Pharmaceutical CEO, Caring for His Son, Found a Business Opportunity

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Howard Solomon, who died at the age of 94, licensed an antidepressant from a Danish company and made it a big seller for Forest Laboratories.

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Mr Solomon, unwilling to give up, told Mr Sprank-Janssen that he was visiting Copenhagen and suggested a meeting. Mr. Sprank-Janssen proposed lunch the next day. Mr. Solomon traveled to Europe on a Concorde jet, and the two men bonded partly because of their mutual love of ballet. The result was a licensing agreement for the antidepressant sold in the US as Celexa, which made Forrest Labs a huge player in pharmaceuticals.

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Mr. Solomon died on January 8 at his home in Bedford Hills, NY. He was 94 years old and was undergoing treatment for an infection.

Her efforts to understand her son’s depression and help her find effective treatments, as described in Andrew Solomon’s 2001 book, “The Noonday Demon,” a National Book Award winner. His father, Andrew Solomon, “canceled all other plans to be with me,” promised better days and cut the food into bite-sized pieces when the young man found it too difficult.

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The son dedicated the book to his father, “who gave me life not once, but twice.”

Howard Solomon survived a fight with federal regulators and served as the CEO of One Labs until the mid-80s. He served as the President of the New York City Ballet and a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of the Metropolitan Opera.

Martin Howard Solomon, always known as Howard, was born on August 12, 1927, and grew up in the Bronx. His father, a Jewish immigrant from Romania, made a necktie from the remains of the dress. Around the age of 11, while visiting a friend’s house, he listened to opera recordings. He was inspired to learn piano and got a job selling librettos in the lobby of the Metropolitan Opera.

Although not “particularly observant in elementary school”, according to his son Andrew, he scored high enough on examinations to gain admission to the elite Bronx High School of Science.

At the City College of New York, he studied history and graduated in 1949 after serving as secretary to the commanding officer at an airport in Hawaii. At Yale Law School, he served as editor of the Law Journal and graduated in 1952.

He worked at law firms in New York before starting his own legal practice, while branching out into business projects including the Boula Boula chain of Bowling Alleys in New Jersey. In 1961, he married Carolyn Bower, a graduate of Smith College.

One of his clients appointed him to the board of One Labs, then a small company that made medicines, candy and ice cream. Forrest Labs’ top executives resigned amid a financial scandal at the company, and Mr. Solomon was persuaded to step down as CEO in 1977.

After selling the candy and ice cream businesses, he initially focused on generic drugs and then began licensing drugs to be marketed under the company’s own brand names.

Sales increased after 1998, when Forest Labs began selling Celexa, a competitor to antidepressants, including Prozac. In 2003, the company received Food and Drug Administration approval to market Namenda for Alzheimer’s disease.

As with other pharmaceutical companies, Forest Labs was implicated in a federal government crackdown on marketing practices. In 2009, the Justice Department alleged that the company improperly marketed Celexa for use in children and paid bribes to encourage doctors to prescribe the drug. The government also accused the company of failing to disclose a medical study that determined Celexa was ineffective for pediatric use.

In 2010, Forest Labs agreed to pay $313 million to settle the charges. Mr. Solomon was not personally charged with wrongdoing. The US Department of Health and Human Services threatened to force his resignation from Forest Labs, but backtracked after protests from the company and major business groups.

Forest Labs also came under pressure from an active investor, Carl Icahn, who acquired a stake and eventually received representation on the company’s board. In 2013, as he approached his 86th birthday, Mr. Solomon announced that he would be retiring at the end of the year. “I think the company deserves the stern assurance of continuity that a young CEO can provide,” he said.

In 2014, the new management sold Forest Labs to Actavis plc of Dublin for approximately $28 billion.

Mr. Solomon’s first wife died in 1991. Through his support of the arts, he met Sarah Billinghurst, an executive at the Metropolitan Opera. They married in 2003. She lives with him with two sons and five grandchildren.

Marco Tagliatti recalls meeting Mr. Solomon for a job interview in 2007. They spent about an hour regaling each other with memories of their favorite operatic performances, then time ran out and had to schedule another meeting to discuss the job. Dr. Tagliatti was appointed as the Chief Medical Officer.

At the time of his death, his family said, Mr Solomon was listening to a favorite opera, “Der Rosenkvalier”.

Write James R. Hagerty at [email protected]


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