Are jeans and cash the biotech success formula for Asia?

If there is a formula for how to be creative in the biotech industry in Asia, it probably doesn't include ingredients like a relaxed dress code and walls of cash as far as the eye can see for basic research.

Stephane Bancel, president and founding chief executive officer of Moderna Therapeutics, floats on $100 million from Merck ($MRK) and other investors betting the early-stage biotech is sitting on transformational technology.

He spoke at BioPharma Asia in Singapore this week about the company's work on fundamental understanding of biological and chemical interactions that could lead to new drugs and the freedom given to his researchers. The talk left many in the audience at the Suntec Convention Centre wondering what they would, or could, do with all of that cash and talent.

Stephane Bancel

"Basic research pays off," Bancel said. "But it can take years, decades even, and continued funds to see it through. That is what we are doing."

One wag in the audience, who declined to be named, responded after the talk that he thought investors gave money to make money.

"It's hard for to imagine telling some company or VC to sit tight and wait a decade," the executive with a cancer-focused biotech said. "But more power to him for doing it. He's got a track record too."

Bancel was previously CEO of bioMérieux, which has over 6,000 employees and sales of more than €1.3 billion. He led the company through 10 successful acquisitions in the U.S., Europe, and Asia/Pacific without needing new capital from shareholders.

He also did a stint at Big Pharma as managing director of Eli Lilly ($LLY) in Belgium and executive director of global manufacturing strategy and supply chain in Indianapolis among other posts.

On a more unusual note was David Gallon, director of Strategic Insight & Innovation for Toyota (yes, as in the car company), who followed Bancel.

A hybrid of Anthony Robbins and Oprah--Gallon exhorted his audience to agitate for change, borrowing a line from Mahatma Gandhi to "be the change you want to see."

Short of getting the British to quit India--in this case it appeared to be a call for a more relaxed dress code to wear jeans at work while touring other companies that are innovative to see what lessons can be learned.

And his plans are bigger.

"During the past year, as a fellow with the Aspen Institute's First Mover Program for corporate entrepreneurs, he has been able to further strengthen his capacity to innovate and lead change within organizations and to build a cohort of leaders, who will, over time, collectively change how business is done and how business success is measured," according to his conference biography.

One lesson learned--Google ($GOOG) threw out a thick manual of rules laboriously put together by human resources after going public because many employees saw the document as a threat to creativity.

Meanwhile, among the sausage rolls and stainless steel urns of tea and coffee, the hard work of wearing a suit and tie in an equatorial country and exchanging cards and finding the next big thing continued apace. Same as it ever was. -- EJ Lane (email | Twitter)