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Re-published with permission by Northern Now and author Colleen Leonard
Jeffrey Aronin saw a niche in the pharmaceutical field and took a leap of faith that he had the skills to develop his own company.
He joined the industry in sales and marketing after graduating from Northern Illinois University in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. From there, he advanced into managing several pharmaceutical divisions.
While running one of the divisions, he noticed that financial and time constraints made it difficult for a large pharmaceutical company to develop drugs for rare diseases.
By age 32, Aronin founded Ovation Pharmaceuticals to focus on drugs for some of these rare diseases. Ovation quickly became one of the world’s fastest-growing pharmaceutical companies. Within nine years, he sold the company for $900 million to the Danish pharmaceutical giant H. Lundbeck A/S.
“It was an industry that I felt like I could not only do well as a career, but also was able to do something that was good,” Aronin says. “I was able to improve lives and make a difference in the world.”
In 2010, after serving as president of Lundbeck Inc. for less than a year, he formed Paragon Pharmaceuticals, an investment firm that establishes and manages life science companies and promising pharmaceutical businesses.
Paragon invested in Marathon Pharmaceuticals, which also specializes in rare diseases and is growing quickly like Ovation did. Aronin is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Marathon.
His success as an entrepreneur stems from identifying a need in the market, having the vision to bring it to fruition, and being able to sell that vision to recruit talented people, the 46-year-old says.
“The most important thing is to find a need in the market that you can solve,” he says, “that’s important enough that people are willing to pay you a lot to do it.”
One of Ovation’s successful drugs was ATryn, the first drug approved using a genetically modified product, he says. Goats are genetically modified to carry a protein that is used in the drug to help patients with a blood clotting disorder. The protein is extracted from a goat’s milk to make the drug.
Marathon, a global company, has eight drugs on the market and another 10 in development, Aronin says, which is a lot, considering that the industry average is more than $1 billion to get a drug approved and about $100 million to market it.
Although developing, manufacturing, and marketing drugs is a long and expensive process, Marathon reduces expenditures by acquiring products that have been shelved or have some research data.
Iprivask is one of its drugs on the market that was acquired from another company. The drug prevents patients undergoing hip replacement surgery from getting deep vein thrombosis, a type of clot. What’s interesting about this drug is that it is made from snail venom, Aronin says.
Marathon is developing drugs for cancer treatment, Huntington’s disease (an inherited disease that causes certain nerve cells in the brain to waste away), and Duchenne muscular dystrophy (a rare and fatal genetic muscle disease affecting boys).
While Aronin developed skills through experience to run divisions and companies, he credits Northern for giving him the fundamental skills that helped him become an entrepreneur, such as knowing how to work with people and build successful teams.
As an entrepreneur, there isn’t a good time to start a business, he says, adding that he had young children when he created Ovation.
“You have to, at some point, believe in yourself enough and believe in those skills to just go do it,” says Aronin, who earned a master’s degree in marketing management from DePaul University.
To spur economic development and entrepreneurships in Chicago, he has worked with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn to establish a new health technology startup center, called MATTER, which will be located at the Merchandise Mart. It is designed to create a collaborative work space for entrepreneurs, academics, and investors to grow new companies in health care information technology, medical devices, medical diagnostics, and biopharmaceuticals.
He has received numerous accolades as an entrepreneur, including induction into the Chicago Area Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame and awards from Crain’s Chicago Business and Ernst & Young.
Aronin is also involved in the community through board membership on Discover Financial Services, the University of Chicago Medical Center, and the Museum of Science and Industry and serves on the executive committee for World Business Chicago and the Economic Club of Chicago.
His dedication to the health care field extends to philanthropic work through patient support and research funding to several health advocacy organizations. The Brain Research Foundation, Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago, and American Porphyria Foundation are some of the organizations that have recognized him with awards.
“The awards I’m most proud of are the ones that have been given to me by the community for giving back and making a difference,” Aronin says.
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