By Roger Morris
Special to Delaware Business Times
In a little more than 15 years, Alapocas-based pharmaceuticals company Incyte Corp. has grown from its modest beginnings in Palo Alto, California, to becoming a global drug company with annual revenues in excess of $1 billion.
Its growth came initially under the leadership of former DuPont Pharmaceuticals head, Dr. Paul Friedman, who in short order took the company public and brought it to Delaware, where it eventually repurposed the old Wanamaker’s department store on Augustine Cut-Off. While Friedman remains on the board of directors, the NASDAQ-traded firm (INCY) has been headed since 2014 by Hervé Hoppenot, who previously was president of Novartis Oncology.
In a show of its continuing commitment to Delaware, last fall Incyte moved into its new 154,000-square-foot corporate headquarters adjacent to its original quarters, where its research and development facilities are still housed. A third building is being planned on the same campus. Incyte has more than 1,000 employees, 280 of them added to the payrolls last year alone. It now has offices in Europe and Japan, each capable of conducting clinical trials, new drug registration and sales and marketing. Its lead global product is Jakafi (ruxolitinob) indicated for treatment of a severe bone marrow disorder called myelofibrosis.
The heart of Incyte’s progress has been its drug discovery and drug development capabilities. Currently, it has 17 drug compounds in development, all but three of which have been developed in Delaware. In fact, all of Incyte’s research scientists work at its labs in the converted department store building, a proximity that has allowed their work to flourish.
Whether in sports or in business, success often depends on how teams function almost as much as who’s on the team. According to Dr. Reid Huber, chief scientific officer at Incyte, the company’s growth has been with a mixture of both — experienced people using a business model tailored to Incyte’s needs. “Wasted time is almost as bad as wasted money,” Huber said. “We have had relatively few dead ends in our research.”
• Incyte had an experienced R&D team from day one. “We started from the beginning with a very seasoned group of biologists and chemists” who had experience with the disbanded DuPont Pharma and other companies, Huber said. “Everyone had their own ‘war wounds’ of
• All R&D is located on one campus — in fact within one building. Even though Incyte has grown into an international presence that has spread its business operations across three continents, its research has stayed intact within the Wanamaker building since moving to Delaware — and there is no plan to change that.
“That makes everything much more efficient,” Huber noted. Colleagues can confer immediately if a need arises so that everything can be dealt with in real time. Meetings don’t have to be an amalgam of phone-ins, Skyping and people in a conference room.
• The working model is different than most pharmaceuticals companies — flat and well-resourced. Huber thinks this is of special importance. Decisions don’t have to go up the chain because there is no set chain.
The people who have responsibility for moving a promising chemical candidate through its various stages until it reaches clinical development are also in charge of critical decision-making — including resourcing. “When we’re going against a promising target, we resource it intensely,” Huber said. Also, rather than have every decision-making meeting or review fit into a pre-determined schedule, “Our people meet as frequently as they feel is needed,” he noted.
• Responsibilities between research and development overlap. This is another key point. Unlike many drug companies where the research function — seeing how a compound works in the lab — and the development function — seeing how it works and at what dosages in people — are jealously guarded, Incyte is different.
“We have development people working on the research committee,” he said, and some of the chemists who gave birth to a potential drug can also help guide its development. As part of the team, they can give advice on how the compound might react in different settings and even how it can be tweaked. “Several candidates that we have in clinical trials still have research people on their committees,” Huber said.
• No two drug candidates have exactly the same developmental process. “We resource specifically to each program,” Huber said. “It’s not a lock-step process — in fact each program is almost tailored to its specific needs,” while keeping in mind that certain steps have to be taken to acquire regulatory approval. Additionally, Huber said, “We try to pull forward potential hurdles so we can address them as early as possible.”
• Size doesn’t count when it comes to which drug candidates are pursued. “If there is an unmet medical need that one of our compounds may be able to meet, we will go forward regardless of the size of the market,” Huber said, which is in contrast with most pharma companies who often stop work if there isn’t a promising financial outcome. “For example, we have one potential drug to treat bile duct cancer,” he said. “It’s a horrible disease, but one that’s not that common.” Nevertheless, he said, Incyte will continue development. This approach is in keeping, he said, with the trend toward developing personalized medicine via use of biomarkers and genetic science.
• For the first time, Incyte has the international presence to development and exploit markets worldwide. “When our first drug — Jakafi — was approved in 2011, we decided to do only the U.S. commercialization,” Huber said, “and partnered with Novartis in marketing it internationally. That allowed us to get our feet wet.”
Now that Incyte has its own units in Japan and Europe — where drug approval is generally jointly decided for all common market countries — Incyte plans to use its own resources for clinical development, drug launch and drug sales.
Of course, Incyte will continue to consider agreements with other companies to acquire new drugs in development or to work jointly on selected products. But for now, the Delaware company is quite happy pursuing its own path to success.