A Bob each way on biotech

By Tanya Hollis
Monday, 24 June, 2002

For sought-after biotech director Bob Moses, the industry has a lot of parallels with another of his passions - horse racing.

Both, he says, require substantial up-front risk capital, great discipline and infinite patience, dedicated staff with complementary skills and a bit of old-fashioned luck.

And both, he says, are also likely to experience many failures before achieving success.

"In both horse racing and biotech, the risk of failure is high and the rewards for success are substantial," Moses explains.

"But most important, there is a real buzz when you finally get a winner."

On June 8, one of his thoroughbreds, Cognition, took out first place in race six at Swan Hill, with the favourite paying $2.50.

Just over a week earlier, Moses enjoyed another win when the Centre for Stem Cells and Tissue Repair, of which he is chairman, was named Biotechnology Centre of Excellence.

Moses, who is a close friend and fishing buddy of the centre's CEO Alan Trounson, said the new consortium was currently building its business and financial plan details as well as a list of candidates for chief financial officer.

"Australia can't be everything to everybody, but it can back its research and development strengths that are absolutely world-class and that can position Australia as a global leader not just an ordinary player in the game," he said.

The Centre of Excellence is one of six board and consulting positions Moses has taken up since retiring as vice-president of CSL in October last year.

The US-born business graduate currently chairs Antisense Therapeutics, Meditech Research, the CRC for Chronic Inflammatory Disease and the Centre of Excellence.

He is also one of the newly appointed directors to Amrad Corporation's board and is a senior consultant to the Murdoch Children's Research Institute.

Moses, 62, says he had planned for a relaxing retirement that would incorporate any interesting business opportunities that might arise, but had been surprised by the demand for his services.

He says about a dozen different companies had approached him - not because he possessed any special skills, but because there were so few in Australia like him.

"The science and technology in Australia on average is generally far ahead of the ability to drive it forward and do things with it and put it in the commercial path," Moses says.

"I don't have any special skills, only a few grey hairs - and the fact that I have worked in commercialisation and business development with the big pharmas." After completing his MBA at the University of Chicago, Moses joined Eli Lilly where he spent the first 17 years of his career, a part of which was a management role at Lilly's facility in West Ryde, Sydney.

He returned to Australia again in the early 1980s to assume a business development job with ICI.

In the mid-1980s he helped Trounson set up commercial IVF and infertility services provider IntegraMed, and took it to a Nasdaq listing.

Moses also spent five years as managing director at Freehills, before joining CSL in April 1993 prior to its listing, where he helped negotiate some of the company's major deals of the past few years.

In approaching his latest directorships, Moses says he prefers to take a more hands-on approach.

"I strongly believe members of boards need to get involved in strategy and corporate governance," he says.

"They should not get involved in the job of management, but do everything they can to help facilitate management."

Describing his current stable of companies, Moses says the only potential barrier to success for Antisense Therapeutics would be mustering sufficient resources, and similarly Meditech, which has recently announced a capital raising and was considering a consolidation of activities in Melbourne - partly to be closer to capital markets.

As far as Amrad was concerned, Moses says he is yet to do his homework.

"Until I have met people and really understood what they're doing and developed a reasonable understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each of the projects, it's too early to make a comment," he says.

"But it won't surprise me if there is a need for some fairly fundamental changes in Amrad's strategy and direction."

Moses would not rule out taking on more companies if asked, saying he would assess requests individually.

For now he is busy enough, but still able to spend two days a week at the Cranbourne racing stables that he designed from scratch two years ago.

It is a place where he feels at ease: presiding over a team of trainers and riders, feeding, grooming and testing the young animals, watching for the next winner.

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