Tony Faras
Tony Faras
Co-Founder, MGI Pharma

Born in Chisholm, MN. on Dec. 23, 1942.

Graduated with a BA in Biology from University of Minnesota, Duluth. Attended the University of Colorado, Boulder for one year, then transferred to the University of Colorado Medical School in Denver where I obtained a Ph.D. working with Dr. Raymond Erikson in the area of molecular virology. I did my Postdoctoral work at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco working on oncogenic retroviruses with Dr. Michael Bishop. My first faculty position was at the University of Michigan Medical School in the Department of Microbiology. After two years I was recruited by the Department of Microbiology at the University of Minnesota Medical School where I continued my work with cancer-causing viruses including retroviruses and papillomaviruses. We were the first research group to demonstrate the existence of Human Papillomavirus DNA in certain types of human cancer thus suggesting the possible cause of this group of viruses in human cancers.

This later work was done in collaboration with Dr. Franklin Pass from the Department of Dermatology, hence the beginning of a friendship and relationship that ultimately resulted in the two of us founding Molecular Genetics, Inc.(later changed to MGI, Pharma) in 1979. MGI was initially dedicated to the development of veterinary pharmaceuticals and corn varieties and then moved into the area of human pharmaceuticals as MGI Pharma. Over the years I have also been involved in helping a variety of biotech start-ups develop their business plans and raise capital. I have published over 200 papers in the scientific and biotech areas and have trained 25 Ph.Ds and dozens of Postdoctoral Associates. I was Director of the Institute of Human Genetics for 15 years and Chairman of the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development.

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QCongratulations on the sale, Tony.

A It's been quite a ride for my co-founder Frank Pass and me, starting a company from zero and eventually selling for $3.9 billion to Eisai.

QYou were in good company from the start. Future Nobel Prize winner Mike Bishop, who won for discovering the nature of the cancer gene, and Herb Boyer, founding scientist at Genentech, were both at UCSF with you.

AI certainly picked the right place to do my post-doctoral work. Mike Bishop had an extremely active lab in cancer research and Herb Boyer was just down the hall from us trying to find enzymes that could cut up DNA - the foundation for gene splicing as we know it today.

QYou could have had a nice life working at Genentech.

AWe had the opportunity to work with Herb Boyer and Bob Swanson at Genentech early on when they were considering animal healthcare. They were also thinking of going into veterinary medicine products because those didn’t require the lengthy FDA review process for human products. We decided to do it on our own and it probably was a good thing, because I think Genentech got out of that area when they saw their human pharmaceuticals moving quickly to success.

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