Entrepreneurs / Health / Hiring / Startups

Kris Vaddi is ditching big pharma for the startup life

After leaving Incyte last year, the man behind the company's most successful drug now has three startups of his own and two nonprofit initiatives abroad.

Kris Vaddi. (Photo by Tony Abraham)

If you ask Kris Vaddi, he’ll tell you the best time at Incyte Corp. was when the pharmaceutical company employed 20-30 people.
“The startup environment is really exciting. There’s a certain amount of energy and excitement that you have that doesn’t exist in large companies. It’s yours,” said Vaddi, an original founder who left Incyte after 13 years with the company. “There’s no substitute to that. you can’t recreate it in a large environment. It will bog you down.”
Back in 2002, Vaddi and his fellow Incyte cofounders (all ex-DuPonters) were having “a lot of meetings” in each others’ family rooms. “At the time, it was just a hope and a dream in our minds,” said Vaddi.
Rather than what Vaddi calls “true startup work,” the Incyte cofounders absorbed an existing California pharma startup with a lot of cash and a flawed business model, then rebuilt and rebranded in Delaware.
Shortly after launch, Vaddi had the opportunity to fulfill his childhood dream of “discovering new drugs.”
“I started to think about this mechanism I could work on that could possibly lead to a drug,” he said. And although he won’t take credit for it, that “mechanism” became Incyte’s most successful drug, Jakafi, which treats polycythemia vera, a rare bone marrow disorder.
“Developing a drug is not a one person thing,” said Vaddi. But he did start the project, and championed it to market.”It’s exciting to see your drug work and change people’s lives. I’ve met many of these patients myself and seen videos of how their lives change. It is incredible. Ask people who work in the business. Very few people actually see that there is a patient at the end of the line.”
Now, Vaddi has taken leave of Incyte and is ready to start at square one.
“Last year I decided, ‘That was fun, it’s time to do it again,'” he said. And has he ever. Vaddi said he now has three new “product-based” startups — two that he will soon begin hiring for and one that still “needs to incubate for a while.” Those startups are in addition to two nonprofit initiatives Vaddi currently has in the works in India and Africa that focus on early detection of cervical cancer and sickle cell anemia, respectively.
As if that weren’t enough, Vaddi said he is passionate about fostering entrepreneurial values in youth.
“Entrepreneurship means a lot of things,” Vaddi said. “It depends on who you are. It simply means putting yourself in unknown territories to feel comfortable in that environment. Step out of your comfort zone. Face problems and challenges and try to deal with them.”

Companies: DuPont

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