Clarissa Desjardins’ serial startup career began, oddly enough, in the lab. “I made some discoveries during my PhD,” she says — she and her lab partner had discovered a particularly useful fluorescent reagent and decided to commercialize it. They founded Advanced Bioconcept Limited in 1992 and weren’t exactly prepared for what was to come: “Two recent science graduates trying to start a reagent business in peptides — it was a very big struggle,” she says.
But thanks to the addition of more experienced leadership in the form of Martin LeBlanc and Lloyd Segal by 1996, ABL turned around. “Martin really turned it into an operating company,” Desjardins says. With sales increasing by 25 percent each quarter, her board assured her that the company would become an acquisition target and advised her to “invest in some more high-risk, high-return type technologies,” she says. NEN, now part of PerkinElmer, did acquire ABL in 1998, and the day before the sale, Desjardins and her crew spun out Caprion Pharmaceuticals, which would commercialize the new prion research they had started.
Today, Desjardins, senior vice president of business development, has out-licensed the prion program, but says it laid the foundation for Caprion’s new emphasis on proteomics. “We invested in a big way last year in a proteomics platform,” she says, adding that the first task is examining drug targets for colon cancer. “The prion is the poster child of the importance of proteins as opposed to genes.”
— Meredith Salisbury