LEWISTON — Michael Bonney, a former CEO of a pharmaceutical company that developed a powerhouse drug, and his wife, Alison Grott Bonney, have given Bates the largest single gift in the college’s history: $10 million, college President Clayton Spencer announced Monday.

The gift was part of $19 million donated to the college’s endowment from several Bates families.

Who is Michael Bonney?

A Maine guy who did good. Very good.

Today he’s a partner for Third Rock Ventures, a venture capitalist company in the Boston area, he told reporters in a telephone conference call Monday. He’s chairman of the Bates Board of Trustees, is loyal and grateful to Bates College, from where many in his family graduated, he said.

He and his wife graduated from Bates College, Class of 1980. Their three children graduated in 2009, 2012 and 2015.


His father and his grandfather also graduated from Bates.

In January 2015, Bonney’s pharmaceutical company, Cubit, which he helped build, was sold to the pharmaceutical powerhouse Merck for $9.5 billion, according to published reports. Cubist developed a blockbuster drug, the antibiotic Cubicin, used for treating superbugs, drug-resistant strains of bacteria such as MRSA.

On Monday, Bonney shared some of his background, why he and his wife gave to Bates.

Both his parents, Weston and Elaine Bonney, grew up in Turner. “My dad’s dad had a tire store on Main Street in Lewiston,” he said. “I remember visiting when I was a lad.” The store was Coburns.

His parents moved back to Maine, living in the Augusta area, when he was 6 years old. He lived there through high school, then entered Bates College in the mid-1970s.

At Bates, he started out as a pre-med major, then switched to economics. He spent his career fusing economics and medicine.


“My first job after Bates was with Hannaford Brothers,” Bonney said. He was hired to manage a Hannaford drug store in Bangor.

“I ran a drug store up there for a few years. I then got engaged to a woman I had been friends with at Bates, but became more than friends,” he said.

That woman is his wife, Alison Grott. She was then working for Dead River Co., and was transferred to southern Maine. He followed.

Around that time, it was clear his future was not in retail, Bonney said. He was fascinated with pharmaceuticals.

“I spent all my time trying to figure out why we were selling too much of this drug or that drug.”

A friend encouraged him to apply for a job opening in southern Maine and New Hampshire for a major European pharmaceutical company, Zeneca. He was hired.


“Much to my surprise and delight, I found I really enjoyed the intersection of science and economics or business,” he said.

He spent 12 years working for Zeneka. In the 1990s, he moved to Boston and built a company called Biogen. In 2002, he joined Cubist as president and CEO. During those years, he oversaw his staff develop new antibiotics. The company became the world’s largest antibiotic company, Bonney said.

He was among five finalists for the 2011 CEO of the Year award by MarketWatch, a leading financial news source published by Dow Jones & Co., according to Bates College. Others named finalists that year included corporate leaders of Amazon and Whole Foods.

In reports about Bonney after he was nominated, MarketWatch said Bonney had a tremendous impact on his company.

Bonney said he was a lifelong learner and having a broad perspective on the world was more important than money.

On Monday, he said he’s spent 35 years in life sciences innovation. He loves Maine.


“My wife will tell you we left in 1985 to follow my professional interests, but I’ve been trying to get back ever since,” he said.

He’s spent more time in Maine through his affiliation with Bates and their home on the Maine coast. He hopes his gift to Bates will make a difference in preventing diseases and helping future patients.

“It’s increasingly obvious to me while we need deep, technical expertise in various scientific endeavors, there’s enormous untapped power in the digitizing of biological information,” Bonney said.

“One real hope that I have by offering this digital computational studies, and marrying it to strengthen” Bates science programs, (is that) the college will graduate students who understand “how to curate this enormous avalanche of genetic and biological information that we’re able to generate today.”

By using that data, it could fundamentally improve how doctors and scientists treat diseases and protect patients, Bonney said.

“That’s what I’m hopeful this gift will accomplish,” he said. 

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