One of the most accomplished biomedical scientists in the world
George D. Yancopoulos is the Founding Scientist, President and Chief Scientific Officer in Regeneron Laboratories. According to Forbes magazine, Yancopoulos’ exceptional research in Regeneron has made him a billionaire. He is the first research and development chief in the pharmaceutical industry to become a billionaire.
George D. Yancopoulos, joined the Company in 1989 as its Founding Scientist. He graduated as valedictorian of both the Bronx High School of Science and Columbia College, and then earned his MD & PhD degrees at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.
It is worth mentioning that Dr. Yancopoulos was the 11th most highly cited scientist in the world in the 1990s, and in 2004 he was elected to be a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Together with key members of his team, he is a principal inventor and developer of Regeneron’s three FDA-approved drugs – including EYLEA, Injection, ZALTRAP, Injection for Intravenous Infusion, and ARCALYST, Injection – as well as of its foundation technologies including the TRAP technology, VelociGene, and VelocImmune.
George was born in 1959. He came from a wealthy family. His grandfather, Giorgos Danis Giankopoulos, was born in the city of Kastoria, Greece, before the liberation from the Turkish occupation. He managed to escape to Austria, he was a self-taught german speaker, and in a mysterious way, he also managed to get a degree in electrical engineering there. His mother’s family were working as furriers. She was forced to leave school, but she returned at the age of 60(!), and graduated first in her class.
Ever since George was a little child, he wanted to study the way organisms can regenerate parts of themselves. What led to the project: As a little kid, George Yancopoulos was fascinated by such questions as how lizards can regrow their tails and how the body works. “Τhe whole reason I went to the Bronx High School of Science is that it had ‘science’ in the name,” he says. He wanted to become a scientist.
The funny thing is that his his father—who had immigrated to the U.S. where he worked as a furrier, a life insurance salesman and finally a financial planner to support his family—said he hadn’t sacrificed just for George to become an underpaid academic researcher. He thought he should become a practicing doctor. There was, however, one scientist he told George that it would be all right to emulate: the greek P. Roy Vagelos, who was at the time a rising star at the pharmaceutical giant Merck and later became its CEO.
A few year later, Yancopoulos got a phone call from Leonard Schleifer, who was recruiting talents for a new biotechnology company. This start-up would try to figure out ways to regrow nerve cells to potentially treat nervous system disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases. Yancopoulos was intrigued. With his father’s voice ringing in his ears and, aware of the financial rewards that getting in on the ground floor of a company could bring, he decided to join the company which became known as Regeneron.
Over the years, he’s helped direct the company’s research into a variety of areas beyond the original nervous system scope, from eye diseases to cancer. One more interesting detail is that they have developed what he calls “the most valuable mouse ever made.” Bred to have immune systems that respond just like a human’s would, these little critters can quickly show how the human body will react to different compounds.
Judging by the result, George’s father was wrong about how underpaid science could be in our days. According to Regeneron’s 2007 Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Yancopoulos earned $1.14 million in salary and bonus that year, and held 563,094 Regeneron shares, worth about $12 million.