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Steering Clear of Pharma, Barrett Ventures to Funding

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It wasn’t that Peter Barrett was looking to leave Celera, says the company’s cofounder and former executive vice president and chief business officer. It was just that he couldn’t pass up the offer from the life sciences group at Atlas Venture, where he’d been an advisor for some time.

Though a founder of Celera, Barrett thinks of himself as having been at the same company for 23 years. He joined PerkinElmer right out of grad school as a technical expert in atomic spectroscopy. “I had sort of new positions every three or four years,” he says, so he never got bored. He dabbled in the life sciences division for a while and by the early ’90s was running the unit. He participated in the Applied Biosystems purchase, got that going smoothly with PE’s life sciences group, then helped with the PerSeptive Biosystems buy, and later shifted to what he calls “the new, new thing — Celera.”

Throughout, he brushed away the recruiting calls. “You get a lot of calls,” he says, “but when you’re always doing something new and exciting … Creating Celera, of course, it doesn’t get much more exciting than that.”

Citing what may come to be known as the Venter Defense, Barrett says he wasn’t the best fit for Celera’s direction. “My skills have been better at the creation of new companies. I haven’t run a pharmaceutical company.” So when the call came from Atlas — widely known in the field as investors in DeCode Genetics, Exelixis, and Structural GenomiX, to name a few — to evaluate new investments in early-stage discovery technologies and to guide startups to commercial success, Barrett said goodbye to his Rockville apartment and hours-long commute to his home in Connecticut and headed to his new perch as senior investment principal at the Boston firm.

Barrett is happily settling in at Atlas, though he still occasionally refers to the Applera companies as “we.” After 23 years that’s understandable.

— Meredith Salisbury

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