11 Women in the Life Sciences That You Should Know in the BioHealth Capital Region

In honor of Women’s History Month, which kicks off today, we wanted to highlight 11 incredible women making a mark in the life sciences in the BioHealth Capital Region. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

March 1, 2024

BioBuzz has been building life science communities for 14 years because we believe in the power of personal networks to unlock your career potential. For our next chapter, we’re building upon the success of our community to help solve today’s greatest challenges in hiring and career development. There is a better, more equitable way to connect talent with opportunity… and we’re building it.

Arti Santhanam, Executive Director, Emerging Technology Centers (ETC)

Dr. Arti Santhanam was recently appointed Executive Director of Emerging Technology Centers (ETC). While new to the role, Dr. Santhanam is a long-time player in the BioHealth Capital Region. 

Dr. Santhanam’s contributions over the last decade at TEDCO, especially within her role in the Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII), have been instrumental in fostering Maryland’s diverse and innovative ecosystem. Established in 2012, MII has invested $52.3M, resulting in 176 startups from notable universities like Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland, and Morgan. 

In her new role, she’ll be introducing a new public-private operational model enhancing support for Baltimore’s tech entrepreneurs, activating her extensive expertise in startup leadership, venture capital, and life sciences.

Prior to TEDCO, Dr. Santhanam worked in global health at MITRE Corporation and in private consulting, collaborating with USAMRIID and ECBC. Dr. Santhanam earned her Master’s in Clinical Biochemistry from the University of Madras, India, and a PhD in Microbiology from Rutgers University, NJ, followed by a postdoc at the National Cancer Institute. She’s held roles on METAvivor Research and Support, Inc.’s Board and various Maryland advisory boards, demonstrating her leadership in health and innovation.

Chandra Briggman, CEO, Activation Capital

Chandra Briggman is President and CEO of Activation Capital, a leading innovation ecosystem development organization providing social, knowledge, and financial capital to tech clusters across the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Before being named the CEO in May 2020, Briggman was Director of Venture Café Foundation located in Cambridge, MA, and was responsible for the strategy and operations of the global network’s flagship Venture Café Cambridge innovation hub. She played a key role in helping expand the revenue and the footprint in New England. Before her work in ecosystem development in Massachusetts, she held innovation roles with the United States Postal Service in Washington, D.C., culminating with her work as the Director of Digital Platforms and the Innovation Lab. Her prior experience comprised leadership roles with multiple startups, including Founder as a serial entrepreneur.

Briggman is an active member of the entrepreneurship and innovation community, including as a guest lecturer, coach/mentor, public speaker, and Chair of the Board for Youth CITIES – a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to youth entrepreneurship. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in the Humanities from Columbia International University, a Master’s in Marketing from Johns Hopkins University, and an MBA from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Briggman is a 2023 finalist for BioBuzz’s Community Builder Award

Helen Sabzevari, PhD,  President and CEO, Precigen

Dr. Helen Sabzevari has extensive expertise in research and development of immunotherapy-based therapeutics as well as experience translating novel treatments from pre-clinical stage into the clinic. 

At Precigen, her team is dedicated to advancing the next generation of gene and cell therapies using precision technology to target the most urgent and intractable diseases in immuno-oncology, autoimmune disorders, and infectious diseases.

Prior to Precigen, Dr. Sabzevari co-founded and served as Chief Scientific Officer of Compass Therapeutics, a fully- integrated drug discovery and development company focused on manipulating the immune system to treat human disease. 

Before that, Dr. Sabzevari served as Senior Vice President of Immuno-Oncology as well as Global Head of Immunotherapy, Oncology, Global Research, and Early Development at Merck KGaA/EMD Serono, Darmstadt, Germany. During her tenure, she led the immuno-oncology discovery and early development translational innovation platform and brought forward numerous pre-clinical and clinical assets, including avelumab, an approved anti-programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1) checkpoint inhibitor. 

Dr. Sabzevari’s contributions in the field of tumor immunology earned her the National Institutes of Health (NIH) merit award for a major contribution to the field of cancer immunotherapy. She has also received the Mass High Tech’s Women to Watch Award, the PharmaVOICE 100 Award (2013 and 2022) and the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) Team Science Award for her work on the NCI Cancer Immunotherapy Program Team. 

Most recently, Dr. Sabzevari was recognized on the Forbes 50 over 50: The Visionary List, Maryland’s Top 100 Women by The Daily Record, and PM360’s Elite 100 in the Strategists category. Dr. Sabzevari received her doctorate in cell and molecular immunology and completed her postdoctoral work at the Department of Immunology at the Scripps Research Institute, working on various immunotherapeutic modalities in the treatment of cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Jane Shaab, Senior Vice President, UMB Health Science Research Corporation (RPC), Associate Vice President for Economic Development, University of Maryland, Baltimore

Jane Shaab has dedicated her life to building the region as a top life sciences destination. Under her leadership, the UM BioPark has grown into Baltimore’s largest cluster of life sciences companies, revitalizing 14 acres of years-vacant commercial property and generating over $600 million dollars in capital investment to revitalize the development of a 470,000 square foot world-class biomedical research center. 4MLK is next. 

Shaab is not only a champion for the BioPark’s development but also an ambassador to the neighboring West Baltimore communities. She ensures responsible growth and has facilitated over $1 million in support for community-requested funding, addressing needs such as schools, safety measures, and job training. Shaab actively participates in UMB’s community engagement efforts, leading initiatives to support the local community during the pandemic.

She is involved in various boards, including the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy Board of Visitors, the Southwest Partnership, the B&O Railroad Museum, and the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance. She was a founding member of Poe Baltimore Board of Trustees. 

Shaab’s contributions have been recognized over the decades for her “notable successes and demonstration of strong leadership both within and outside of their chosen field.” After being named to The Maryland Daily Record’s Top 100 Women list three times (1997, 1999 and 2001), she became a member of the Circle of Excellence.

Most recently, Shaab received AURP’s 2023 Career Achievement Award and she is a 2023 finalist for BioBuzz’s ‘John Holaday’ Leadership Award

Kathie Callahan Brady, President and CEO, Frederick Innovative Technology Center, Inc. (FITCI)

Being an entrepreneur is part of Kathie Callahan Brady’s DNA. As President and CEO of Frederick Innovative Technology Center, Inc. (FITCI), Callahan Brady works with some of the most highly talented and gifted, emerging Biotech and Technology companies in Maryland. 

Since stepping into the role in 2016, the incubator/accelerator has seen its client base grow 276%. They currently serve 74 companies, having served over 260 companies with an unprecedented 93% success rate. 

Through FITCI and its broad resource ecosystem and partnerships, these companies receive services focused on coaching, capital, and connections. FITCI flagship programs include Startup University and CEO advisory boards along with pitch fests. FITCI Companies have created over 1160+ jobs, raised 160 million dollars during the pandemic and contributed over $84 million to the economy annually. 

The third location in the city of Frederick is set to open this spring and will allow FITCI to double the capacity of its accelerator and its economic impact. Recognizing the need for a skilled labor force to support the company growth flowing from FITCI and Frederick County, FITCI is actively partnering on workforce development, apprenticeship, and internship programs with a focus on attracting, training and inspiring a new generation of life science workers from historically underrepresented segments of our population thus enabling individuals and families to grow and flourish in the County

An entrepreneur with more than 30 years of executive-level experience in IT, real estate, and business development, Callahan Brady has led entrepreneurs and corporations in strategies to achieve high-level success. She founded Future CEO to empower entrepreneurs to start and operate their own businesses and leads with that same passion at FITCI. 

Callahan Brady is a graduate of the University of Maryland and is a 2023 finalist for BioBuzz’s Community Builder Award.

Kelly Schulz, CEO, Maryland Tech Council (MTC)

Kelly Schulz is a mother, wife, and successful small business owner, and she served seven years in Governor Hogan’s administration as the Secretary of Labor and Secretary of Commerce before stepping into her current role in late 2022

At MTC, her vision is to propel Maryland to become the number one innovation economy for life sciences and technology in the country, supporting member companies like Fulton Bank, MilliporeSigma, PQE Group, VaLogic, and hundreds of others, who are driving innovation through advocacy, education, workforce development, and connection. 

Prior to MTC, Shulz was with the Secretary of Commerce, where she oversaw the state’s primary economic development agency, responsible for attracting new businesses, job growth, and workforce development. Under her leadership, the department also served as the largest resource to provide financial assistance to struggling Maryland companies adversely impacted by COVID-19. 

Shulz helped to grow Maryland’s apprenticeship program to its highest level since 2008, with more than 10,000 apprentices statewide, receiving national recognition as one of the top programs in America. Shulz also worked tirelessly with businesses regulated within the department to have a clear voice on how to work successfully within the state as a partner as opposed to the preexisting adversarial relationship. In 2018, after Governor Hogan’s reelection, Shulz assumed her role in the Department of Commerce, where she continued her positive approach to building relationships with a variety of industries to improve their opportunities within the state.

Shulz will be speaking at this year’s Women in Bio – Capital Region Chapter’s HERstory Gala and her work has been recognized for her work through BioHub Maryland as a 2023 finalist for BioBuzz’s Workforce Champion Award

Kolaleh Eskandarian, PhD, MBA, PMP, Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer, Children’s National Hospital, Executive Director, Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation

Kolaleh Eskandanian, Ph.D., M.B.A., P.M.P., one of Becker’s eight Mid-Atlantic “Chief Innovation Officers to Know” is a champion for addressing the unmet medical needs of children, with expertise in product development. 

Most recently, Dr. Eskandanian played a critical leadership role in the development of the Children’s National Research and Innovation Campus, housing Children’s National Research Institute as well as JLABS @ Washington, DC and Virginia Tech as the initial anchors of the campus. Dr. Eskandanian works with a large network of small and large businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies to maximize the commercial potential of pediatric novel products. 

Since early 2014, over 320 pediatric medical device companies have been funded or received technical expertise through initiatives led by Dr. Eskandanian. Her own innovations are in the market space used by millions. Dr. Eskandanian is the lead inventor of the first-ever adverse event reporting system, initially deployed in a research academic environment. She has had leadership roles in the development of the first web-based consumer trouble-entry management system for a Fortune 100 company in the telecommunications sector. In her role in academia, she has been instrumental in securing over $100 million in peer-reviewed government funding. 

Before joining Children’s National, Dr. Eskandanian held positions with Intelsat, Accenture, and Georgetown University. Dr. Eskandanian’s background is in mechanical engineering with a PhD in operations science and an MBA. A polyglot and avid traveler, she has lived in three continents and speaks four languages fluently.

Nikki Hastings, Co-Founder, Executive Director, CvilleBioHub 

Nikki Hastings has over 15 years of experience with early stage biotech/medtech and medical device companies, specifically with expertise in working with academic and first-time founders. 

She has led operations in executive management roles at companies including HemoShear Therapeutics, Contraline, and Cerillo. Hastings co-founded and led a private non-profit organization, CvilleBioHub, supporting growth of the regional biotech industry in Central Virginia and was the organization’s first executive director.

Hastings is an adjunct faculty member in the UVA McIntire School of Commerce and holds a PhD in biomedical engineering from the University of Virginia.

Ruchika Nijhara, PhD, Executive Director, Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund (MSCRF) 

Ruchika Nijhara, PhD, a standing member of Maryland’s Life Sciences Advisory Board, joined MSCRF in April 2023 as Executive Director to oversee and manage all MSCRF activities and the funding programs to support the advancement of stem cell research in Maryland. Dr. Nijhara brings diverse and unique perspective to MSCRF with her strong academic background and two decades of experience in technology transfer field working with researchers in evaluating the innovations for patent protection and finding ways to support the commercialization of the innovations. 

Prior to joining MSCRF, Ruchika was an interim VP and Senior Director at Georgetown University, Office of Technology Commercialization, where she led all the activities related to the management and commercialization of Georgetown’s intellectual property including strategic partnerships, licensing, and new venture creation. Under her leadership, Office of Technology Commercialization saw significant growth in inventions, license agreements, licensing revenues and strategic alliances with industry.

Before joining Georgetown University, Dr. Nijhara worked in University of Maryland, Baltimore Office of Technology Transfer where she was responsible for assessing inventions for intellectual property protection, and for marketing and commercialization of early-stage technologies. She successfully negotiated hundreds of license agreements and other agreements directed to intellectual property owned by the University.

Dr. Nijhara is an active member in various local and national professional organizations, speaks frequently about intellectual property, commercialization and technology transfer, and has taught for many years courses on technology transfer at Georgetown University Law school and at FAES, National Institutes of Health (NIH). She has mentored several interns and young professionals in intellectual property protection and technology commercialization and led non-profit organizations providing career guidance and networking opportunities to biomedical professionals. Ruchika has authored numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals and has been an invited speaker at several professional and academic organizations worldwide.

Dr. Nijhara received her PhD in Biochemistry from Delhi University and her MBA from University of Maryland. She spent four years as a postdoctoral at National Cancer Institute, NIH.

Sally Allain, Head, JLABS @ Washington, DC

Sally Allain has more than 20 years of international life science, healthcare, and biotech experience, from positions held in both the US and the UK, and in the management of global R&D programs.

As the Head of JLABS @ Washington, DC, Allain sets the strategic direction and oversees all activities for JLABS in the greater Washington-Maryland-Virginia region. In this role, Allain is responsible for external engagement, innovation sourcing, company onboarding, portfolio management, operational and P&L excellence. She also leads in building strategic partnerships with corporate, academic, government and industry organizations that aim to strengthen the region’s life sciences innovation network.

Prior to JLABS, Allain was the Senior Director, Strategy & Operations on the Global External Innovation team at Johnson & Johnson where she supported the establishment of a new operating model for the organization, global portfolio management, and strategic business development efforts. She also held roles within Janssen R&D, Immunology, where she directed a team responsible for managing the global alliance portfolio and research operations for early discovery to early development projects.

As a Champion for Health Equity, Allain helped shape and lead J&J’s WiSTEM2D Scholars Award Program to fuel the STEM2D talent pipeline, and she co-leads Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s Board Fellows Program. In 2022 she was recognized within PharmaVoice’s Top 100, acknowledging standout executives and R&D disrupters; and in 2023, recognized by the Washington Business Journal in their Power 100. She is also a  2023 finalist for BioBuzz’s Community Builder Award

Allain received her MBA from the University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business; a Master of Science Degree in Microbiology / Immunology from Virginia Tech; and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from Virginia Tech. She sits on the Boards of BioHealth Innovation and Mindshare, two organizations supporting early-stage companies, and was selected to be an Executive Fellow at The Economic Club of Washington, DC.

Tammi Thomas, Chief Development & Marketing Officer, TEDCO

As TEDCO’s Chief Development & Marketing Officer, Thomas is primarily responsible for the overall strategic direction, leadership, execution and management of TEDCO’s marketing and fundraising strategies designed to broaden awareness of and resources for TEDCO and its various programs; this includes the development and implementation of the organization’s brand, marketing, and communications strategy.

Her leadership and knowledge are instrumental in forging relationships that will enable TEDCO to expand their reach and services, diversify resources and grow the innovation ecosystem as well as establishing TEDCO as the most recognized organization in Maryland for identifying, investing in, and growing technology-based businesses. Driven by this mission, she serves as TEDCO’s internal subject expert on media and public relations, social media, brand messaging, marketing, and special events.

Her resume includes C-suite positions as the Vice President of Strategic Management at Data Solutions & Technology Inc., a full-service technology solutions provider; and as the Director of Business Development and Marketing at the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s Research Park & Business Incubator. Additionally, Thomas’ professional expertise was sought after to teach the next generation of communicators as an adjunct professor at Bowie State University and the University of Baltimore. She frequently speaks and publishes on such topics as leadership, entrepreneurship, and business development.

Thomas has been recognized by her industry peers for excellence in communication and marketing. She has received the Maryland Economic Development Association’s Marketing award for TEDCO’s Entrepreneur Expo (2020), the Cybersecurity Association of Maryland’s 2017 Cybersecurity Industry Resource Award, the AMA Baltimore’s MX Award for Best Print Advertisement Campaign of the Year (2022 and 2023), and most recently was named one of The Daily Record’s Top 100 Women in Maryland (2023). She graduated from Leadership Maryland’s Class of 2018, completing the eight-month hands-on learning program focused on the State’s most vital social, economic and environmental issues. She serves on the the 2023 World Trade Center Institute CEO Council as well as on the Maryland Momentum Fund Advisory Board and MEDA Board of Directors, where she is currently serving as Vice President of the organization.

Thomas earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Alabama State University and an MBA from the University of Baltimore. She is active in her community and serves in volunteer roles and on boards and committees for various schools and organizations in the region.