A Will and a Way

Hubert and Anne in February 1998. Image courtesy of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Hubert and Anne in February 1998. Image courtesy of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Word of the young Dutch phenom reached Wall and Koprowski while they were in the midst of forming Centocor in Philadelphia. Schoemaker was initially hired as head of manufacturing and operations, but an early executive shake-up led to his appointment as CEO. In 1980 Schoemaker and his family moved from Boston to Philadelphia. “When it was decided Hubert was going to take over Centocor, it was clear right away that he wanted to have a very positive environment,” says former Centocor CFO Vincent Zurawski. “Hubert was very good at working with the people in the company, talking to them, and giving the impression that he was really behind them.”

Centocor’s early success stemmed from a line of diagnostic products, most notably the first test for cervical cancer. Their move into developing therapeutics was, by the late 1980s, primarily focused on Centoxin, a drug for treating patients with sepsis. Despite industry excitement, the drug was unexpectedly denied FDA approval. “He would insist that the company would get through it okay,” says Centocor’s former head of media and investor relations, Rick Koenig, who recalls that Schoemaker told a group of concerned investors, “We will survive and we will prosper.”

His words ultimately rang true, with the 1995 approval of the cardiovascular drug ReoPro. Three years later Centocor debuted an even bigger drug, Remicade, which treats Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. With Centocor back on track, the company was sold to Johnson and Johnson for $4.9 billion in 1999.

Schoemaker could have retired to savor three personal victories—saving Centocor, remission of the brain cancer he had fought for five years, and his second marriage, to a technology licensing specialist at the Wistar Institute named Anne Faulkner. But few were surprised when instead he founded a new company, Neuronyx, a company that harnesses the therapeutic potential of the human stem cell. He continued to promote the strong community of biotechnology enterprise in southeastern Pennsylvania, a community that his vision shaped years earlier. “Locally, Hubert shared ideas and helped a lot of us get started,” says Frank Baldino, the founder of Cephalon. “He gave his time and his advice freely . . . he was the most supportive guy.”