"People thought we were a little crazy," admits Lynn Seely, discussing her company's goal of finding a better way to treat prostate cancer. The chief medical officer of the San Francisco–based pharma company embraced the challenge because one in six U.S. men will be diagnosed with the disease, and the long-common treatment—androgen suppression therapy—can lead to depression, loss of libido, and worse.
Seely's team discovered that androgen blockers, which halt male hormones, can play a key role in battling the cancer. This was against a lot of advice from the medical community, which is still debating the blockers' potential value. "But our company is focused on taking on serious diseases," Seely says, "and we wanted to take on the risk."
The resulting drug, Xtandi, has been shown to extend the lives of patients with highly advanced cancer. Xtandi sped through the FDA approval process to reach the market in five years—three fewer than the industry average—and generated $338 million in net sales. It's now being tested on men in earlier stages of prostate cancer.