An array of high-profile leadership positions, from the Pentagon to Teledyne, have led Donald Rice to his smallest big role yet running a fledgling Santa Monica biotech firm

The offices of Agensys Inc. in Santa Monica are just about a mile from the compound near the beach where Donald B. Rice reigned for 17 years as president of Rand Corp.

They're also less than a half-hour drive from the high-rise executive suite in Century City where Rice applied his vaunted management skills to the task of rescuing a foundering Teledyne Inc. during the mid 1990s.

But for Rice, the undistinguished brick building on Colorado Avenue might as well be a world away from the circles he mixed with at the country's leading defense think tank or in Henry Singleton's boardroom.

Here, amid the laminated furniture and industrial-grade carpet, the former Air Force Secretary, accustomed to nine-figure budgets, has spent the last five years toiling in the relative obscurity of a biotech startup.

A man who always has found himself, one way or another, where the action is has found another home. This time in an industry that has vowed to vanquish our tumors, grow us new organs and, ultimately, extend our lives.

To figure out how a man who never had to work again is putting in 60-hour weeks leading a startup like Agensys, seeking treatments for prostate and other solid tumor cancers, you just have to take one look at the man the thin spectacles, the black comfort shoes, the conservative pale blue shirt with two black plastic pens peeking out of the pocket. The Donald Rice that shakes your hand is all business.

Rice is no biologist, but he's been around science his whole life, starting with a chemical engineering degree earned at Notre Dame on a full four-year scholarship. And he liked what he heard from Singleton, and the legendary Simon Ramo, developer of the electron microscope.

Testing grounds for cancers

A group of doctors at UCLA medical school wanted to start a company to find new treatments for prostate cancer and had some exciting technology: a special strain of immune deficient mice.

When implanted with human prostate cancer cells, the mice grew tumors that mimic the cancer's various stages in humans. The result is an ample quantity of tumor cells, no small problem in the study of prostate cancer since human tumors tend to be small and difficult to grow in the lab. The mice also are perfect testing grounds for cancer therapies.


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