Kari Stefansson, the outspoken president and CEO of deCode Genetics Inc., has turned his native Iceland into a massive science lab to discover the genetic cause of diseases. Last year, Iceland's government gave his biotech outfit an exclusive 12-year license to create and manage a national database of the country's medical records.
Stefansson, a 51-year-old neurologist, believes deCode will be able to determine how diseases such as Alzheimer's are passed from one generation to the next. He'll do that by cross-referencing medical data with DNA samples and geneological records of Iceland's population. Iceland boasts the world's most homogeneous gene pool because there has been little immigration since the country was settled 1,000 years ago. "Genetic information will give us the chance to alter our lifestyles to prevent disease," Stefansson says. Swiss drugmaker Roche Holdings Ltd. has granted deCode a $200 million contract to investigate the genetic basis of 12 diseases.
A former Harvard University professor, Stefansson has traced his roots to the ninth-century Viking poet Egill Skallagrimsson. Like his ancestor, Stefansson is known for his take-no-prisoners style and love of poetry. Fiercely competitive, he loves to debate literature and play basketball. But between solving genetic mysteries and preparing for deCode's upcoming initial public offering, free time is one thing Stefansson doesn't have.