These Female Executives Set the Standard of Excellence in the Biohealth Capital Region

August 27, 2019

Liftstream, a U.K.-based executive recruiting firm, released an oft referenced report called “A Public Reality for Women in Biotech Boardrooms” in 2016. Lifstream’s research found that only 7 to 9 percent of biotech CEOs were women, less than 11 percent of board seats were held by females and 98 percent of board chair positions were held by men. The report surveyed 177 publicly-listed biotechs that went through the IPO process from 2012 to 2015.

Since 2016, women have certainly made significant strides in the biopharmaceutical space, including two recent, high profile CEO appointments. Gilead Sciences recently appointed Christi L. Shaw, former senior vice president at Eli Lilly & Company, as CEO of Kite, which is the company’s division focused on CAR T therapy development. In addition, Vertex Pharmaceuticals has named its vice president and Chief Medical Officer Reshma Kewalramani as president and CEO, effective April 1, 2020.     

These recent success stories illustrate that women executives holding executive positions at life science companies is on the rise. However, progress has been challenging and, by most accounts, slow. Emma Walmsey, CEO at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), remains the only women CEO leading a top-tier biopharm company.

Achieving stronger gender diversity in the leadership ranks and in the boardroom is an ongoing challenge that is being met head on by intrepid, driven, innovative and successful women across the life science industry. The issue is also being addressed upstream at Venture Capital Firms like TEDCO who are taking efforts to support more female founders and startups with the launch of a Task Force For Women Entrepreneurs.  

There are several highly accomplished CEOs and executive leaders that have built extraordinary biohealth companies right here in the Biohealth Capital Region (BHCR), who also happen to be women. Their accomplishments, highlighted against the backdrop of this industry-wide issue, are setting the standard for excellence and further emphasize the importance of continued efforts towards gender diversity within life science leadership roles. 

Martine Rothblatt, Founder and CEO, United Therapeutics

Martine Rothblatt, CEO of the publicly-traded biotech company United Therapeutics (UTHR) located in Silver Spring, Maryland, is a lawyer, author, futurist, entrepreneur and one of the most successful and innovative business leaders in the world.  

Rothblatt is one of the co-founders of Sirius XM radio, which she left post-IPO to move into biotech. Her move into the biotech field was inspired by her daughter’s battle with pulmonary arterial hypertension, which was a fatal diagnosis at the time. Her daughter was only five years old at diagnosis. 

Rothblatt founded United Therapeutics to literally save her daughter’s life, and that’s exactly what she did. After an exhaustive process, she was able to convince GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to license a molecule to her and her team of scientists, which they then developed into Remodulin. Today Remodulin generates approximately $1B a year in revenue for United Therapeutics and has helped pulmonary arterial hypertension patients, including her own daughter, live healthy lives.

In 2018, Rothblatt was the highest paid woman CEO in biopharma, according to Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN). UTHR now has five FDA-approved drugs on the market. Ever the innovator, Rothblatt and UTHR are now exploring organ manufacturing, specifically the manufacture of genetically modified lungs developed in cloned pigs that resist rejection by the human body. Rothblatt and United Therapeutics believe that Xenotransplantation, or the engineering of animals to be organ donors, is not science fiction at all: It’s the future of medicine and a future that’s not that far away.

Rachel K. King, Co-Founder and CEO, GlycoMimetics, Inc.

Rachel K. King co-founded GlycoMimetics, Inc.(GMI) in 2003 and has served as the company’s CEO since its inception. GMI is an oncology-focused biotech company that King led through the IPO process in 2013 and 2014. 

Under King’s leadership, GlycoMimetics went public, secured an exclusive global licensing agreement with Pfizer and was instrumental in raising significant amounts of capital for the company. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Business School, King has had a storied career in both biopharma and finance. Prior to becoming CEO of GMI, King served as an Executive in Residence for New Enterprise Associates (NEA), one of the leading venture capital firms in the U.S. She has also held the position of Senior Vice President of Novartis-Corporation. King joined Novartis after a remarkable ten year run with Genetic Therapy, Inc. where she was named CEO after helping Genetic Therapy navigate the organization through various growth stages, including the company’s sale to Novartis. King was named the Maryland Tech Councils Executive of the Year in 2013 , the Top 10 Women in Biotech by FierceBio, and has served on multiple boards across her career, including the only woman Chair of Biotechnology Innovation Association’s (BIO) (2013-14), where she still holds an active role on BIO’s Executive Committee.

GlycoMimetics’ drug candidate, uproleselan, has received Breakthrough Therapy Designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and has been evaluated as a treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) in Phase I/II clinical trials. This promising drug candidate is being tested across a wide array of patient populations, including a Phase III trial in relapsed/refractory AML. GMI has also completed a Phase I trial with GMI-1359, a combined CXCR4 and E-selectin antagonist. 

Wendy Perrow, CEO, MBA, AsclepiX Therapeutics, Inc.

Wendy Perrow is CEO of AsclepiX Therapeutics, a biologics company located in Baltimore, Maryland. AsclepiX mission is to revolutionize retinal disease and cancer treatment by developing and delivering novel peptides that target and inhibit key disease pathways. 

Under Perrow’s leadership, the company raised $5M in convertible note funding in 2018 that is being used to advance its leading drug candidate, AX107. AX107 is an innovative potential treatment for diabetic macular edema (DMA) and wet age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD), the two leading causes of adult blindness. AXT107 is currently in its preclinical phase. The company also has two other promising drug candidates, AXT201 and AXT501, both of which are potential solid tumor cancer therapies with other possible indications.

Before joining AsclepiX Therapeutics, Perrow was the CEO of Alba Therapeutics. Under Perrow’s leadership, the organization secured a licensing agreement with Innovative Biopharmaceuticals, Inc., completed seven Celiac Disease clinical trials, including the largest Celiac Disease Phase IIb clinical trial, and validated the first Celiac Disease Patient Reported Outcome for larazotide acetate. Perrow, a graduate of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, has also served in a wide range of executive leadership roles in both public and private biopharma companies. She was vice president of marketing for Sigma-Tau Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and she had a successful 14 year run in a variety of global marketing roles for Merck and Co., where she led many successful campaigns for top Merck products, including leading products Zocor®, Vasotec®, Varivax®, Cozaar®, and Hyzaar®.   

Margot Connor, CEO, RoosterBio, Inc.

Margot Connor was named CEO of RoosterBio, Inc. in 2015. At the time Connor took the helm, the regenerative medicine company had five employees and called the Frederick Innovative Technology Center (FITCI) incubator its home. Connor brought her 25 years of life science experience to the position, including involvement in 20 M&A transactions worth approximately $1.5B, running a private consulting firm and being a top performer in various leadership roles for companies like Lonza and Unilever. 

Since then, RoosterBio has grown rapidly to become one of the BHCR’s most promising, home- grown companies and a rising leader in stem cell biomanufacturing industry. RoosterBio occupies a 14,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility in Frederick and has approximately 40 employees. 

RoosterBio has developed a cell manufacturing platform technology that has simplified and standardized how stem cells are purchased, expanded, and used in development. Its platform is designed to save significant time and generate cost savings for its customers through products that are high-volume and affordable with well-characterized adult human mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (hMSCs) paired with highly engineered media systems.

RoosterBio recently announced it has raised in excess of $15M in initial Series B funding from Dynamk Capital with total Series B funding expected to top $22M by the end of August 2019. Under Connor’s leadership, RoosterBio has come quite a long way from a startup with five employees operating out of an incubator.

A University of Maryland graduate and homegrown talent, Connor continues to lead RoosterBio  into a promising future.

Carol Nacy, Founder and CEO, Sequella

Carol Nacy is the co-founder and CEO of Sequella, Inc., a clinical-stage pharma company that develops new and better antibiotics to address drug resistant bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections. The company’s product portfolio addresses devastating global health threats that affect over 3 billion people worldwide.

Nacy founded Sequella in 1997 and has led the organization as CEO since 1999. Sequella’s first headquarters was Nacy’s home. Nacy characterized those early days as “scary” because of the inherent risk and the challenge of balancing being an entrepreneur-scientist with being a married mother of five. Her work ethic, business savvy and boundless energy has helped Sequella grow into a company that could revolutionize the treatment of TB and other infectious diseases.

Prior to founding Sequella, Nacy enjoyed a 17 year stint at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and was instrumental in taking the company EntreMed through a successful IPO. 

Sequella’s lead product is SQ109, a TB drug with 3 unique mechanisms of action. With $99 million in funding since its inception, several drugs in later stage clinical trials, 70 issued and pending patents, a 200,000+ proprietary small molecule library and a bio-level 3 facility onsite.

Should SQ109 come to the global market, it could be added to the treatment regimen alongside Johnson & Johnson’s highly effective bedaquiline to revolutionize TB treatment globally. 

Katherine Sacksteder, Co-Founder, BeneVir, PhD, COO at BeneVir at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson

Katherine Sacksteder co-founded BeneVir in 2011 with her husband, current BeneVir CEO Matt Mulvey. In May 2018, the company Sacksteder and Mulvey launched while raising two young children was acquired for $1B by Janssen Biotech, Inc., one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. Sacksteder launched BeneVir to develop a herpes-based oncolytic virus (OV) platform technology that they licensed out New York University.

Today, Sacksteder is the Chief Operating Officer at BeneVir, now part of Janssen, where the company continues to deploy its T-Stealth™ Technology to develop viruses that can be engineered to avoid immune system detection. These undetectable viruses are then deployed to destroy cancer cells and catalyze the immune system to eliminate solid tumor cells. 

Sacksteder, who earned her PhD from Johns Hopkins University, knew early on that the lab was not for her. Her first industry job was at Sequella, then led by current CEO Carol Nacy and fellow female biotech executive and BHCR thought leader. Sacksteder and Nacy, both entrepreneur-scientists raising children, developed a strong relationship that’s a great example of what Women In Bio calls “women helping women.” Back then, support initiatives like TEDCO’s Task Force for Women Entrepreneurs didn’t exist. 

Janssen and Johnson & Johnson invested up to $1B in its belief that BeneVir, a woman co-founded business, can help it develop life-changing treatments for cancer patients. 

Stay tuned as we continue to dive into this topic with more local industry insights.

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