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an online version of the magazine Fall 2007
Where Are They Now?
 
 

Getting Around the Roadblocks

In Texas, Stobo tried on a new hat—medical school president—and loved it.
Photo by Mike Ciesielski
> Rogers’ current building efforts include a summer house on the Chesapeake.

Whether sailing the Mediterranean or bantering with cronies, Mark Rogers is always on the prowl for promising new drugs. He’s made millions that way.

 

One thing people realize pretty fast about MARK ROGERS is that this is a guy with big ideas. “I tend to be future-oriented,” acknowledges Rogers, an intensive care expert, medical center leader, and business tycoon whose colorful career began at Hopkins and stretched for 17 sea-changing years here.

Today, Rogers travels the globe looking for his next big idea—in particular, novel or existing drugs that could have untapped applications. He reads six to eight newspapers a day, is never minus his BlackBerry, and has facts at his fingertips from books he devoured years ago. Invariably, in his travels, he meets scientists whom he queries about new discoveries. “When I hear about something that appeals to me,” he says, “I find a way to work with them to commercialize the research.” Over the last 10 years, Rogers has developed some 12 new companies that he has cultivated and then sold.

And it all began at Hopkins, Rogers says without hesitation. Appointed an assistant professor of anesthesia and pediatrics here in 1977, he was named chair of Anesthesia less than three years later. Immediately, he changed the name to the Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine to emphasize the growing field of intensive care. Simultaneously establishing one of the first pediatric care units in the country, Rogers helped write specialty boards for the new discipline, hosted its first World Congress, and even wrote the original textbook in the field, a standard now in its fourth edition known as Rogers’ Textbook of Pediatric Intensive Care. By the late 1980s, he’d also become the School of Medicine’s associate dean of clinical affairs.

Still, as bold as his visions were, he eventually ran into roadblocks. “If you have an idea that’s innovative,” Rogers says, “you often get the response that it’s the wrong thing to do. And that only means one of two things: that it is the wrong thing to do, or that it’s a really good idea, and everybody will soon get it.”

By the early 1990s, Rogers was convinced that Hopkins couldn’t rely forever on revenue from patient care if it were to remain economically sound. And after earning an MBA from Wharton in 1991, his mind was abuzz with ideas for commercializing scientific discoveries at the School of Medicine. But as he tried to orchestrate what was then only an emerging idea, he was surprised to find medical center leaders reluctant to turn this corner.

Realizing he’d reached the limits of what he’d be allowed to do, he left Hopkins in 1993 to become CEO of Duke Hospital and to help craft that university’s emerging health system. “Mark was instrumental in envisioning the system and giving me the courage to do it,” testifies Ralph Snyderman, then Duke’s Chancellor for Health Affairs.

Yet Duke, too, soon became resistant to Rogers’ entrepreneurial visions. Three years after arriving, he was on his way again, this time to join Perkin-Elmer, a DNA sequencing company that eventually became Celera and sequenced the human genome. From there, he moved to a position running a biotech bank with a billion dollar hedge fund. On his own (a “serial entrepreneur,” as he puts it), he now had both feet in the world of launching new companies. His penchant for looking into the future had turned out to be worth millions.

These days, whether meeting with scientists in South America or sailing on his 50-foot yacht in the Mediterranean, Rogers is famous for spouting all kinds of ideas and bouncing them around in rapid-fire speech bearing just a hint of his native Bronx inflection. One company that hatched this way sprouted from a remedy in China he heard about, “based on two rocks and a toad skin,” that had been used to treat anemia. Working with what was then Peking University Medical Center and Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Rogers licensed the rights to develop the drug present in the rock, arsenic trioxide, to treat acute promyelocitic leukemia. After securing FDA approval to conduct a small clinical trial, his company sold the drug for more than $100 million. (The New York Times wrote up the story as “Chairman Mao’s Cancer Cure.”)

Meanwhile, Rogers’ own company (named Bradmer in honor of his son, attorney and green developer Bradley, and his daughter, health care attorney Meredith) funds pharmaceutical firms he forms and takes public or sells. Recently, he’s also been involved with a glioblastoma drug developed at Duke, now entering Phase III trials.

Rogers’ latest academic pursuit is serving as editor-in-chief of the new international journal Medical Innovation and Business.

“It’s never dull,” attests his wife Elizabeth L. Rogers, a gastroenterologist and geriatrician who was chief of staff at the VA hospital in Baltimore, taught at Hopkins and Yale, and served as a dean at the University of Maryland. She retired in 2000 in order to collaborate with her husband on the creation of several pharmaceutical companies and to advise on the development of clinical trials. “He’s a pioneer all the way through,” she says.

Partners in everything from entrepreneurial ventures to driving the Pan Am highway in an SUV, the Rogers make a balanced, team. “Elizabeth will tell me things I don’t want to hear,” her husband acknowledges. “Well, she doesn’t exactly tell me. I just have to look at her expression.” Eighteen months ago, following their establishment of a lecture series in the Johns Hopkins Division of Geriatrics where Elizabeth completed her fellowship training, the Rogers endowed the Elizabeth L. Rogers Chair in Geriatrics.

Even now, Rogers’ respect for the place resonates. “The people at Hopkins were the best and the brightest I ever worked with,” he says. It was here, he reminds everyone, that he was able to put his first future-oriented ideas into action by creating one of the nation’s earliest Pediatric Intensive Care Units.

Establishing that unit, he says, was his main mission when he arrived at Hopkins with training in both pediatric cardiology (from Duke) and anesthesiology (from Mass General). At the time, hospitals across the country were creating intensive care units to care for the sickest surgical patients, cardiac cases, and even newborns. But nobody was focusing on treating the sickest children. “It was inevitable, in my point of view,” Rogers says.  

By the early 1980s, when as director of anesthesiology he began molding his PICU, Rogers had more than a hospital unit in mind. “We wanted to do it on a scale that was appropriate for Hopkins,” he says. Bringing in respected researcher Richard Traystman from the School of Hygiene to create cerebral blood flow laboratories and set the tone for research studies, Rogers shaped his PICU as a cornerstone of the new Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine. Meanwhile, Robert Donham, the physician he’d named to oversee the unit, helped him establish formal training programs for fellows and residents.

All that energy had a ripple effect, remembers CEO/Dean Edward Miller, who became the first Mark C. Rogers Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine before taking the deanship. “More and more medical students began seeing this as an attractive field.” As the discipline took hold across the country, Rogers’ department, now the number one recipient of NIH grants, stood out.

It is the memory of those years of building at Hopkins that still fills Rogers with wonder nearly 30 years later. Even with all the creative thinking he’s done since and the free-wheeling, unencumbered nature of his current life, he says, “I sometimes rue the day I did it,” of his departure to go solo. “The level of commitment at this place is hard to duplicate in industry.”star Kate Ledger

 
 
 
 
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