Forbes recently honored two Maryland biotech CEOs

Forbes 50 Over 50 Female Visionaries:
Two MD Biotech CEOs Honored

Forbes recently honored two Maryland biotech CEOs, naming them to the 50 Over 50 list of female visionaries. The local awardees are Helen Sabzevari of Precigen and Carol Nacy of Sequella. Sabzevari focuses on cancer treatment, and Nacy battles tuberculosis.

Born in Iran, Sabzevari moved to the United States during the 1979 revolution in her home country. She has been fascinated with cancer treatment since she was 12 years old.

Now 60, Sabzevari is changing the way we treat the disease. Her company engineers immune cells, called Ultra CAR T-cells, that battle solid tumors. 

This research is groundbreaking. Comparable technology currently only works with blood cancers, and it is more expensive. 

If approved, Sabzevari’s method would make cancer treatment more applicable and accessible. That goal of saving lives motivates Sabzevari to continue her push.

“Failure is very difficult to take because it means failure, basically, in extending somebody’s life,” Sabzevari told Forbes. “The moment that this becomes a business to me and it’s not personal, that’s the moment I step down.” 

Sabzevari joined Precigen in 2017 as its president. The Germantown business promoted her to president and CEO last January.

Nacy, 73, shares a similar passion for fighting deadly illnesses. Her tuberculosis research started in the mid-1990s after a request from the National Institutes of Health.

The microbiologist found that bacterial infections are the top killer of women who are of childbearing age. She additionally learned that the tuberculosis treatment and vaccine were outdated and needed work.

Nacy then co-founded Sequella, where she has developed medicine for infectious diseases since 1998. One drug from the Rockville company is chugging through clinical trials and eyeing a potential spot on the market.

Four other biotech and life sciences professionals also made the list of visionaries. That concentration in one industry reveals the growing nature of the field both locally and nationally. 

The other industry honorees were:

  • Kathrin Jansen (63) – Senior vice president and head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer
  • Sandra Dunn (58) – Founder and CEO at Phoenix Molecular Designs
  • Alexandra Glucksmann (62) – President and CEO at Cedilla Therapeutics
  • Madeline Bell (60) – President and CEO at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

These leaders all made the 50 Over 50: Vision list. That was the third part of the Forbes 50 Over 50 series. 

The second installment featured the women who made the most impact. The first portion highlighted the general 50 Over 50 list, which is the most commonly known section.

Vice President Kamala Harris, 56, was the most prominent person on the overall rankings. The article also spotlighted two big names in biotech.

Katalin Karikó of BioNTech and Jennifer Doudna of CRISPR both earned recognition. 

Karikó, 66, was born in Hungary. She moved to Philadelphia in 1985 with her husband, her daughter, and $1,200 hidden inside a teddy bear. The biochemist and senior vice president researched mRNA immunizations, which eventually led to the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

Doudna, 57, won the Nobel Laureate last December for co-inventing CRISPR, a technology that edits the genes of living organisms. She then co-founded disease-detecting firm Mammoth Biosciences in 2017.

Click here to read the general 50 Over 50 list.

Head to this link to see all the visionaries.