The science of patience Award: Sharon Mates, North American Vaccine president, is honored as High Tech Executive of the Year. She credits forebearance for her success in biotechnology.

April 18, 1997|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

What's Sharon Mates' secret to success for heading up a budding biotechnology company? Lots of patience.

Hard work and good science count too, mind you. But the time-consuming task of taking a laboratory "Eureka," seeing it through development, clinical trials and the regulatory approval process requires steady forebearance.

"Patience is an absolute skill needed for this job," said Mates, president of North American Vaccine, the Beltsville biotechnology company working on new and safer vaccines for infectious diseases.

Last night, Mates' patience and skillful direction of the promising biotech company, which is expected to land its first product approval in the nation, earned her a sought-after award.

The 44-year-old Chevy Chase resident was named High Tech Executive of the Year by the Suburban Maryland High Technology Council, a regional industry trade group. She was chosen from a field of 90 nominees.

Said Mates, "It's very rewarding to be selected. This region has a lot of good science and good technology."

The council said Mates, one of the top-10 paid U.S. women executives, at more than $2 million annually, earned credit for building North American Vaccine from a research oriented firm into a recognized vaccine manufacturer, one of just five in the United States.

Mates was also cited for guiding the company to successful regulatory approvals in Sweden and Denmark for its new vaccine to prevent diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.

Also, noted the council, Mates gets credit for championing Certiva, the company's whooping cough vaccine, for approval in the United States. Food and Drug Administration approval for Certiva is expected this year. Abbott Laboratories will market it to U.S. physicians.

The rash of good news, and the ensuing cash stream from milestone payments and sales royalties from European marketing partners, helped the company to post record revenues of $10.5 million for 1996.

And though the company posted a net loss of $19.5 million for the year, partly as a result of the $25 million purchase of a manufacturing building from Cephalon Inc., it is expected by analysts to post its first profit in 1997 or 1999.

The company's stock price, as a result of the improved revenues and other good news, has enjoyed a 47 percent gain during the past year.

Mates has set a busy agenda for North American this year. She is planning big pushes to further clinical development of vaccines for meningitis and streptococcus, and is working on striking new marketing alliances with drug powerhouses.

A New York City native and Ohio State University graduate, Mates holds a doctorate in neuroscience. She put in stints as an independent biotechnology consultant and investment bank executive before taking the helm at North American.

Her biggest kick in the job: "I get to satisfy my interest in science and business."

Mates took over as president of the company in 1990. She was hired while serving on the board of directors as the representative for an investment banking outfit that helped bankroll the company's salad days.

"It's a long haul for each of these vaccines, but it's rewarding seeing them move from the [laboratory] bench to watching kids actually get inoculated," she said.

The high-tech council also named these other winners yesterday for its annual awards:

Ciena Corp., Savage: High-tech firm of the year.

Ciena MultiWave 1600 system, Ciena Corp.: Product of the year/Information technology.

RespiGam, MedImmune, Inc.: Product of the year/Biotechnology.

Scott Stouffer, president, Visual Networks: Entrepreneur of the Year.

Lawrence Cunnick, Biocon Inc.: Volunteer of the year.

Antex Biologics, Gaithersburg: Top Techpreneur.

Pub Date: 4/18/97

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