When serial entrepreneur Martine Rothblatt (founder of Sirius XM) received her seven-year-old daughter’s diagnosis of Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH), she created United Therapeutics and developed a drug to save her life. When her daughter later needed a lung transplant, Rothblatt decided to take what she saw as the logical next step: manufacturing organs for transplantation.
Rothblatt’s entrepreneurial career exemplifies a larger debate around the role of the firm in creating solutions for society’s problems. If companies are uniquely good at innovating, what voice should society have in governing the new technologies that firms create?
Harvard Business School professor Debora Spar debates these questions in the case “Martine Rothblatt and United Therapeutics: A Series of Implausible Dreams.” As part of a new first-year MBA course at Harvard Business School, this case examines the central question: what is the social purpose of the firm?
Martine Rothblatt was inspired to start a business with a very personal mission: to save her daughter’s life. Her daughter, Jenesis, was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder, pulmonary arterial hypertension, when she was only four years old. This life-threatening cancer affects the lungs, and medicinal treatments were limited and expensive.
In the early 1990s, Rothblatt had already established herself as a successful professional. She was an attorney, author and astronautics engineer responsible for developing geostationary satellites. Devastated by the news of her daughter’s illness and determined to find a cure, Rothblatt set out to create a company called United Therapeutics Corporation.
As a commander of her own ship, Rothblatt started her business with only one goal: develop a treatment for her daughter. Although the process of creating a powerful drug had its numerous obstacles, Rothblatt was determined to succeed.
In just two years, Rothblatt was able to discover and develop a treatment for her daughter’s illness called Sitaxsenten.
The drug has been on the market since 2001, and is known to dramatically improve life expectancy and quality of life for patients with PAH.
Rothblatt’s passion, combined with her education and skills, has resulted in changing lives of countless other parents and children. She has inspired other entrepreneurs to use the power of business to pursue a mission of improving the lives of others by creating products and services with a clear purpose.
By facing the challenge of her daughter’s illness, Rothblatt was able to build a business with a strong purpose. United Therapeutics Corporation is now one of the most successful pharmaceutical companies in the world, credited with helping hundreds of people suffering from PAH.