Arthur D. Levinson, CEO of Genentech Inc., (DNA ) would have been perfectly happy toiling away quietly in Genentech's labs, where he began his biotech career 23 years ago. But Levinson's bosses believed the biochemistry PhD was a perceptive executive -- and if 2003 was any indication, they were right. Fueled by strong sales of its cancer drugs, Genentech boosted revenues 29%, to $2.4 billion, in the first nine months of 2003, and swung from a $29 million loss in the same period in 2002 to a profit of $435.8 million.
Levinson, 53, trusts his science "gut" in deciding where to place his bets. After the drug Avastin failed a 2002 trial with breast cancer patients, many Wall Street analysts urged him to abandon it. He ignored them, because early trial results in patients with colon cancer seemed promising. Now analysts expect it to be approved in 2004 and pull in $1 billion or more in annual sales. But Avastin and Genentech's two other new drugs will face fierce competition, so Levinson will have to transform Genentech into a marketing powerhouse. He plans to hire 1,500 new employees over the next year, including many sales representatives. It's just the latest step in the scientist-turned-CEO's master plan to move into the pharmaceutical big leagues.
-- Released two new asthma and psoriasis drugs with potential annual sales of more than $400 million apiece.
-- Proved that Genentech's experimental drug, Avastin, extends lives of colon cancer patients by five months.