors, they continue to see us as partners.
TR: Has the sequencing of the human genome changed the industry’s outlook?
Levin: In order to be a successful pharmaceutical company five and 10 years from now, each company’s going to have to understand not only the genome but the proteome, have the ability to pick the right targets by understanding molecular medicine, and know how to take the right targets forward into clinical trials. The ability to make those decisions will separate, I believe, the successful companies from the ones that are going to end up being merged into other companies.
TR: What is next for Millennium?
Levin: Over the next five to 10 years, our goal is to become a company that’s leading the world in personalized medicines, a company that is leading the world in productivity, a company with a value of over $100 billion, a company that has five to 10 products on the market that are making a big difference in people’s lives, a company with the strongest pipeline in the entire industry.