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Henri Meier's genome project

When Henri Meier retired from Roche last December, the longtime CFO had achieved near-legendary status for consistently producing returns of 25 percent or better on the Swiss drug company's investment portfolio.

A sizable chunk of the gains came from biotechnology investments. Now the 65-year-old has taken the logical next step: He's opened a biotech fund.

"In investments," Meier notes, "timing is almost everything. After a long period of sky-high prices for biotech companies, we are now back to reasonable pricing." He expects to earn a 20 percent annual return for investors over the next ten years by devoting at least half of his portfolio to venture capital start-ups. His HBM Bioventures fund, which has already raised more than Sf1 billion ($560 million), will also finance biotech spin-offs, management buyouts and M&A.

Meier, who's investing between Sf10 million and Sf50 million of his own funds in HBM - "I intend to put my money where my mouth is" - hopes to list HBM on the Swiss exchange by early 2004.

A former World Bank economist, Meier sees this as a pivotal moment in biogenetics. "With the discovery of the human genome, we now know the letters with which the book of life is written, but we cannot read one single sentence," he says. "Over the next ten to 20 years, I'm confident that we will be able to read that book." And crack the code of double-digit returns.