How does a biotechnology firm become a global leader, with multiple medications on the market and a solid reputation for innovative solutions that help it break through bottlenecks in drug development?
By doing great science. By innovating the process, including creating its own way of genetic engineering, and relentlessly pursuing a philosophy of “doing well by doing good.”
Regeneron founded more than 30 years ago in New York State by Leonard S. Schleifer, M.D., Ph.D., and George D. Yancopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., is unlike most other biopharmaceutical firms. It’s known for a “think tank” approach that brings researchers together in marathon brainstorms that often lead to new techniques or medical treatments.
In 2018, Regeneron announced an expansion at its Rensselaer County campus, investing approximately $800 million over the next seven years and creating 1,500 new full-time jobs. The project is supported by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Life Science Initiative and will increase lab space, warehouse facilities, and manufacturing capacity. The company also is part of a groundbreaking public-private research collaboration with the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center Public Health Laboratory to advance and improve the diagnosis and treatment of tick-borne diseases, starting with Lyme disease. The company has developed medicines to treat conditions from eye diseases to cancer, with best-selling drugs including EYLEA® (aflibercept) Injection, the leading FDA-approved treatment for various blindness-causing eye diseases, and Dupixent® (dupilumab), a treatment for moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis (commonly referred to as eczema) and asthma.
Patients told their stories of illness and treatment at an event Governor Cuomo attended in 2015, while visiting the company’s then newly-expanded facilities in Tarrytown. The patients discussed their battles with illness and thanked the thousands of employees in attendance for their tireless dedication to science. Schleifer says that’s what Regeneron has always been about: “Our success depends entirely on the efforts of our employees,” he says. “We have always tried to make sure that our employees know that our mission is to use science to improve the lives of patients and to provide a work environment that is conducive to achieving that goal.”
Building a company while changing the industry
It’s a long way from the company’s initial development. Schleifer was a 35-year-old neurologist and assistant professor at Cornell University when he saw the promise of the emerging biotech industry. He wanted to use science to regenerate nerve cells so that he could treat illnesses like Lou Gehrig’s disease.
He had an informal – and highly successful – meeting with a potential investor, and Regeneron was formed. The most important early catalyst for the company was Schleifer partnering with Dr. George Yancopoulos, a biomedical researcher at Columbia whom Schleifer credits as the man behind the company’s scientific and technological breakthroughs. Together, they set out to change the way that drugs were developed and are still leading Regeneron more than 30 years later – making them the longest-serving leadership team in the biopharma industry.
Regeneron’s first major milestone came in 2008 when its drug, Arcalyst® (rilonacept), was approved for a very rare inflammatory disease. Then, in 2011, EYLEA was granted regulatory approval for wet age-related macular degeneration and the company began growing dramatically. In the past few years, Regeneron has continued to see success through approvals of medicines for a range of other serious diseases, including allergic and inflammatory diseases and cancer.
Today, Regeneron reports revenues of $6.7 billion and employs more than 7,400 people worldwide, with the vast majority located in New York State at its two locations – the corporate headquarters in Tarrytown and manufacturing facility in East Greenbush.
A business environment that helped spur success
Starting any business is a challenge. Starting one based on a field of science that is constantly evolving is beyond challenging. Schleifer knew that getting the capital and resources Regeneron needed to succeed would be difficult. However, as a born and bred New Yorker from Queens, he also knew that the state afforded access to everything the company would need.
“New York State had exactly what we needed as a new company – access to major research institutions, top talent, quality of life second to none, great schools, international airports, major roadways – you name it,” says Schleifer. “New York City is the greatest city in the world, and we knew proximity to it would help us as we continued to expand and grow over the years.”
He credits the state with contributing to that success by helping the company navigate everything from local zoning and state approval processes to infrastructure improvements. “The state has been a great partner, and that has helped us get to where we are today,” says Schleifer.
Regeneron has also taken advantage of New York’s high-quality academic institutions, partnering with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University at Albany, Columbia University (Yancopoulos’ alma mater) and Cornell University (Schleifer’s alma mater), among others, on research partnerships, internships, and recruiting.
Regeneron also emphasizes support for the next generation of scientists, becoming just the third sponsor of the national Regeneron Science Talent Search in 2017 (following iconic technology companies Westinghouse and Intel). The prestigious math and science competition for high school seniors, founded in 1945, awards $3.1 million annually to scholars and schools—judging original research in critical fields of study—to build interest and engagement in science.
Adding to the company’s success is its location in the picturesque Mid-Hudson region as well as the Capital Region. “The amenities are here,” says Schleifer. “The walkable communities and the quality of life, from the public schools to the higher educational institutions, the parks, the culture … the history and beauty of these regions are all right here.” The company also prioritizes giving back to its local communities. In 2018, for Regeneron’s second annual Day for Doing Good, thousands of Regeneron colleagues around the world, including those in Westchester County and the Capital region, contributed approximately 14,000 volunteer hours in service to more than 100 non-profit organizations.
All of which contributes to Regeneron being consistently listed in the 100 Best Companies to Work For by FORTUNE, and being ranked as the #1 employer in the global biopharmaceutical industry in Science magazine’s Top Employers Survey.
Schleifer often recounts how former Governor Mario Cuomo was an early believer in the company and an important part of its successful start. “We received our first incentives under the Mario Cuomo administration and continue to have a great relationship today. Empire State Development is a tremendous resource; they really are strategic problem-solvers who want to see businesses grow and succeed,” Schleifer says.
Schleifer served from 2011 to 2016 on the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council, helping businesses in the region grow and develop, and says the experience proves to him that the state is committed to creating an appealing business environment.
“I can say that New York State understands that innovation is critical,” he says. “Each year we (the Council) prioritized projects throughout the state that focus on the future of innovation. Whether its technology, cybersecurity, scientific advances or any number of other crucial industries we have here – New York State understands the need for support and advancement of science and technology that can improve our world.”