Over the past decade, I’ve faced doubts about whether the idea of Spark Therapeutics was closer to possible or crazy. Maybe it was crazy. After all, the odds weren’t in our favor. We chose a hospital as our venture capitalist, curing disease was seen as bad business, and gene therapy was closer to science fiction than fact. Not to mention, I was a first-time CEO and an industry newcomer building a biotechnology company in Philadelphia, a city that hadn’t yet become the leading life sciences hub it is today.
But from the very beginning, Spark was a different kind of company – one that didn’t follow footsteps but created its own path. And precisely because of that, we moved the world a few steps closer to ending the inevitability of genetic disease.
In 2011, a handful of us dreamed that we could create something special. Together with Steve Altschuler and Kathy High, who I had the great fortune to partner with in creating Spark, we spun promising gene therapy research out of the prestigious Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) with a mission to bring one-time, curative therapies to patients. We shared our ideas and passion with anyone who would listen: first with patients whose courage accelerated our mission, then with colleagues who joined us in our journey, and finally with those who invested in our vision.
With that support, we turned our dream into reality.
In 2013, we began to build the first fully integrated, commercial gene therapy company. By 2018, we successfully developed and launched LUXTURNA® (voretigene neparvovec-rzyl), the first FDA-approved gene therapy for a genetic disease, and, more importantly for patients, the first medicine of any kind for an inherited retinal disease. We invented new ways to pay for and distribute one-time medicines. We discovered and advanced new gene therapies that I am confident will someday soon cure certain bleeding and lysosomal storage disorders. And we produced $750 million in financial returns for CHOP — funding that I have no doubt will create the next great medical breakthrough for children. We did it all by building a world-class biotechnology company in Philadelphia, which is now home to a thriving life sciences industry with more than 45 cell and gene therapy companies.
From turning an idea into a company, to making it a reality with the right talent and necessary capital, to working with the FDA, and selling Spark to the Roche Group, it’s been an incredible ride. To have done it all in my hometown of Philadelphia has been an honor.
While my time at Spark is coming to an end, I cannot wait to see what this team does next. Spark has accomplished so much in the past decade, but I believe that the company’s most impactful days lie ahead. Spark has found its groove with Roche’s firm footing and support. I am forever grateful for the personal commitment that Severin Schwan made to our successful transition two years ago and how he and Bill Anderson have consistently backed up their words with actions. With Ron Philip as incoming CEO, you have a leader who worked by my side for five years, established the business of gene therapy with LUXTURNA’s launch, and partnered diligently with so many of you to advance our growing portfolio of products and technologies. I look forward to seeing Ron and this team extend Spark’s impact to more patients around the globe. Please join me in congratulating Ron on this well-deserved appointment as Spark’s next CEO.
A mentor once told me that a CEO’s job is all about relationships with people. So, as I pass the baton to Ron, I want to thank each person who placed their trust in me. That trust carried Spark through its failures and led us to our successes. To my Spark colleagues, past and present, who I had the privilege of working with these many years: thank you for sharing not only your talents, but also your character. You taught me so much personally and professionally that I carry with me today.
Spark was born from the idea that things could be done differently – that in order to have a great breakthrough, they had to be done differently. I truly believe this spirit will forever be part of Spark’s DNA. As I look to my own future, I want to share this barrier-breaking spirit with others. My hope is to help a multitude of company founders and organizational leaders create their own paths, tackle problems differently, and, in turn, change someone’s life or even the world. I don’t know exactly what that looks like yet, but I’ve found that the best moments in life are the uncharted ones.