Boaz Laor “needed new challenges” in his life. So the former president and CEO of National Coal Supply took on the role of president of US operations for Quark Biotech, packed up his family, and moved from Israel to just outside Cleveland.
Talk about challenges. Laor has no experience in genomics, though he does consider his move “closing the loop.” He explains, “I started at high-tech [a software company], then I moved to coal and went low-tech, and now I’m going to biotech.” With each change, he had to learn an entirely new industry, so the idea of taking on genomics-based discovery with Quark is no sweat.
Laor is an economist by training, and has always worked in Israel. His primary goal at Quark will be relocating and concentrating the company’s US activities — formerly in Chicago and California — in Cleveland. “It’s an extremely important step that demands a lot of managerial attention,” Laor says. Though much of Quark’s research is still to be done in Israel, a recent deal with the Cleveland Clinic prompted the company to move its headquarters to Ohio.
Quark’s principal investor, Larry Ellison of Oracle, is pushing to get the company not only to make deals for discovery, but to go all the way downstream on its own. The Cleveland Clinic deal is a step in that direction.
For now, Laor’s not worried about his lack of science savvy. “Biotech consists of so many different lines of expertise,” he says. “In a sense, I’m not very different from the others except that I’m not coming from the technology side.” Still, he’s studying hard to learn what he can about genomics.
Meantime, he’s focused on the business angles. He expects Quark to move to a public offering in the next year, and he’s anticipating closure of several agreements with some major pharmas (to add to the eight deals Quark currently has with Japanese pharmaceutical companies).
According to Laor, the biggest challenge in his new job hasn’t been the science or even the relocation — it’s the food. “You don’t serve coffee here,” he laments, “you serve brown water.”
— Meredith Salisbury