With the name James D. Watson, it seems he had no choice but to work in the field of genomics. “We’ve actually got the same middle initial as well,” says the Watson not known for discovering the double helical structure of DNA. This Watson, 37, is not a scientist, but an MBA who just joined life science merchant bank Burrill & Co. as director of its strategic partnering services group. “My interest is in deal making,” he says.
The London native received a Fulbright scholarship to attend business school at Indiana University. “I was interested in going into marketing or commercial-related areas,” he says. “But then decided that at the end I didn’t want to necessarily market soap powder. I wanted to do something a bit more meaningful.” So after grad school, he joined Eli Lilly and by the end of his five years there was head of business planning. After a stint of life sciences management consulting at IBM followed by a quick dip into a now defunct e-commerce business, he joined Incyte in 2001 to head up the business side of its database operation. “I joined at a time when the company was pretty committed still to the database business,” Watson says. “And then we had the change of leadership and the shift towards drug discovery.”
At Burrill he will be helping life sciences clients structure their licensing, collaboration, and M&A deals. “We act as their business development advisor and transaction manager,” he says. “We fill an industry need there. At a time when given all the restructuring in pharma and all of the capital constraints for early stage biotech companies, there is a lot of need for mergers and acquisitions to bring companies together.”
Few people mistake him for James D. Watson the elder. “I’m much younger than he is,” says Watson. But he does think it would be fun. “He was on the board of DNA Sciences for a while and that was a company I was talking to at one stage,” he says. “It would have been quite amusing if we’d both been there and we could have sent e-mails and pretended we were the other one.”
— Aaron J. Sender