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Hooper Dreams

BY KEVIN DAVIES

When Londoner John Hooper arrived in Canada in 1967 with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, he only intended to stay for a couple of years. His first experience in pharma was with Bristol-Myers, but he was fired after trying to organize a union. After a stint at Squibb, he joined a pre-clinical contract research organization in the late 1970s, where he launched a Phase I unit and bioanalysis unit, producing $10 million in annual revenue. But he "got into trouble again," and left with a year's salary.

Before long, he started a new company, Phoenix International Life Sciences, a Phase I CRO. From meager beginnings — Hooper laughs as he recalls maxing his personal credit card to buy the company's first computer — Phoenix soared to success, employing 2,400 people in 16 countries over the next decade. Hooper retired, and the company was sold for CDN$0.5 billion.

Retirement lasted all of a weekend. "My wife said, 'You'd better find something to do, because you're driving me nuts!'" He began consulting for Galileo, helping raise money and revising the business plan to focus on 27 diseases, not just a couple. "If those one or two we chose bombed or we were beaten, we'd be out of business. But if we chose 20, we could afford to fail on some of them."

Hooper sank CDN$0.5 million of his own money into Galileo (a sum he has since almost doubled). He puts a premium on technology. "One of the keys at my last company was we could report data really fast. We were highly computerized."

The choice of genotyping technology was equally important. "Perlegen has the fastest, and perhaps the best, DNA analysis platform. They take four to six weeks. I think everyone else would take half a year." As for Illumina, he says: "I believe it is the group of the future. Their technology is outstanding, their accuracy and precision is superb, and their customer service is incredibly responsive." The result: "We've got this bio-IT infrastructure that has crunched a bunch of data and come through it unscathed, which is a surprise to all of us!"

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