However, Platika estimates
that out of over 1,000 biotech companies, less than 10 are profitable. "There was a lot of hype that has not turned out.
It came from the naivete of the beginning, where you're convinced you can't fail," he says. "People were going off half-cocked, rushing things into the clinic and having them blow
up in their faces."
He himself has witnessed a few explosions. Before Ontogeny wooed him to Boston in 1996, Platika was second in command as executive vice president of research and development at Progenitor, an Ohio-based biotech company. Progenitor went through a financial crisis when some of the original founding technology did not work out. The crisis period was "an interesting lesson I hope never to relive," says Platika.
"Hardly any young company ends up succeeding based on
its original business plan. You need people like Doros who have a vision of success,"
says Douglas Melton, one of Ontogeny's founders and professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University. An aggressive international search led Ontogeny to hire Platika, who, Melton says,
"has a rare combination of
talents in three areas: medicine, modern molecular biology,
and the business world. Many
pure scientists tend to be very skeptical--they will always
tell you how things might not
work out. But Doros is a highly optimistic person. You need that in a leader, especially in
a new industry."
Fortunately, Platika's early life prepared him for handling novel landscapes and unforeseen turns of events. He was born in Bucharest, Romania, in 1953, and at age 7 emigrated with his family to Athens. It was a time of political turbulence
in Greece (later portrayed in Costa-Gavras's film Z) and "not a good time to be coming from a communist country," as Platika recalls. The boy's name was changed from the Romanian Doru Platica to the more Greek-sounding Doros Platika.
In 1962 the family moved again, to New York City, arriving as immigrants who "didn't have a penny to our name," he says. They lived in rough
neighborhoods such as Spanish Harlem, in walk-up tenement apartments that sometimes combined kitchen and bathroom. Time listed Platika's Manhattan high school as one
of the three worst in the country, based on the students'
penchant for shooting guns, rioting, and serving prison sentences, but Platika nonetheless excelled there academically.
As a result of some testing,
he was placed in a Medical Explorers Program at Cornell Medical College and Rockefeller University in New York.
At the time there were numerous Reed alumni doing graduate work at Rockefeller, and this is where Platika first heard about Reed. "To me it sounded like a fantasy--snow-capped mountains an hour away in one direction, and beaches an hour and a half in the other direction . . . the presence of nature, lakes on campus," he recalls. "My idea of wilderness was Central Park!"
Because of his high school's sub-stellar reputation, Platika
didn't know how his application would fare; in fact, he not only won admission to Reed but was followed there by his sister, Diana Platika '76. In college, he took a double major in biology and psychology and wrote a
neurobiology thesis, using work done at the brain research institute of Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland. The hospital was a familiar venue, since Platika
supplemented his financial aid by working there as an orderly, sometimes on the late-night shift.
From there, Platika received
a Regents Scholarship to attend medical school at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he graduated first in his class. He eventually took two residencies, the first in
internal medicine, the second in neurology, both at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston. "I was a glutton for
punishment," he says, smiling. Years of clinical work as an internist and neurologist followed at MGH--plus neurological research there, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Whitehead Institute. In the lab, Platika
tackled subjects that included
the regeneration of brain cells and gene therapy. In 1991 he returned to New York, joining the faculty at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and setting up a gene therapy unit there. While in New York, he began working with Progenitor and eventually took a leave from Einstein to jump
full-bore into the biotechnology industry, moving to Ohio to join Progenitor as vice president