Ivor Royston

Country of origin: England

Year came to U.S.: 1954

Education: MD, Johns Hopkins University; Clinical Oncology fellowship, Stanford University

Business: Hybritech (1978), Biogen (1986), Forward Ventures (1993)

Headquarters: Weston, MA (Biogen)

2021 revenue: $11.0 billion (Biogen)

Worldwide employment: 9,610 (Biogen)

Ranked 338 in the 2022 Fortune 500

  • Royston is a doctor with business savvy and even won a Tony award.

  • He bridged the divide between academia and real-life patient care, resulting in the multi-billion-dollar company Biogen.

At age 14, Ivor Royston announced that he would dedicate his life to curing cancer. In the process, he became a scientist, researcher, professor, oncologist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist and even a Tony-award winner. He is credited with helping to change the nature of biotechnology worldwide.

Emigrating from England at the age of nine, Royston realized early on that his dream needed more than merely good schooling to materialize. So, he honed his business skills in “The Chessmen,” an investment club of 16 boys he helped create in Washington, D.C. Taking those skills to the consumer, he bought and operated an ice cream truck to earn college tuition money.

It was as an assistant professor at the University of California-San Diego (UCSD) that Royston sought to mend the fundamental disconnect between research and clinical application. He wanted new, life-saving medicines to go from the lab to the hospital quickly and profitably. In 1978, he co-founded Hybritech, San Diego’s first biotechnology company.

This historic marriage of scholarship and entrepreneurship triggered a paradigm shift in San Diego’s medical research community. It became a leading international biotech cluster. Today, more than 50 San Diego biotech companies can trace their lineage to Hybritech.

It also catapulted Royston’s legendary career. In 1985 he co-founded IDEC Pharmaceuticals, and in 2003 IDEC merged with Biogen, founded by Swiss immigrant Charles Weissman. The new company, Biogen, is now the world’s oldest independent biotechnology company. It continues to focus on its mission of discovering, developing and delivering innovative therapies to patients worldwide.

He went on to earn tenure at UCSD and co-found Forward Ventures to fund companies developing breakthrough medical treatments. Forward Ventures has invested in more than 50 companies and has more than $500 million under management.

Royston also built a reputation for philanthropy, supporting organizations from cancer centers to opera houses. In 2006, Royston won a Tony award for best musical as a producer of Jersey Boys.

Discover other Massachusetts-based foreign-born founders in the blog post How Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Strengthening Massachusetts’ Life Science Ecosystem.

Updated July 2022