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Thursday, December 23, 2004
10 WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE:
DAVID G. WATUMULL
CEO drives isle
A former investment banker, Watumull took over the company in 2001 and made it his mission to realize the commercial potential of the company, once restricted to pure research.
In the process, Hawaii Biotech has become a potent marketing asset not only for local biotech, but the future of the state's economy. Policy-makers, venture capitalists and developers regularly invoke its name as an example of the life-sciences possibilities here.
"Other than their proven products, the next best thing is the positive publicity he's generated. It's invaluable for the state," said Mike Fitzgerald, president of the privately funded economic development group Enterprise Honolulu.
The company had a banner year in 2004.
Synthetic vaccines for two of the world's fastest-growing diseases -- West Nile virus and dengue fever -- proved effective in trials. Earlier this month, Hawaii Biotech won a $15.5 million federal grant to further develop the vaccines, adding to many millions more in past grants.
The company has had other success as well, including its drug Cardax, which reduces inflammation in heart-attack sufferers.
In the process, Watumull and company have shown there might be something to the hopeful assertions that Hawaii's unique blend of geography, human and natural resources, and business incentives can add up to biotech success.
The company has eagerly made use of the state's high-tech tax credit system and has drawn on the cooperation of University of Hawaii scientists in its research.
Encouragingly for other local firms, the company also has been instrumental in interesting large venture capital funds in the state, said Philip Bossert, executive director of the state's High Technology Development Corp.
"Their credibility is pulling in some satellite activity that will have a positive trickle-down effect for the whole state," Bossert said.