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In biotech and health sciences, values above all else

Photo by Christopher Huang / Northeastern University.

Mark Levin, who has built and operated biotechnology companies for more than 25 years, says new businesses must strive to create value.

“That’s the most important thing,” said the co-founder and partner of the venture capital firm Third Rock Ventures, who spoke on Tuesday at Northeastern’s annual Biotechnology Entrepreneur Lecture Series. “It’s why we’re all here on Earth, I think.”

The lecture series was co-sponsored by the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, the College of Science and the Health Science Entrepreneurs, an alumni group dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship in the rapidly evolving world of health care.

Levin says he strives to hire employees at his firm who bring more to the company than a desire to strike it rich. “We see a lot of people come in and say, ‘When am I going to be a millionaire?’” Levin said. 

“They don’t talk about science, they don’t talk about medicine and they certainly don’t talk about patients,” he said “When we hear that, we’re not interested.”

The biotechnology industry—which is booming in and around Boston—can serve as a model of excellence for its small-scale operation and entrepreneurial spirit, Levin said.  “We don’t need 5,000 people around the world. We need 150 people who work in the same building and talk to each other about science and medicine every day,” he said.

The field, he said, continues to explore new challenges and opportunities in novel technology and diagnostic tools. One of his companies, Foundation Medicine, is developing technology aimed toward exploring a patient’s genome as a way to custom-tailor cancer treatment.

“If you build a great company and develop great products, there is a way to develop shareholder value and value for the patient,” Levin said. “If you do great things, you can step away from the pack.”

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