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Approaching Infinity

A philosopher-entrepreneur plots the next wave.

Fresh from a Rhodes Scholarship in the early ’80s and a stint teaching Wittgenstein at the University of Oxford, Steve Holtzman founded Ohio’s Thomas Edison Program, a much-copied pioneer in public-private high-tech collaborations. In 1986, he cofounded one of the first companies to exploit transgenic technology. Then in the ’90s, he joined forces with former venture capitalist Mark Levin to build Millennium Pharmaceuticals into one of the highest flyers of the genomics craze. And while other such companies fizzled, Dr. Holtzman helped transform Millennium from a drug-targeting company to a drug-producing one, with two U.S. Food and Drug Administration–approved drugs now on the market and other candidates in the pipeline.

Steve Holtzman; Copyright © 2004 Acumen Sciences, LLC, All Rights Reserved.As cofounder of Infinity Pharmaceuticals, Dr. Holtzman, 50, is touting yet another new technology called “diversity-oriented synthesis,” a term sure to change once it reaches the mainstream. The goal is to add the efficiency of combinatorial chemistry to the potency of natural products. Using this “smarter version” of combinatorial chemistry developed, in part, by Harvard University chemical genomics expert Stuart Schreiber, Dr. Holtzman is creating libraries of synthesized compounds with the complexity and selectivity of natural products. The synthetics are screened against targets at the molecular and cellular levels using high-throughput technology.

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