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Matthias Alder and his clients share a key characteristic: They’re on their way up. Alder, a partner in Cooley Godward, leads the life sciences practice in the firm’s Reston, Va., office. Unlike many other intellectual property transaction specialists, he focuses strictly on small biotechs. His forte is the “mission-critical” transaction, including strategic alliances with the big pharmaceutical companies, research and licensing agreements, and marketing deals. His clients — Alba Therapeutics, Jerini AG, Medarex, Micromet, Panacos Pharmaceuticals, Pozen, and Trophogen, among others — are not household names. But with Alder’s help, they’re working to make their cutting-edge drugs, diagnostics, and medical devices universally known. “He focuses on his client at the small companies like no one else,” says Bruce Weintraub, chief operating officer of Trophogen. “He gives service you would expect for a much larger company. And that is so important. You don’t always get that.” Trophogen, a startup biotech in Rockville, Md., develops protein therapeutics. Alder, 41, explains that right now he wouldn’t feel comfortable working both sides of the big pharma/ biotech aisle: “It is inherently a conflict. It comes down to where your heart is.” It’s also, he says, a reflection of Cooley’s core strategy to specialize in the legal needs of developing biotechnology. Besides, he has already done his time with big pharma. The Swiss-born Alder (he boasts a law degree from Switzerland’s University of Basel and an LL.M. from the University of Miami) started his legal career as in-house counsel for Ciba-Geigy, now known as Novartis. In 1997, after years of brokering deals with Cooley lawyers sitting across the table, Alder received an offer from the firm. With his American wife ready to return to the United States, he accepted, starting in the Palo Alto, Calif., office and moving to Reston in 2000. His earlier experience with the pharmaceutical giant proved invaluable, he says. Working in an international setting with a Swiss-based client “was particularly helpful,” adds Alder, who conducts business in English and German and is also fluent in French and Italian. He continues to do a lot of work with European clients. “It’s not the language so much, but it’s the cultural issues — how people react to negotiation styles,” says Alder. He enjoys “the added dimension of using my international background to translate legal concepts.” Last year, for example, Alder helped his client Pharmion reach a $240 million deal with the German company GPC Biotech to co-develop and license satraplatin, a treatment for hormone-refractory prostate cancer. At this point, says Alder, his work largely sells itself. Still, he is trying to grow his practice. “You can never rest on your laurels and not look for new clients and opportunities,” says Alder. “But it has come easier because of the network I’ve developed.”

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