When a young Michael Wokasch saw that the pharmaceutical sales representatives were having more fun than he was, he ditched his lab coat and joined the party. Little did he know it would lead to his latest position as president of the Vertex Pharmaceuticals subsidiary Aurora Biosciences.
The erstwhile hospital pharmacist found himself crossing the threshold into pharmaceutical sales with Merck. “I felt that I could make a difference by making sure that patients got the right drug therapy,” says Wokasch, now 50. “I felt I could do that better as a sales representative than as a pharmacist.” That transition eventually led to several positions, including his last job as CEO and president of biotech startup Gala Design.
In addition to his new Aurora post, Wokasch continues to fill the shoes of president at Vertex’s PanVera subsidiary, where he’s been since last July. He prefers not to think of it as a juggling act. “It was obvious that the two companies had very complementary assets to put together,” he says. “In fact, in a couple of cases we’ve taken products from PanVera and put them together with products from Aurora.”
Aurora’s instrumentation, proteomic research, and ADME/toxicology expertise fit together with PanVera’s recombinant protein production and assay development, according to Wokasch. “The biggest challenge,” he says, “is keeping up with the rapid growth we’re experiencing from the demand in the marketplace.”
Wokasch says the additional responsibilities have by no means overextended him. After all, when he was senior vice president and group president at Covance from 1997 to 1999, he managed 12 satellite offices around the world. “Well, I’m stretched out for time,” he acknowledges. “But that’s always the case, regardless of what your job function is.”
— Jasmin Chua