BOSTON (TheStreet) -- I'm really excited to bring you the nominees for the Best Biotech CEO of 2014 award. I usually write an introduction discussing how I came to choose this year's finalists, but let's skip THAT this year. The incredible achievements of the CEOs below speak for themselves.
This year's nominees are Kevin Conroy of Exact Sciences (EXAS) , Ron Renaud of Idenix Pharmaceuticals, Prosensa's (RNA) Hans Schikan, co-nominees David Schenkein of Agios (AGIO) and Nick Leschly of Bluebird Bio (BLUE) , and finally, Dan Welch of InterMune (ITMN) .
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One of these executives, or our co-nominees, will win the Swanson Trophy, named in honor of Robert Swanson, Genentech's founding CEO. He will inherit the award from the 2013 winner, Bob Hugin of Celgene (CELG) . Like in past years, your input will help choose this year's Best Biotech CEO.
Please read the nominating summaries and vote for your favorite candidate in the interactive poll at the end of the story. I'll tally your votes and award the trophy next week.
Kevin Conroy, Exact Sciences
I first met Conroy in January 2010 during the JPMorgan healthcare conference in San Francisco. This was about a year after he joined the company as its chief executive. We sat down at a small table in the lobby of one of the hotels in that city's Union Square.
He talked openly about Exact Sciences' troubled past and why its previous stool-based genetic screening test for colon cancer had flopped commercially. He then laid out plans for a new, more sensitive version of the test which he believed would detect about 85% of early cancers and 50% of pre-cancerous lesions. The new test would also be much easier to use, he said, driving compliance rates higher.
Indeed, colon cancer is preventable when pre-cancerous lesions are detected early and removed.
Conroy believed Exact Sciences could play a role in reducing the incidence of colon cancer, just as HPV testing accomplished for cervical cancer. Conroy spoke from experience. Before joining Exact Sciences, he was CEO of Third Wave Technologies, maker of an HPV test later acquired by Hologic.
Four years after our first sit-down, Exact Sciences, under Conroy's leadership, secured FDA approval for Cologuard. The new stool-based genetic screening test is capable of detecting 92% of cancers and 69% of pre-cancerous lesions, making it the most sensitive, non-invasive test for the early detection of colon cancer.
Concurrent with FDA approval, Cologuard received an important and positive reimbursement coverage decision from Medicare and at a price -- $500 per test -- which investors loved.
Cologuard is still in the early months of its commercial launch, so Exact has much work left to do. But it's easy to have confidence in Conroy and his team given his outstanding record of over-delivering on promises made during the past four years.
Ron Renaud, Idenix Pharmaceuticals
Let's see a show of hands from those who smirked in disbelief at any time over the past several years when Idenix CEO Renaud said he could deliver on the company's goal to win in the hepatitis C drug race. Yup, that's what I thought. Just about everyone's hand is raised. Admit it, we all thought Renaud was half crazy and half snake bit.
At times, it seemed like Idenix was running in place dealing with sweeping FDA clinical holds and competitors zooming ahead.
But with stoic determination, Renaud and his Idenix team just kept plugging away. "I know there's a perception that we're late to [hepatitis C] but the market will take a long time to play out and there will be plenty of room to operate when we get there," Renaud told me last January after raising more than $100 million at $6.50 a share.
Then, in June, Merck MRK bought Idenix for $24.50 per share, or $3.9 billion.
Hans Schikan, Prosensa
Let's compare two chief executives, both running companies developing new drugs to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare, muscle-wasting disease. One CEO is gregarious in public, eager to court the support of patients and their families. He's a bit promotional and prone to making big promises. If he angers or offends anyone, it's only because he's working so hard to cross the finish line.
The other CEO is quiet, reserved. He cares just as deeply about patients and their families, but is also worried about making promises he can't deliver. He'd rather work behind the scenes to advance his company's goals instead of negotiating in public. Politeness is a virtue.
Who's been more effective in developing a new DMD drug so far? The first CEO's gabby nature and penchant for promise-making appears to give him the edge. Only later do we find out the CEO's feel-good story is a facade covering up fractious corporate infighting, poor decision-making and alienation of regulatory authorities. Patients and investors are punished.
Meanwhile, the second CEO deals diligently with setbacks, working to extricate his company from a foundering Big Pharma partnership in a position to still achieve its goals. He listens to regulatory authorities and quietly builds a case to support his drug's approval. There's nothing flashy about his approach, but it's effective. When the first CEO blows up and his drug is delayed, the second CEO is still standing. His company will be the first to submit for regulatory approval of a DMD drug.
And in the second CEO's "spare" time, he sells his company for $840 million, rewarding shareholders for their patience and bringing in a more experienced partner to increase the odds his drug is approved.
Congratulations, Prosensa's Hans Schikan. Your nomination for Best Biotech CEO of 2014 is well-deserved.
David Schenkein and Nick Leschly, Agios and BlueBird Bio
When I was considering CEOs for inclusion on the "Best" list, Agios' David Schenkein and BlueBird's Nick Leschly were layups. Then I thought, the paths both guys took to get here are so intertwined and their achievements this year so similar (and audacious) that it made sense to combine them into a single nomination.
David Leschly or Nick Schenkein -- take your pick. You can't go wrong.
Schenkein and Leschly both worked at Millennium Pharmaceuticals. Each man had a hand in the successful development and approval of the multiple myeloma drug Velcade.
After Millennium, Schenkein went to work for Genentech. Leschly joined the venture capital firm Third Rock. There, Leschly helped form Agios, where Schenkein is now CEO after leaving Genentech.
Leschly became CEO of Bluebird, another baby biotech birthed from Third Rock. Schenkein sits on Bluebird's board of directors.
The close, personal relationship between these two guys isn't why they're co-nominees for best biotech CEO. It's what they've achieved separately with outstanding leadership and execution that puts them in the running.
Silicon Valley upstarts like Uber boast about developing technologies which promise to disrupt the taxi industry. Piffle.
Let's talk about real disruption: A one-time gene therapy with the potential to cure -- not just treat, but cure! -- rare, life-threatening diseases. That's what Leschly is doing at Bluebird. Early results from the company's lead drug presented this week were nothing short of jaw-dropping.
And Schenkein? His team at Agios is exploiting discoveries about the role cellular metabolism plays in disease to develop targeted and highly effective therapies for cancer and other rare disorders. It's an entire new field of promising drug research, and Agios is the clear leader. Like Bluebird, early clinical results from Agio's pipeline have been amazing.
Dan Welch, InterMune
Welch delivered big for shareholders twice in 2014. In March, InterMune posted strongly positive results from the "ASCEND" phase III study of Esbriet in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). The pivotal study win guaranteed Esbriet's approval in the U.S. and doubled InterMune's stock price. In August, Welch negotiated a buyout of the company by Roche for $8.3 billion. Under Welch's leadership, the value of InterMune shares rose more than five times in 2014.
Putting aside the tremendous shareholder value creation, Welch earns a Best Biotech CEO nomination for crafting a happy ending to a fantastic turnaround story four years in the making. When FDA rejected Esbriet in May 2010, few investors believed the company would recover. Yet with Welch at the helm, InterMune persevered. First, it secured European approval. Then the hard lessons learned from the FDA rejection were used to design a new phase III study intended to get the drug approved here. All the hard work paid off, a tribute not only to Welch but to the employees under him.
You've read the nominations, now it's your turn to choose the Best Biotech CEO of 2014. Please vote in the poll below: