Joseph Schlessinger would hardly fit most people's definition of the unworldly scientist. Originally a physicist, Schlessinger has conducted groundbreaking work in identifying and characterizing molecules in the signaling pathways of receptor tyrosine kinases. Elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2000, Schlessinger, William H. Prusoff professor and chairman of pharmacology at Yale University, has achieved the acclaim some scientists yearn for. Yet in 1991, when he set out to build a company based on scientific discoveries made by himself and his associates, the negotiations with financiers left him flummoxed. "I acted like any other scientist who was naïve on the business side," he relates.

Perhaps everyone should be so green. With help from his partners, Axel Ullrich, an important early scientist in Genentech, the San Francisco-based biotechnology firm, and Stephen Evans-Freke, a former investment banker turned biotechnology entrepreneur, Schlessinger built SUGEN Inc. In 1999, the colossal pharmaceutical...

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