Small wonder that Progenics Pharmaceuticals Inc., a 1-year-old company headquartered in Tarrytown, N.Y., is already battling with giants like SmithKline, Genentech, and Biogen in the race to market CD4, a drug that could potentially inhibit the infection of human cells by the AIDS virus. Precociousness is the corporate culture at this startup, whose three founders were all under 30 when they raised their first $1 million to set up operations in April 1988.

Terry Burnham, one of the founders, recalls that when his partners, Gerard Housey and Paul Maddon, were students in the M.D./Ph.D. program at Columbia University, “they thought about applying the things that they learned to making drugs.” However, Burnham says, the students found that “the academic route wasn’t interesting, because [universities] had to license the drugs out; you couldn’t go all the way.” Before leaving Columbia, Maddon and his academic colleagues developed CD4; this past spring, Progenics...

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