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Leaving Pharma Behind, Trifunovich Rides New Genomics Wave

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After helping Bristol-Myers Squibb develop the cancer drug Taxol and accumulating 10 patents related to its semi-synthesis in the process, Ivan Trifunovich took the natural next step: he went to Wharton for his MBA. “I saw a great need in bridging the R&D and science versus the commercial chasm,” he says. “To actually bring innovative medicines to market and to the patients, I think the dialogue between the two sides is critical and that’s something large pharma is always lacking.”

Trifunovich, 39, was born and raised in Yugoslavia and came to the US to get his chemistry PhD. Most recently at Pharmacia, where he was VP of research operations and strategy and then VP of e-business, he’s now senior veep and general manager of Third Wave Technologies’ genomics division, which was formed in December and is based in New Jersey. The new post fits Trifunovich’s goals well. “I thought because the commercial side of the company was not as developed as the R&D and operations side, that this would be a great opportunity for me to build an organization and actually help connect the technology with the customers,” he says.

Third Wave’s genomics venture accounts for “three quarters or more” of its total revenue, and the company has developed technology that Trifunovich describes as “instrumental in doing large-scale genotyping and gene expression research.” He sees a lot of promise in Invader and genomics in general: “In a three- to five-year time frame, I think that we will be able to understand disease and response to drugs in a much better way than we do today. And that’s significantly going to impact health care.”

That more than makes up for any lab nostalgia he might have. “One of the reasons why I chose the pharmaceutical industry, as opposed to one that produces widgets,” Trifunovich says, “is because I think that the real excitement of being in health care is really helping people.”

— Diana Jong

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