Biotech's 'founding father' and influential deal broker Fred Frank dies at 89
Frederick “Fred” Frank, legendary investment banker and biotech giant who reshaped the structure of the biopharma industry by brokering such influential deals as Roche’s initial purchase of Genentech stock in 1990, passed away over the weekend.
PureTech CEO Daphne Zohar first shared the news of Frank’s death on Twitter. He was 89.
Over close to six decades steeped in pharmaceuticals and life sciences, Frank had assembled an unrivaled Rolodex and industry lore — and is himself the subject of many fond stories. A tough negotiator with a warm personality and a playful side, he got to know leaders of the top drugmakers as he played a crucial, if often hidden, role in the M&A.
Most recently, he was the chairman of EVOLUTION Life Science Partners — the boutique investment bank firm he co-founded with his wife and managing director, Mary Tanner.
Zohar described Frank as a “founding father” of biotech; Regeneron’s Len Schleifer called him “a great hero” in a BioCentury tribute. John Maraganore, CEO of Alnylam, wrote: “He will rest in the pantheon of biotech’s greatest.”
Daphne and all, how sad it is to loose a giant and a gentleman like Fred. He was so instrumental for our success at Agensys back then (1996-2007) and staying as a friend and an advisor since. My true condolences to Mary Tanner. Arie Belldegrun
— Dr. Arie Belldegrun (@Arie_Belldegrun) September 11, 2021
Born in 1932 in Salt Lake City to a family who runs a men’s clothing business, Frank grew up in Portland, OR but attended high school in Connecticut after reading an article about East Coast prep schools. He stayed to study philosophy at Yale before spending two years with the US Army in Europe. Upon his return, he opted for an MBA at Stanford — from where he joined the research team at Smith, Barney and Company.
Frank, initially assigned to the pharmaceuticals and chemical industries, successfully lobbied for splitting up the two fields and became Wall Street’s first analyst dedicated to the business of making drugs. But his research days only lasted a decade. In 1968 he joined Lehman Brothers as a partner, eventually rising to vice chairman until its 2008 collapse amid the financial crisis.
It was during that 50-year stretch that Frank made his name as a matchmaker for pharma and biotech — which, before his time, was rather unusual. Founding and leading a group of bankers who advised biotechs on M&A, stock offerings and other areas of corporate finance, he came up with creative deal structures and led executives’ hands in drawing contours that still define the industry today.
Whether it was the merger that formed Bristol Myers Squibb or Gilead’s takeover of CV Therapeutics, Frank was often spotted on either side of the deal table.
While advising Genentech, he saw Roche as an “ideal partner” for the newly public biotech’s recombinant DNA technology. He reached out to Roche and set up meetings between the two companies.
”The key thing here was to come up with the financial architecture,” he told the New York Times in 1990, after Roche shelled out $2.1 billion to buy 60% of Genentech’s shares. “We came up with a new security called the redeemable common share. Embedded in this common stock is a call option that can be exercised by Roche.”
When Barclays bought out Lehman Brothers, Frank left to join a former colleague, Peter J. Solomon, at PJ Solomon. Tanner, who had taken a career break to have their son and returned to Bear Stearns, also made the jump.
“The Pharma giants are good at development, good at marketing and good at manufacturing but they’re not really good at research,” he told Fortune in 2009 about the couple’s decision to reunite. “With the little guys it’s just the opposite. We think we can be a great facilitator in the strategy of these various two parties.”
The duo moved again — together — in 2013 for a brief stint at Burrill & Company, then started their own practice to “assist companies throughout their life cycle, including capital raising, licensing/partnering, and M&A.”
The Biotech Industry has lost a pioneering giant. I feel privileged to have met him at several PureTech meetings. Thank you @daphnezohar for giving me this rare n unforgettable opportunity https://t.co/u5G2wM4GIZ
— Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (@kiranshaw) September 12, 2021
Sad news. Fred was the original pharma analyst on Wall Street and later one of the first investment bankers in our field. He was also a wonderful man who treated us younglings just as nicely as the bigwigs. I will miss him. https://t.co/uWvIb2GvHb
— Bernat Olle (@bernatolle) September 11, 2021
Feature photo: Fred Frank (Conrad Erb, Science History Institute via Wikimedia Commons)