The professional advancement of drug and device innovation

Author and Disclosure Information

This entrepreneur offers his past paths to success, as well as bumps to avoid, while taking a product or drug development from an idea to standard of care



I often say that there are both “guardrail” days and very good days when it comes to the ins and outs of health care builds and product launches. The process is much like starting down the path of a country road in the middle of a blizzard—unless you have dependable wipers and a good defrost system, that path can get murky very quickly. With this article I hope to offer my counsel to inventors, featuring a few of my prior launches as well as case studies of health care launches I was not involved with, and sharing the lessons learned and hurdles that were overcome. I encourage all entrepreneurs to act on their ideas because, in the world of health care startups, the only failure is not acting on an invention.

Case study 1: Cerezyme

Today, Cerezyme is indicated for patients with Gaucher, which is a lysosomal storage disorder. Cerezyme’s first-generation product, called Ceredase, was a human tissue-derived protein that we extracted from human placentas. At the time, the concept of moving this program forward was denied by the Board of Directors because they said that even if you could collect enough placentas to make the enzyme, it would be too expensive to manufacture. In fact, early scale-up modeling for manufacturing the protein demonstrated that Genzyme would need 4 tons of placentas per Gaucher patient per year.

Gaucher is a severe, early-onset disease that has a significant negative outcome for patients. Patients with Gaucher are in dire need of treatment. Genzyme went forward with the Ceredase program by financing it through the families of patients with the disease, by starting an LLC separate from the business and funding the initial clinical trial and the development of the protein through the families of Gaucher patients. That approach was a successful endeavor. A great example of a creative capital structure to advance a program.

This was in the late 1980s/early 1990s, and at the height of the AIDS challenge. Genzyme based the manufacturing in Lille, France, and we cryopreserved placentas in the United States and Europe and shipped them to Lille to be processed into therapy. Genzyme eventually received approval for Ceredase from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency. At the height of the placenta collection, we were gathering about 10% to 15% of the placentas in the United States and 30% to 40% of the placentas in Europe. Resources supply became an issue until we developed a recombinant form of the protein, accomplished by using a manufacturing system called a CHO cell line.

This is a very good success story: If this invention was not pursued, Gaucher patients would not benefit from the treatment today. In addition, there are a plethora of patients with different lysosomal storage disorders treated with additional proteins that have been aided by us going through the entire development, manufacturing, and global commercialization process. We figured out how to manufacture and deliver the treatment, working through multiple countries’ political systems, and today the therapy is paid for by insurance and government systems on a worldwide basis.

Continue to: Case study 2...


Next Article: