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San Diego's 'Godfather of biotech' discusses ins and outs of industry

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David Hale is known as either a serial entrepreneur or, to some, as the “Godfather of biotech” due to his history of founding and developing more than 15 biotechnology and specialty pharmaceutical companies in San Diego County.

As founder, chairman and CEO of Hale BioPharma Ventures LLC, a private business focused on the start-up of biopharmaceutical companies, Hale has seen the region evolve into a biotechnology cluster.

During the “In the Executive’s Chair” course at California State University, San Marcos on Wednesday, Hale said his career in biotechnology and entrepreneurialism began with a move from Johnson & Johnson Inc. (NYSE: JNJ) in Baltimore to Hybritech Inc. in San Diego, where he would become CEO before its acquisition by Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE: LLY).

When Hale came to Hybritech in the early 1980s, he wanted to grow the company quickly and aimed to promote within. In order to advance employees, Hale created a company culture of mentorship by giving people “the opportunities to do different things and groom them for additional responsibilities.”

Hale said former Hybritech employees have started more than 100 companies in San Diego.

Along with developing biotechnology companies, Hale said building organizations to support entrepreneurialism is important. He co-founded BIOCOM/San Diego while he was president and CEO of CancerVax after the city proposed shutting manufacturers’ water off for two to three hours a day as a result of the county’s drought.

Together with local CEOs, the group informed city and state levels about how the change would affect their businesses. Today Hale said BIOCOM/San Diego is an “environment for collaboration.”

As a board member for a number of organizations including Somaxon Pharmaceuticals Inc. (Nasdaq: SOMX) and Rady Children’s Hospital, Hale said members usually interact with the company only during board meetings.

The meetings are important “to focus on what’s really happening within the company, not just what’s happening well and good, but what are those critical issues that the company is facing in order to achieve success,” he said.

Hale continues in a search for new biotechnology developments. Next on his agenda is a company called Neurelis, which will focus on seizures experienced with epilepsy.

He also is an advocate for nanotechnology and believes a problem with many drugs is they are not orally volatile.

“One of the opportunities with nanotechnologies is to get nanoparticles out of those drugs … and make them orally active,” Hale said.

In regards to a business perspective on effective leadership qualities, he told students there are five attributions that make a great leader: a vision, mission, integrity, commitment and humility.

As Hale reflected on his time in the field, he applauds the county for developing products that are curing and treating patients, which were not previously available.

Hale said he is proud of what the biotechnology industry in San Diego has accomplished and “how it has impacted the world.”

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* David Hale's class discussion

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