Vertex CEO, Norton High Honored With Innovative Awards

April 12, 2012

From the budding young students in one of the Commonwealth’s high school science labs to an industry giant with more than two decades of groundbreaking and risk-taking leadership, innovation spans all ages and experience levels. To highlight the breadth of Massachusetts’ talent pool, MassBio presented two distinguished awards at its 2012 Annual Meeting.

The newly named Henri Termeer Innovative Leadership Award was given to Joshua Boger, founder of Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Boger, who founded Vertex in 1989, served as the company’s chief executive officer until 2009. Vertex has had two drugs — one for hepatitis C and one for cystic fibrosis — win FDA approval within the past year. Sales for its drug for hepatitis C, Incivek, approved in May, reached nearly $1 billion in its first seven months on the market.

“At Vertex, our mission is to change what it means to have a disease; to redefine health,” said Boger. “As Walt Disney once said, ‘we make money to make movies; we don’t make movies to make money.’ The same is true for us. We make money to bring new cures to patients and transform their lives.”

MassBio President & CEO Robert K. Coughlin presented the award to Boger, extending his deep gratitude for contributions to the field, particularly in developing a drug that counters the effect of a specific mutation in the gene that accounts for 4 percent — or about 1,200 — cystic fibrosis cases in the U.S.

“Josh is well known as an industry leader in Massachusetts, and his commitment to developing new medicines aimed at treating serious diseases in entirely new ways in nearly unparalleled,” said Coughlin. “As a CF dad, I want to add my personal thanks. We are thrilled to honor Josh and his commitment to being a civic leader, champion of science education and advocate for patients around the world.”

The Innovative Leadership Award was created to honor individuals who have contributed significantly to the growth and success of biotechnology in Massachusetts, while demonstrating leadership on issues of patient advocacy and public policy and supporting community-based organizations and educational efforts. Presented in years past to former EMD Serono President & CEO Fereydoun Firouz, Cubist President & CEO Michael Bonney, and Deborah Dunsire, President & CEO of Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Center, the award was named to honor Termeer this year, and will carry his name in the forthcoming years. Termeer served as chairman, president and chief executive officer of Genzyme for nearly three decades. Under his leadership, Genzyme grew from a modest entrepreneurial venture to one of the world’s leading biotechnology companies.

“When you are a pioneer, you need to change things, and we cannot change the world without adapting ourselves,” said Termeer. “If this award is about anything, it’s about that.”

Young pioneer Kady Ferguson, a senior at Norton High School, also spoke at the awards luncheon, shining a positive light on the future evolution of the industry.

“I believe that I represent the thousands of other aspiring scientists out there with a passion, with a goal and with ambition to make anything possible, because that is what science is about,” said Ferguson. “This is the only field without any limitations."

Norton High was the recipient of MassBioEd’s Innovative School of the Year Award, which honors a Massachusetts school for inspiring students to explore life science careers through innovative biotechnology education and exemplary science career programming. As part of the award, MassBioEd presented the school with $5,000 for supplies and equipment.

Norton High has had a five-year partnership with MassBioEd since being selected as a BioTeach school in 2007. The school has used the grant funding to create biotech labs for all of its sophomore biology students and to develop a popular biotechnology elective course, which also touches on bioethics and forensics. Renovations are currently underway that will result in five brand new science labs opening next December. Students have also participated in career exploration events such as job shadow days.

“I’ve had so many golden opportunities in high school with being able to work with advanced technology and advanced resources due to previous grants from MassBioEd,” said Ferguson. “I have enjoyed every minute, from investigating a staged crime scene to the hours of time spent on researching projects such as genetic engineering. Biotechnology is where I am headed. It is where I see the most drastic achievements in the next few decades, and I want to be a part of that.”

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