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, a pioneering entrepreneur and innovator, recently made headlines for the extraordinary lengths she went to in order to save her daughter’s life. When her daughter, Jenesis, was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension at age seven, doctors predicted she would only live three years. Determined to find a cure for her daughter, Martine stuck to her own work using biotech. She sought out experts in the field and formed a company, United Therapeutics (UT).
Through her hardwork, Rothblatt was able to develop a revolutionary drug, Orenitram, that ultimately saved her daughter’s life. This drug, an orally administered tablet that relieves the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension, was the first of its kind. UT now employs around 4,000 people, including experts from various scientific fields such as cardiology, biochemistry, and pharmacology, who work to improve treatments for other life-threatening medical conditions.
By forming UT in the mid-90s, Rothblatt not only saved her daughter’s life, but also began a legacy of providing for those in need of medical assistance. With the help of the innovative and passionate team of employees at UT, numerous people have received vital medical care that wouldn’t have been possible without Rothblatt’s vision. Today, Jenesis is alive and well. Though she is still taking Orenitram, she is thriving and thanks to her mother’s drive and dedication, she’s living a happy and healthy life.
It’s a true testament to Martine Rothblatt’s courage and conviction that she was able to set up a multi-million dollar business to save the life of her daughter. With a mission to save lives, United Therapeutics is continuing the legacy that Rothblatt started. As the company progresses, it will serve as a reminder that bravery and dedication can go a long way when it comes to standing up for what’s right.