Business Today

Fresh shot in the arm

John W. Ellingboe has moved from representing a client of GVK Biosciences to working with them.

E.Kumar Sharma | Print Edition: Jan 9, 2011

The switchover is striking. John W. Ellingboe, 55, moved from being a service seeker to being a service provider by joining the very company he had assigned work in his earlier avatar. In 2005, Ellingboe, then Vice President, Medicinal Chemistry at Wyeth in the United States, was asked by his company to look at potential partners for outsourcing. He looked at a number of companies outside the US and finally chose GVK Biosciences, which offered to set up a dedicated facility with 150 chemists working for Wyeth.

For the next four years, Ellingboe was in charge of managing the relationship between GVK and Wyeth. Then, in the first week of January this year, when he paid a visit to the GVK facilities in Hyderabad, something happened. Ellingboe was in India to introduce his new colleagues from Pfizer, which had completed the acquisition of Wyeth three months earlier in October 2009. "I came here to help with the transition and that is when I was offered a position in GVK," says Ellingboe.

The change was a big one, on multiple fronts - from a client to that of a provider; from a guest to an employee; and from New York to Hyderabad. But apparently none of this mattered to Ellingboe, who had joined Wyeth in 1985 just after completing his PhD in Organic Chemistry from MIT and stayed with the company for 25 years. He had started out by working in medicinal chemistry, primarily in the areas of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Ellingboe was impressed with the energy levels at GVK, which, despite being a contract research organisation, was also keen to grow its business of drug discovery research. GVK's game plan is to help big pharma companies in their efforts to identify new drug candidates with an integrated process that involves chemistry and biology skills. "What has always impressed me about the GVK management is that once they make a decision to do something then they very quickly go with it. I like the speed with which they operate."

When Ellingboe made the shift to GVK in May this year, the timing could not have been better. For, as he says, "The drug majors in the US are downsizing and shifting significant work to Asia, with India and China getting a chunk of it." Would Ellingboe have considered moving to China? "I have been to China and India but I am more familiar with India," he says with a smile.

Ellingboe's goal other than growing the business is to develop the talent at GVK so that they can take over and do more of drug discovery research projects. At a personal level, he wishes to immerse himself more in the local culture. If you doubt that just hear him speak Hindi - he and his wife Page Hartwell have been learning the language for some time now. And do not be surprised when some day soon he turns out to be as proficient with the language as he is with chemistry.

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