Former Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. (NYSE: TEVA; TASE: TEVA) CEO Dr. Jeremy Levin is setting out on a new path. A little more than a year after his abrupt departure from the Israeli generics giant, and a few months after the end of his official “cooling-off” period, Levin discussed his new positions in an interview with “Globes.” Last week, Levin announced that he is joining the board of directors at India’s biggest biotech company, Biocon, which trades on the National Stock Exchange of India in Mumbai at market cap of 80 billion rupees.
“Biocon is a company that was built from the ground-up by its very impressive CEO, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw,” said Levin, “Her father is a brewer, and she first established the company based on a manipulation of yeast, which caused it to produce protein in a very successful and relatively cheap way.
“The company began by creating active materials for existing biotech drugs, and today the company is one the world’s biggest manufacturers of insulin, for example. The company has a very long pipeline of biosimilars (the ‘generics’ of biological medications) and improved drugs. The company also has a very broad pipeline of new- products, including ingestible insulin (an area that Israel’s Ormed competes in), and new cancer drugs. It has partnerships with many companies, such as Gilead, BMS, Novartis, and even Quark.
“It’s interesting that two former Teva CEOs, Israel Makov and myself, are today very involved with Indian companies - Israel at Sun, and I at Biocon. It’s amusing, because Teva is a hybrid of generic and innovative ability - Israel was chosen by Sun primarily for his ability to lead a large generics company, and I was chosen mostly for the innovative side of things.”
In addition to his appointment at Biocon, Levin spends most of his time as chairman of a mysterious private company called Ovid. Levin is unwilling to divulge the full details, but says, “Ovid develops drugs for rare diseases of the brain, and it already has four products that have passed phase II clinical trials, though we are not revealing for which diseases. The company was established by Dr. Matthew During, a neurologist who founded a number of biotech companies in the past, primarily genetic therapies for diseases related to the central nervous system. The company is financed by a private equity firm and operates in New York.”
In the past, you said that you had made aliyah (immigrated to Israel). How connected are you to Israel today?
“Because of the big opportunity at Ovid, I am currently based primarily in the US, and I mostly come to Israel for visits, but it is still very dear to me, and I am still active, and plan to continue to be active, in the local biomed industry. I decided to help young, Israeli biomed companies by bringing leading global pharmaceutical managers to Israel, with the hope that they will be appointed to the boards of directors at Israeli companies, in a manner that will help to bring the local industry closer to the rest of the world.”
“In the past it was said that what the industry in Israel lacks is management experience, and in recent years, this experience has been acquired, and there are good managers in the field. That said, an American board member can help an Israeli company reach the market. Israelis still don’t quite understand the signals they get from the US companies, with whom they sign, or want to sign, cooperation agreements. These board members are both very familiar with drug development processes, and can help innovation thrive.
“Incidentally, in Israel there are also great venture capitalists with outstanding financing abilities, but what they lack is really the aspect of operating within the US, which is still the primary market. There is a gap between biomed and technology, where it seems that Israeli companies certainly do know how to get where they want to go within the US.”
Legacy at Teva
As someone who has joined an Indian company, how do you view the relations between India and China and Israel in terms of high-tech and biomed? Are they partners? Competitors? Potential target markets? All of the above?
“In terms of development, they are our natural partners. In terms of production, there is no point in even trying to compete with capacity and manpower costs. In terms of the market, they are still not significant enough markets for a pharmaceutical company to rely upon. The markets are still the US and Europe.”
Industry sources have said that in the past you expressed great interest in the field of medical information management. Is that something you may get involved with in the future?
“I spent a few months last year trying to understand how digital information may be used to improve the work of big pharmaceutical companies, from the drug development stage, through marketing, and up to supporting patients’ adherence to drug regimes. I met with all the big players in the field, both pharmaceutical companies and IT companies like Qualcomm, Microsoft, and Google. Among the smaller companies I met with, I can mention ZappRX, which I also advised, which greatly improves the process of registering and distributing specialty medication.”
Levin left Teva due to disagreements with former Teva chairman Dr. Phillip Frost. After he left, Erez Vigodman was appointed CEO. Vigodman presented a new strategic plan in October with greater focus on developing innovative treatments for diseases of the central nervous system.
What do you think about the new strategic plan?
“It is very important to me that Teva continue to succeed. It’s critical for the State of Israel. I think that they are right in that they are continuing the direction I started of focusing the activity, because, today, focused companies are the ones that succeed.”
Leading innovative R&D at Teva is Dr. Michael Hayden, whom Levin appointed. Levin says that he is pleased that the company has decided to preserve the New Therapeutic Entities program (NTEs), which aims to improve existing drugs by formulating, delivering, or using them in a novel way. Levin says that this is his legacy at Teva.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 29, 2015
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