Incyte CEO Hervé Hoppenot put a human face on the biopharmaceutical company during the keynote speech at the annual meeting of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce on Monday night.
Hoppenot emphasized the company’s ties to Delaware and its mission of “changing the practice of medicine.” He noted that one of its approved medicines for the treatment of a rare form of advanced skin cancer comes with an FDA-required descriptor that used the letters dlwr, a nod Incyte’s home state.
The meeting-dinner was attended by a near sellout crowd of 1,100.
Hoppenot said the company’s biggest accomplishment has come from its drugs being used to treat two million people, many with life-threatening forms of cancer.
That work has its gratifying moments, according to Hoppenot as patients visit scientists to tell their stories. Another came a few years ago when cancer patients took out a billboard advertisement on the interstate thanking the company. (See below).
Hoppenot, who joined Incyte as its CEO about a decade ago after holding a top oncology post at pharma giant Novartis, admitted he did not know much about Delaware, perhaps thinking it resembled the principality of Monaco. The graduate of the École Supérieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales said he was impressed by the French names in the state.
Under Hoppenot’s watch, the company has doubled down on building a footprint in the state with expansion projects at its campus just outside Wilmington.
Since coming to Delaware from California in the early 2000s, the company has grown from about 20 employees at the DuPont Experimental Station to more than 2,500 worldwide, and 1,500 in Delaware and nearby areas of Pennsylvania. Incyte employs, 1,000 scientists.
Incyte later moved to the former Wanamaker department store building, with Hoppenot noting that work on drug discoveries has taken place within the former store’s walls.
A major expansion of the campus into a Wilmington Friends School site in the affluent Alapocas neighborhood near Wilmington drew intense opposition from the community and later on from nearby civic associations. Neighbors have been upset with the existing mid-rise building that came during an earlier expansion.
Incyte dropped the latest plans as it saw dimming prospects for county approvals and perhaps the cost of the expansion. Incyte’s stock prices is well off its 52-week high at about $60 a share. In 2020, shares were trading at $100.
Hoppenot made only a passing reference to the issue, noting a lack of fondness by some for the company’s buildings. He added that would like to see more Incyte staff in Delaware.
Critics of the now shelved expansion claim there is plenty of office space to base employees here, even though northern Delaware struggles with a lack of laboratory space.
Hoppenot went on to describe the process of a bringing a drug to market, often with a 10-year timeframe that comes with low odds of success but still requires large investments.
One Incyte discovery Jakafi became a blockbuster drug for the company. Jakafi is a life-saving drug that treats blood cancers and related conditions.
Another drug derived from the inital discovery of Jakfafi was Opzelura, a cream used to treat skin conditions. Opzelura has proved to be life-changing for patients suffering from vitiligo, a condition that leads to the loss of skin pigment.
Hoppenot went on to praise the Delaware business community and government, pointing to the state’s effort to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and efforts to find equipment needed for testing for the virus. The equipment was available, since the company’s labs were shutdown for a time.
According to Hoppenot, Incyte also aided in efforts to save patients with emergency FDA approval for Olumlant, a drug developed by Incyte and Eli Lilly for the treatment of Covid patients requiring oxygen. Phase 3 trials led to final approval for the drug.
The Incyte CEO also pointed to the company’s charitable work in the community that often focuses on the struggles of dealing with cancer.
Hoppenot said the company also wants to see Delaware become a biotechnology hub, pointing to star-ups launched by former Incyte scientists and others. Delaware is also home to a federally funded drug manufacturing research center on the University of Delaware STAR campus
Recently a company founded by long-time Incyte scientists, recently received $102 million in funding, a sign of growth in that sector.
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