Thursday, May 30, 2024

NCtrend: In his blood

by Chris Burritt

In a contest of most stressful jobs, Joydeep Ganguly’s would rank pretty high. He runs the biggest plant for the third largest U.S. biotech company, and any significant hiccup could limit the supply of drugs relied upon by people with multiple sclerosis, hemophilia and other wrenching medical problems. Biogen Inc. promoted Ganguly to general manager of its Research Triangle Park operations earlier this year. Biogen, which changed its name from Biogen Idec in March, has smaller plants in its headquarters city, Cambridge, Mass., and in Denmark. But the workhorse is its North Carolina facilities, which employ 1,300, make five different drugs and are part of an investment of more than $1 billion. The company plans to hire about 100 more workers this year.

A nine-year employee at Biogen, Ganguly, 38, stays on the move as he juggles maintaining the plant’s production while overseeing the public-affairs effort of the state’s biggest biotech employer. The Fitbit on his wrist shows he walks an average of 12,000 steps a day. “My role as manufacturing GM right now is to make sure we can assure the supply of these drugs for our patients anytime, anywhere — which means you have to focus on flexibility. You’ve got to focus on getting the best out of everyone who works here,” he says. “You’ve got to inspire people to levels of performance that are commensurate with what they’re expecting of a world-class biotech facility.”

Biogen’s market value has soared over the past decade, to more than $95 billion, bolstered by a string of successful drugs approved by federal regulators after lengthy clinical trials. In the U.S., only Foster City, Calif.-based Gilead Sciences Inc. and Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Amgen Inc. are valued higher by the stock market, while Summit, N.J.-based Celgene Corp. trails by several billion dollars. The approvals were great news for the company but put stress on Biogen’s ability to produce so much, so fast. New biotech facilities take at least four years to build and often entail investments of as much as $1 billion.

Biogen opened its RTP site with a 40,000-square-foot lab and 60,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in 1995. Its first product, Avonex, became the world’s top-selling drug used to treat multiple sclerosis. The company added a manufacturing plant in 2002, and its North Carolina campus now also includes a patient-services division. But rather than adding another plant, starting in 2009, Biogen formed alliances with other biotechs that aren’t direct competitors but had the capacity to make necessary molecules for the company, Ganguly told N.C. State University business-school students at a February lecture. One of the partners is Tokyo-based Eisai Co., which also operates an RTP plant. The moves panned out. Since 2010, annual revenue increased 134% to $8.2 billion last year, and the company’s stock jumped from around $50 per share to as high as $475 in March. “The growth has been astounding,” he says, reflecting a focus  to innovation. In a 2010 company video, he said Biogen’s culture is “one of believing that there is a solution to every problem that can be solved by getting the right people in a room.”

The son of Dipankar Ganguly, a cardiac surgeon who also is a retired general in the Indian Army, Ganguly was named after a combination of the first syllables of the names of his parents. [His mother’s name is Joysree.] His brother, Srideep, an economist at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, got his dad’s first syllable and mom’s second. Joydeep immigrated to the U.S. in 1998 to study mathematics and quantitative analysis in Notre Dame’s electrical engineering department. He earned a master’s degree and later took a job at Bayer AG’s U.S. headquarters in Pittsburgh. His girlfriend, Priyanka, was earning a doctorate in economics at N.C. State University, so he made frequent trips to Raleigh and fell in love with the region. The couple married in 2003, and he moved to North Carolina to work for a Clayton company now owned by Spanish blood-plasma producer Grifols SA. He joined Biogen as a scientific analyst in 2006.

“We dated here, we were engaged here, we got married here, had our first child here, and I’ve got this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in my career here,” says Ganguly, who also earned an MBA at N.C. State. Despite relocating to Boston, Pittsburgh and other places, “we keep having our key life moments in this place.” Priyanka Ganguly this year left a job at Deloitte Consulting and plans to join another company.

Ganguly’s love of science and math dates to his childhood, when his father would discuss cases at the dinner table. Many people in his family, including his father-in-law, are doctors and medical researchers. “At a very early age I knew I wanted to be in an area that was at the intersection of humanity and technology,” he says. “Conversations at our home are often filled with discussions around emerging areas of research, new advancements in health care and how we can tomorrow collectively deliver hope to future generations in terms of available therapies.”

Biogen is among many tech companies hoping to interest more youth in science careers. It opened a lab last year at its plant that enables middle and high school students in Durham and Wake counties to conduct biotech experiments. The company has lobbied state lawmakers for increased public-school funding, says Ganguly. “We obviously believe education should be prioritized. We believe that funding for education should be sustainable and create an environment where teachers feel rewarded and students feel excited.”

Ganguly isn’t sure how long he’ll stick in what he calls “one of the most exciting jobs in the world.” His predecessor, Machelle Sanders, led the RTP operations for Biogen for four years, then was promoted to vice president of product operations for the company’s multiple sclerosis business. She is still based in North Carolina. “I am ambitious, but the focus is very much on today,” Ganguly says. “I’m doing the best that I can. If someone told me to do this the rest of my life, I’d do it.”

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