Bio­phar­ma lead­ers paving the way for LGBTQ+ sci­en­tists, pa­tients, en­tre­pre­neurs and C-suites

To in­tro last year’s in­au­gur­al End­points News fea­ture on LGBTQ+ lead­ers in bio­phar­ma, I wrote about the move­ment and progress be­ing made for this com­mu­ni­ty.

I feel I might have jinxed it in some ways. An­ti-LGBTQ+ bills are run­ning ram­pant through the US, chil­dren can no longer read gay books in some re­gions and this com­mu­ni­ty still feels mis­un­der­stood by the phar­ma world.

Be­ing LGBTQ+ is just one part of a per­son’s iden­ti­ty, but a crit­i­cal one that of­ten is not vis­i­ble to out­siders, as some peo­ple on this year’s list point out. Oth­ers wor­ry the re­cent on­slaught of an­ti-gay rhetoric in some cor­ners will force LGBTQ+ peo­ple to no longer feel com­fort­able speak­ing out or be­ing open about who they are in the work­place.

“The rate at which the progress is ac­cel­er­at­ing is not as high,” says sci­en­tist-turned-in­vestor Mi­ra Chau­rushiya. “Maybe that’s to some ex­tent re­flec­tive of progress we’ve made as a com­mu­ni­ty, but I think there’s still a ways to go.”

This year’s hon­orees do speak out, whether that’s in the halls of their biotechs, on vis­its to phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sites out­side the US, in board­room dis­cus­sions, on the man­u­fac­tur­ing floor, in clin­i­cal re­search and in bring­ing a new drug to mar­ket.

As with lists like these, we weren’t able to high­light every­one who was nom­i­nat­ed, but I hope we have been able to paint a broad look at who makes up the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty in the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try.

If you’re read­ing this while at End­points’ first day of BIO pan­els at the Sea­port Ho­tel, then be sure to tune in again for day 2, when I will vir­tu­al­ly mod­er­ate a dis­cus­sion with some of this year’s hon­orees about LGBTQ+ is­sues. — Kyle LaHu­cik 

The End­points LGBTQ Lead­ers in Bio­phar­ma, 2023
  • Edith Perez — Bolt Bio­ther­a­peu­tics chief med­ical of­fi­cer
  • Eli­av Barr — Mer­ck CMO
  • Tia Lyles-Williams — Goff­man Bougard CEO and founder
  • Alaina Ku­pec — Gilead se­nior di­rec­tor of port­fo­lio strat­e­gy & an­a­lyt­ics
  • Joan Lau — Spirovant CEO
  • Ram­sey John­son — OUT­bio founder
  • Su­san White­head — PACT Phar­ma pres­i­dent and COO
  • Paul Hast­ings — Nkar­ta CEO and BIO chair
  • Celia Sand­hya Daniels — Re­bekon Con­sult­ing CEO and founder
  • Mar­tin Chavez — Re­cur­sion chair
  • Jayson John­son — Genen­tech di­ver­si­ty & in­clu­sion
  • Mi­ra Chau­rushiya — West­lake Vil­lage BioPart­ners man­ag­ing di­rec­tor
  • Greg Vladimer — Ex­sci­en­tia VP
  • Peng Leong — BioAge chief busi­ness of­fi­cer
  • Joshua Co­hen — Brae­burn med­ical chief
  • Amit Rakhit — Flare Ther­a­peu­tics CEO
  • Coy Stout — Brii Bio­sciences SVP
  • Al­lene Di­az — Io­n­is and Mer­sana di­rec­tor
  • Jon New­ton — ICON VP
  • John Davis — Sono­ma Bio­ther­a­peu­tics in­ter­im CMO

  • Name Edith Perez
  • Com­pa­ny Bolt Bio­ther­a­peu­tics
  • Po­si­tion Chief med­ical of­fi­cer

An on­col­o­gy marathon: From mi­cro­scope ad­ven­tures to clin­i­cal re­search to biotech ex­ec

At around mile 23 of 26.2 along the At­lantic Coast in Jack­sonville, FL, Edith Perez had pushed her body to the lim­it, giv­ing it her all in a marathon she helped co-found as a Mayo Clin­ic re­searcher and doc­tor of a pa­tient who’d thrice been di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer and now leads the city. The para­medics came in and need­ed to de­vise a quick in-the-mo­ment fix.

They set­tled on crab cakes. She re­hy­drat­ed — she skips out on the en­er­gy gels that many marathon­ers stock up on for races — and fin­ished the DON­NA Foun­da­tion marathon, one of the more than half-dozen times she’s run that dis­tance.

“That’s a clas­sic Edith of just go­ing at it un­til her body says no more, and then she fig­ures out a way around that,” says Willie Quinn, her Bolt Bio­ther­a­peu­tics col­league.

A renowned Mayo Clin­ic on­col­o­gy re­searcher, leader of an ear­ly 2000s Her­ceptin tri­al that helped change the land­scape for ear­ly-stage treat­ment of HER2-pos­i­tive breast can­cer, and, more re­cent­ly, bio­phar­ma ex­ec­u­tive, Perez is known to lay it all on the line, not on­ly in marathons but in her every­day work as a re­searcher and drug de­vel­op­er.

Her work in sci­ence dates back to her days grow­ing up in Puer­to Ri­co when her teacher moth­er and busi­ness­man fa­ther gift­ed her a mi­cro­scope. She’d go around town ask­ing friends if she could prick their fin­gers so she could view their blood on a mi­cro­scop­ic lev­el. The orig­i­nal ca­reer dream looked more math­e­mati­cian than clin­i­cian, but her grand­moth­er’s sud­den pass­ing al­tered Perez’s vi­sion for the fu­ture — “I thought, oh my gosh, if I had been a doc­tor, per­haps I could have saved her,” Perez re­called think­ing.

“I want to do some­thing for the fu­ture, gosh, but I want to have an im­pact to­day,” Perez said.

Sci­ence ruled every as­pect of her pro­fes­sion­al life at the be­gin­ning of her ca­reer in clin­i­cal re­search and drug de­vel­op­ment. Lit­tle room could be eked out for much else.

“At the be­gin­ning, it nev­er crossed my mind, ac­tu­al­ly. I thought you could do your work, you bring your in­tel­li­gence and your soul and you will get equal op­por­tu­ni­ties,” she said. “That was very naive. And then, over the years, I re­al­ized that’s not the case. We all need to speak up. Some of us have to speak loud­er than oth­ers to be heard.”

But over the years, she be­came more ac­cus­tomed to bring­ing up her non-work life while in the of­fice, lab and board rooms, which en­tailed talk­ing about her wife and tak­ing part in Pride Pa­rade floats dur­ing her time as an on­col­o­gy leader at Genen­tech. She’s al­so be­come heav­i­ly in­volved in mak­ing stud­ies of new can­cer ther­a­peu­tics more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the pa­tient pop­u­la­tion. The mis­sion el­e­vat­ed her to the top of Stand Up to Can­cer’s ef­forts in the field a few years ago and con­tri­bu­tions to a sim­i­lar com­mit­tee with­in the Na­tion­al Acad­e­mies of Sci­ence, En­gi­neer­ing, and Med­i­cine that re­port­ed their find­ings last fall.

“When you’re new to can­cer re­search, and you talk to re­al­ly bril­liant No­bel lau­re­ate sci­en­tists, some­times it’s re­al­ly hard to un­der­stand,” says Rus­sell Chew, a pi­lot-turned-air­line-ex­ec­u­tive who’s now CEO of Stand Up to Can­cer, a non­prof­it that’s helped fund re­search of mul­ti­ple ap­proved can­cer treat­ments. “If you speak to Edith, she speaks like a nor­mal per­son, right, and yet she’s this wealth of knowl­edge, and I think that warmth and that ap­proach­a­bil­i­ty, I call it ap­proach­a­bil­i­ty, but that abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate at the lev­el of who­ev­er you’re talk­ing to is ac­tu­al­ly re­al­ly an im­por­tant skill.”

Perez sees it as part of her mis­sion to meet peo­ple where they are and bring them to­geth­er.

“I’ve been pay­ing more at­ten­tion to this in tra­di­tion­al­ly un­der­served groups in terms of open dis­cus­sions about all of us be­ing part of one hu­man race,” Perez ex­plains. “That’s why I de­cid­ed that it’s part of my life’s jour­ney [that] I need to think about all of these com­po­nents as part of the work that I do every day more than just think­ing about the sci­ence or more than just think­ing about drug de­vel­op­ment.” — Kyle LaHu­cik

  • Name Eli­av Barr
  • Com­pa­ny Mer­ck
  • Po­si­tion Chief med­ical of­fi­cer

Med­ical leader’s push for LGBTQ in­clu­sion in Gar­dasil clin­i­cal tri­als set the tone for the rest of Mer­ck’s pipeline

When­ev­er Eli­av Barr vis­its a Mer­ck site out­side the US, the chief med­ical of­fi­cer re­quires an LGBTQ+ gath­er­ing. As the com­pa­ny’s most promi­nent drug de­vel­op­ment leader, he sees queer ac­cep­tance and open­ness as part of his call­ing, some­thing he’s re­mind­ed of when col­leagues in Poland thanked him for ac­tive­ly talk­ing about hav­ing a hus­band.

“I feel like, oh my God, I’ve be­come the poobah, but I al­ways want to make sure they carve out a pride event dur­ing each of the vis­its so that we can raise vis­i­bil­i­ty,” Barr told End­points News. Mer­ck el­e­vat­ed him to CMO last year af­ter near­ly three decades of lead­ing work on its HPV vac­cine Gar­dasil, HIV med­i­cines, he­pati­tis C vac­cines and oth­er ther­a­peu­tics.

Barr’s physi­cian fa­ther and nurse moth­er plant­ed the seed for his med­ical ca­reer. He trained at Johns Hop­kins dur­ing the “dark­est days of the AIDS epi­dem­ic” in the late 1980s. “The death all around you and the ho­mo­pho­bia and all that was re­al­ly for­ma­tive in my mind about the im­por­tance of be­ing an out per­son in med­i­cine,” he said.

He went on to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan and then taught car­di­ol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, where an affin­i­ty for the tan­gi­ble trans­la­tion of sci­ence to pub­lic health — by way of clin­i­cal tri­als — set him up for a ca­reer in phar­ma. The Windy City is al­so where he met his now-hus­band, Paul, in 1994 via a print ad in the Chica­go Read­er, a lo­cal al­ter­na­tive news­pa­per. (They’ve been to­geth­er 29 years, as Paul chimed in mid-Zoom in­ter­view to re­mind him.)

Barr as­cend­ed to the CMO role af­ter paving the way for Gar­dasil to get ap­proved in 2007 and its fol­low-up, Gar­dasil 9, in 2014. The vac­cine was meant to pre­vent a sex­u­al­ly trans­mit­ted in­fec­tion that can has­ten cer­vi­cal, gen­i­tal, anal, head and neck can­cers. But when he joined the pro­gram, the tri­als were fo­cused on het­ero­sex­u­al women.

Barr en­sured les­bian par­tic­i­pants could al­so join the stud­ies, and “there was clear­ly a lit­tle bit of ten­sion or ner­vous­ness” at the com­pa­ny at the time. Then, in what he calls his “first ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to in­crease LGBTQ vis­i­bil­i­ty in the work­place,” Barr pro­posed a study of the vac­cine in gay men.

“I had to use the icky term anal can­cer — by the way, men and women both get it — and I re­mem­ber the dis­com­fort fac­tor of the se­nior lead­ers when I brought up the study. But we did it, and it turned out to be re­al­ly im­por­tant be­cause dur­ing that time we al­so were able to teach a lot of sites how to do screen­ing for anal can­cer,” Barr said. Peo­ple liv­ing with HIV would al­so be in­clud­ed. That would al­so trans­late in­to Mer­ck’s HIV pipeline, where he made sure trans­gen­der women were not left be­hind in clin­i­cal tri­als.

Those con­cert­ed ef­forts to en­sure LGBTQ+ peo­ple were in­clud­ed in clin­i­cal tri­als be­came in­grained in the com­pa­ny’s clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment ap­pa­ra­tus, Barr said.

Barr’s in­flu­ence is al­so spread across more than 3,000 glob­al em­ploy­ees who are mem­bers of the drug­mak­er’s Rain­bow Al­liance, an LGBTQ+ group with three dozen com­pa­ny chap­ters. As ex­ec­u­tive spon­sor, Barr’s bud­get par­tial­ly goes to­ward fund­ing events, spon­sor­ships, Pride Month lec­tures and more. They al­so at­tend ca­reer fairs with LGBTQ+ net­works. This year, more will be done for trans­gen­der peo­ple, he said, “be­cause life is al­ready tough for them, and this has been just a par­tic­u­lar­ly evil past year, so mak­ing sure that they’re vis­i­ble and part of the dis­cus­sion.”

He’s work­ing to ex­pand the al­liance’s pres­ence in re­gions that aren’t as LGBTQ-friend­ly as where he is based, in Philadel­phia.

“In coun­tries that are much more dif­fi­cult for LGBTQ peo­ple to feel com­fort­able in and even coun­tries like Brazil,” Barr said, where there are cul­tur­al chal­lenges: “It’s very ma­cho and guys do­ing guy things, and gay peo­ple are al­ways kind of mar­gin­al­ized there, but re­al­ly push­ing hard to in­sti­tute vis­i­bil­i­ty and sen­si­tiv­i­ty, not just in the US but in­ter­na­tion­al­ly.”

When he’s not vis­it­ing in­ter­na­tion­al sites as part of his self-pro­fessed worka­holic per­son­al­i­ty, Barr is push­ing Mer­ck’s “pol­i­cy peo­ple in Wash­ing­ton to be sup­port­ive of leg­is­la­tion that HRC [Hu­man Rights Cam­paign] and oth­ers put out there.” — Kyle LaHu­cik

  • Name Tia Lyles-Williams
  • Com­pa­ny Goff­man Bougard
  • Po­si­tion Founder & CEO

‘Use biotech as a medi­um to re­build’ com­mu­ni­ties of col­or

Tia Lyles-Williams is the first queer Black woman to own a drug man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­ny. Lyles-Williams found­ed Lu­casPye Bio, a con­tract man­u­fac­tur­ing op­er­a­tion in Philadel­phia, in 2018. She has made eq­ui­ty and in­clu­sion cen­tral to her mis­sion and hopes her com­pa­ny can bring new jobs and eco­nom­ic op­por­tu­ni­ty to un­der­served com­mu­ni­ties of col­or.

In 2022, Lu­casPye Bio en­tered a deal with the Philadel­phia Re­de­vel­op­ment Au­thor­i­ty to trans­form a six-acre va­cant lot in­to a cam­pus that will house its head­quar­ters and life sci­ences ac­cel­er­a­tor HeLaPlex, which Lyles-Williams al­so co-found­ed. And at a biotech sum­mit at the White House last year, Lyles-Williams spoke about bio­man­u­fac­tur­ing and ad­vo­cat­ed for more in­clu­siv­i­ty and di­ver­si­ty at all lev­els — from pa­tients to C-suite ex­ec­u­tives.

End­points talked to Lyles-Williams last month about her work and ad­vo­ca­cy. This in­ter­view has been sub­stan­tial­ly edit­ed for length and clar­i­ty. 

Wu: I saw that you named Lu­casPye Bio af­ter the maid­en names of your two grand­moth­ers. What made you de­cide to do that?

Lyles-Williams: The rea­son I named it af­ter my two grand­moth­ers is be­cause — most peo­ple don’t know this — his­tor­i­cal­ly, all bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies are named af­ter the last name of white men. These are not made-up names. Pfiz­er is some­one’s last name. Mer­ck is some­one’s last name. Ab­bott is some­one’s last name. So I chose to name it af­ter two African Amer­i­can women, as the first African Amer­i­can woman to own a bio­man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­ny, sec­ond to the first African Amer­i­can man, Dr. Per­cy Lavon Ju­lian.

In hon­or of him and what he al­so did to di­ver­si­fy the in­dus­try, first to hire women and peo­ple of col­or as en­gi­neers and sci­en­tists at Ju­lian Lab­o­ra­to­ries — there’s a lot that I owe him to where I’m at to­day — and then I want­ed to hon­or my grand­moth­ers by us­ing their maid­en names in­stead of a tra­di­tion­al male name be­cause I have my last name, so I used their maid­en names as the name of my com­pa­ny.

Wu: On the top­ic of di­ver­si­ty, when it comes to peo­ple who work in biotech, it’s very much a white, male-dom­i­nat­ed space. How does that im­pact you and your day-to-day with what you’re do­ing here try­ing to build your com­pa­ny?

Lyles-Williams: Of­ten­times, when we’re reach­ing out and work­ing with the busi­ness de­vel­op­ment team to reach out to dif­fer­ent phar­ma com­pa­nies, we get looked at as if we’re some type of — no dis­re­spect to small busi­ness­es — but like we’re some type of cater­ing agency. So they of­ten­times don’t put us in con­tact with the head of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment or the COO or the CEO. It takes a lot for us to get through to them and for them to take us se­ri­ous­ly.

You don’t see peo­ple who look like me, whether it’s at the high lev­el or at the low lev­el. It’s been like that my whole ca­reer. So we are do­ing a work­force de­vel­op­ment pro­gram that we will be pi­lot­ing of­fi­cial­ly this fall. We’re work­ing in part­ner­ship with some name or­ga­ni­za­tions here in the city of Philadel­phia — the UC Sci­ence Cen­ter, Jef­fer­son In­sti­tute for Bio­pro­cess­ing, Philadel­phia OIC, and then the Busi­ness Cen­ter for En­tre­pre­neur­ship and So­cial­iza­tion. So we got some things in the works to help with that.

Wu: I’m cu­ri­ous how many times you’ve walked in­to the meet­ing room, and there has been some­one who looks like you in that room as well.

Lyles-Williams: Maybe twice. Twice through­out my whole 22-year ca­reer.

Wu: So, what’s your vi­sion mov­ing for­ward for your com­pa­ny?

Lyles-Williams: Good ques­tion. Once the mar­kets get a lot bet­ter, we want to work with star­tups. Out­side of that, our vi­sion is to ex­pand Lu­casPye Bio to coun­tries that don’t have the tech­nol­o­gy or knowl­edge or are a lit­tle bit less for­tu­nate.

As a for­mer em­ploy­ee of Bax­ter, but be­fore my time there, I learned about Bax­ter build­ing a man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty in South Amer­i­ca — I for­get which coun­try — and the rea­son they did it is be­cause South Amer­i­ca was a huge mar­ket for their bread and but­ter, a he­mo­phil­ia drug.

And that coun­try couldn’t af­ford the med­ica­tion but was the biggest mar­ket. So their so­lu­tion was, “Let’s build a fa­cil­i­ty and li­cense the drug to the fa­cil­i­ty,” and now peo­ple are work­ing, they have the in­fra­struc­ture to af­ford health­care, and now they have the health in­sur­ance to be able to af­ford the drug. We want to mim­ic that same thing. But we want to put it in sim­i­lar coun­tries where their in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ty will have ac­cess to a high­er lev­el of qual­i­ty of health­care and will be able to work high-qual­i­ty jobs and fur­ther their ca­reers in biotech.

I look at biotech the same way that the US and com­mu­ni­ties of col­or ben­e­fit­ed from the steel mill. Back in the day, my grand­fa­ther worked in a steel mill in Gary, IN. He al­so worked in the steel mill in Pitts­burgh. We want to do some­thing sim­i­lar where we use biotech as a medi­um to re­build and pos­i­tive­ly in­flu­ence the econ­o­my where there’s a com­mu­ni­ty of pre­dom­i­nant­ly peo­ple of col­or or in­dige­nous peo­ple. — Lei Lei Wu

  • Name: Alaina Ku­pec
  • Com­pa­ny: Gilead
  • Po­si­tion: Se­nior di­rec­tor, port­fo­lio strat­e­gy & an­a­lyt­ics 

Fight­ing to help oth­ers ‘be them­selves au­then­ti­cal­ly’

Alaina Ku­pec nev­er in­tend­ed to be in the spot­light. Her ide­al life post-tran­si­tion was one in which she wouldn’t have to talk about her gen­der his­to­ry.

But when House Bill 2 barred peo­ple in her home state of North Car­oli­na from us­ing the bath­rooms that aligned with their gen­der iden­ti­ty, she said she “couldn’t stand idly by.” Ku­pec spoke at an event short­ly af­ter the leg­is­la­tion be­came law in 2016, and “it just kind of snow­balled from there.”

“We’re a small com­mu­ni­ty, but then peo­ple will­ing to be vis­i­ble in it is a very, very, very small num­ber as well,” Ku­pec said. “Part of what’s dri­ven me is just to help peo­ple un­der­stand what’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween po­lit­i­cal rhetoric and the lived ex­pe­ri­ence of some­body who’s trans­gen­der.”

Af­ter that first ap­pear­ance, Ku­pec met with leg­is­la­tors and ad­vo­cat­ed for trans­gen­der rights in a 60-sec­ond ad spot that aired dur­ing both the Re­pub­li­can and De­mo­c­ra­t­ic Na­tion­al Con­ven­tions. She had been at Pfiz­er for more than a decade at the time, fol­low­ing a four-year stint in the Navy. Her roles at the com­pa­ny spanned dis­trict man­ag­er to, lat­er, ac­cess lead for the atopic der­mati­tis drug Eu­crisa.

North Car­oli­na law­mak­ers re­pealed the bath­room law in 2017, but when for­mer Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump an­nounced a ban on trans­gen­der mil­i­tary ser­vice lat­er that year, Ku­pec spoke out once again. Her wife calls her an “ac­ci­den­tal ac­tivist.”

“It took me 40-some­thing years of my life to fi­nal­ly be able to have the courage to live my life au­then­ti­cal­ly,” Ku­pec said. “All that I want is for young peo­ple who know in their hearts and their brains who they are on the in­side to have the op­por­tu­ni­ty to be them­selves au­then­ti­cal­ly.”

Ku­pec is now se­nior di­rec­tor, port­fo­lio strat­e­gy and an­a­lyt­ics at Gilead, where she leads work on vi­rol­o­gy and in­flam­ma­tion. She start­ed at Gilead in 2018 amid a big move from New Jer­sey to San Fran­cis­co for her wife’s job at Google. At the time, Gilead was look­ing for an ac­cess lead on a com­mer­cial team for the JAK in­hibitor fil­go­tinib. Af­ter help­ing launch Pfiz­er’s Xel­janz, it was the “per­fect op­por­tu­ni­ty at the per­fect time,” she said. Gilead once tout­ed fil­go­tinib as a po­ten­tial block­buster but end­ed up hand­ing back much of the rights to Gala­pa­gos fol­low­ing a re­jec­tion in rheuma­toid arthri­tis.

While at Gilead, Ku­pec has done ac­cess work on the com­pa­ny’s Covid-19 an­tivi­ral remde­sivir, al­so known as Vek­lury, and more re­cent­ly worked with the close­ly-watched cap­sid in­hibitor for HIV-1 lenaca­pavir, which scored an ap­proval at the end of last year and is now mar­ket­ed as Sun­len­ca.

Since join­ing, Ku­pec has been in­volved in em­ploy­ee re­source groups, in­clud­ing vet­er­ans and LGBT groups. Ear­li­er this year, she mod­er­at­ed the com­pa­ny’s Trans­gen­der Day of Vis­i­bil­i­ty event. Tran­si­tion­ing mid-ca­reer, she added, can feel like walk­ing a plank. You don’t know how you’ll be re­ceived by your peers, lead­ers and clients.

“I nav­i­gat­ed the pro­fes­sion­al work­place my first half of my ca­reer as a white male with white male priv­i­lege, and now I nav­i­gate as a woman in the work­place. And so it gives me a unique per­spec­tive in the world,” Ku­pec said. “My hope is that maybe com­pa­nies will see that we have hid­den tal­ents to tap in­to.”

Last year, Ku­pec and her wife en­dowed a col­lec­tion of trans­gen­der-pos­i­tive ma­te­ri­als at her al­ma mater NC State Uni­ver­si­ty. The col­lec­tion aims to com­bat mis­in­for­ma­tion and pro­vide ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion free of po­lit­i­cal bias.

Out­side of work, her wife and three sons keep her mo­ti­vat­ed. They live on the wa­ter in Flori­da, which Ku­pec de­scribes as her “zen place.” How­ev­er, Flori­da law­mak­ers in ear­ly May passed a bill that re­stricts gen­der-af­firm­ing care for mi­nors and could even po­ten­tial­ly strip parental rights from par­ents who sup­port their trans­gen­der chil­dren.

“On a per­son­al lev­el, SB254 is ab­hor­rent,” Ku­pec said. “To take the de­ci­sion on how par­ents and med­ical pro­fes­sion­als can best treat their child/pa­tient and put it in­to the hands of law­mak­ers is some­thing our found­ing fa­thers would find de­prives an in­di­vid­ual of their lib­er­ty.” — Nicole De­Feud­is

  • Name Joan Lau
  • Com­pa­ny Spirovant
  • Po­si­tion CEO

An in­tro­vert hosts Ve­gas-style biotech get-to­geth­ers in Philadel­phia 

Joan Lau em­braces her in­tro­vert­ed self – she jokes, “Big I, not shy.” The CEO of Spirovant, a gene ther­a­py biotech, al­so us­es her nat­ur­al in­cli­na­tion to push out­side of her com­fort zone and re­mind her­self not on­ly to make con­nec­tions but to fa­cil­i­tate them.

To that end, she sets up biotech get-to­geth­ers among her lo­cal Philadel­phia com­mu­ni­ty, hosts hik­ing groups for women and helped cre­ate an LGBTQ+ group for lead­ers on a Penn alum­ni board, of which she’s a mem­ber.

Lau be­gan her ca­reer in drug de­vel­op­ment at Mer­ck R&D and then moved in­to small­er bio­phar­mas in Philadel­phia. She co-found­ed Mili­tia Hill Ven­tures in 2013, with cys­tic fi­bro­sis-fo­cused Spirovant be­ing one of the com­pa­nies that came out of it in 2016 and now whol­ly owned by Sum­it­o­mo.

She and her wife, a re­tired bio­phar­ma vet­er­an, met at a Uni­ver­si­ty of Cincin­nati Col­lege of Med­i­cine potluck din­ner when Lau was in grad school there, and they now have a teenage daugh­ter, who re­cent­ly stepped in­to the dri­ver’s seat.

The for­mer Hu­man Rights Cam­paign board chair re­cent­ly talked to End­points about the evo­lu­tion of her ca­reer, her in­tro­vert­ed so­cial jus­tice ac­tivism, her goal to be trans­par­ent and true, and the im­por­tance of con­nect­ing.

The fol­low­ing Q&A is edit­ed for length and clar­i­ty. 

Sny­der Bu­lik: What kind of com­mu­ni­ty ac­tiv­i­ties or ad­vo­ca­cy do you do?

Lau: I have a hik­ing group of just women, Asian women, in fact. We hike every Sun­day at 7:30, and we come from all walks of life. And then, I or­ga­nize din­ners for the biotech com­mu­ni­ty. We go out to eat – it’s Ve­gas style, it’s agen­da-less. Some­times we go to a restau­rant, but we’ve done curl­ing — you know, with the slid­ing rock and the brush­es? — and we’ve done sport­ing clays.

Just lots of gath­er­ing events. I’m an ex­tra­or­di­nary in­tro­vert, which doesn’t make sense, I know. But get­ting to­geth­er is im­por­tant and mak­ing sure every­one can be them­selves.

Lis­ten, I’m a queer Asian woman who doesn’t drink. I’m su­per short. There are so many things about me that don’t fit the typ­i­cal — I of­ten feel left out. So I’ve learned if you can just help peo­ple feel a lit­tle more in­clud­ed and feel like they can be­long and should be there, it just makes a huge dif­fer­ence.

Sny­der Bu­lik: What is the work that you do or your in­volve­ment at Penn?

Lau: The Penn alum­ni pres­i­dent heard from a stu­dent that there isn’t a lot of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of LGBTQ peo­ple with­in the Penn alum­ni or­ga­ni­za­tion. So she took a look. And she was very sur­prised that that was in­deed true. So I ac­tu­al­ly was al­ready on a school board, and I asked the uni­ver­si­ty, can you tell me who else there is who iden­ti­fies as any one of them? Queer, trans­gen­der, LGB, any­thing? So there are about 555-ish ad­vi­so­ry board mem­bers across the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, and there were five of us, just five of us. There’s been a lot of pro­gres­sion and change, but we, the five of us, thought, ‘You know, we need more of us.’ We talk to stu­dents, we en­gage with them, and we en­gage with the uni­ver­si­ty.

Sny­der Bu­lik: Why is it im­por­tant for you to be vis­i­ble?

Lau: Be­ing vis­i­ble and speak­ing about it is im­por­tant, and that’s what car­ries for me. It’s been a prin­ci­ple for me for a while to just be vis­i­ble. Some­one else might not iden­ti­fy as LGBTQ, but they might iden­ti­fy as Black or im­mi­grant or adopt­ed or what­ev­er it is, or hav­ing chal­lenges at home. And that it’s OK to have chal­lenges that are in­her­ent to one’s self or have chal­lenges that have de­vel­oped over time.

Try­ing to com­part­men­tal­ize it re­quires tremen­dous ef­fort and en­er­gy, and it’s nat­u­ral­ly dis­tract­ing. And we don’t want to add those ad­di­tion­al pres­sures. Drug de­vel­op­ment is al­ready hard. De­vel­op­ing your peo­ple and be­ing a good man­ag­er is hard. Mak­ing sure you get your ex­pense re­ports and con­duct­ing the ex­per­i­ment, and think­ing through the right de­sign is hard. We don’t want our place of busi­ness to make it any hard­er than that. It’s re­al­ly a tough job. So I talk about it on any­one’s first day of em­ploy­ment, and we talk about it at the work­place. It’s not al­ways the most com­fort­able. But I like to think it helps. I like to think it helps peo­ple just bring them­selves as they are to work.

Sny­der Bu­lik: Was it your per­son­al ex­pe­ri­ence then that brought you to that kind of busi­ness phi­los­o­phy?

Lau: It takes ef­fort to be some­thing oth­er than who you are, to make an ef­fort to shade or hide or not bring your nat­ur­al, nor­mal, beau­ti­ful self to work. That takes en­er­gy. And we don’t want 90% of your en­er­gy or 80% of your thought process­es we want it all, and we want you to feel ful­ly en­gaged and in­ter­est­ed and part of the com­mu­ni­ty.

Some­times peo­ple are very dif­fer­ent, with very dif­fer­ent view­points and dif­fer­ent be­liefs. But be­ing able to do that, I think, is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant, at least for our com­pa­ny. I’m very open about that, and I talk about who I am and what I do out­side. And frankly, in my life, I did al­so hide parts of that. And it’s drain­ing. It takes a lot of ef­fort. You for­get who you’ve said what to. And that wasn’t ben­e­fi­cial to the com­pa­ny that I was try­ing to lead. And I said I’d nev­er do that again. — Beth Sny­der Bu­lik

  • Name Ram­sey John­son
  • Com­pa­ny OUT­bio
  • Po­si­tion Founder

Eight years in the mak­ing, a re­flec­tion on bring­ing to­geth­er biotech’s LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty 

While clos­ing out clin­i­cal tri­als for a biotech start­up that didn’t quite work, Ram­sey John­son looked for a way of net­work­ing to find his next role. Oth­er in­dus­tries had ded­i­cat­ed or­ga­ni­za­tions for the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty, but the life sci­ences field didn’t. So, in 2015, the clin­i­cal re­search vet­er­an reached out to some of his peers and said he’d host an event. About a dozen peo­ple showed up.

The LGBTQ drug de­vel­op­ment meet­up group, now known as OUT­bio, was fol­lowed by event af­ter event host­ed by bio­phar­mas look­ing to grow the com­mu­ni­ty. The non­prof­it has grown sub­stan­tial­ly since its launch in Boston, with out­posts in Cal­i­for­nia, New York, Ire­land and else­where.

End­points News talked with John­son in April about OUT­bio’s for­ma­tion sto­ry, lessons learned and fu­ture steps. The fol­low­ing Q&A has been edit­ed for brevi­ty and clar­i­ty.

Schloess­er: What would you say are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned when get­ting this off the ground and ex­pand­ing it to where it is now? Were there any big lessons you learned or any event or en­counter that stuck with you?

John­son: I give ad­vice all the time to the folks that are start­ing up these oth­er branch­es. Be­cause they are es­sen­tial­ly where I was eight years ago, and I didn’t have any­one guid­ing me at the time. And what I see from them con­sis­tent­ly is they all have these great ideas of the things that they want to do. I mean, they see us do­ing our events, and hav­ing a schol­ar­ship and hav­ing our men­tor pro­gram, and they want to do all those things. I think my ad­vice to them — and I wish I had thought of this more than eight years ago — is don’t run be­fore you can walk. I mean, don’t try and bite off too much ear­ly on. There’s no pres­sure on you.

I said this the oth­er day to some­body. I said, ‘You’re not cur­ing can­cer, right?’ You may have peo­ple in your data­base that are tru­ly cur­ing can­cer, sci­en­tists that are try­ing to cure can­cer, but you as an or­ga­ni­za­tion — OUT­bio what­ev­er, San Diego, Bay Area — you’re not cur­ing can­cer. So don’t put pres­sure on your­self to be­come some­thing be­fore you’re ready to do it. Take your first year, two years, three years, to be­come the best or­ga­ni­za­tion you can be at hav­ing events every month, hav­ing events every oth­er month, or build­ing your mail­ing list.

Schloess­er: Is the plan to keep OUT­bio a non­prof­it? Or is the pos­si­bil­i­ty open to sort of con­vert­ing that and pur­su­ing it more full-time?

John­son: No, it’s nev­er been some­thing we’ve thought about or dis­cussed, at least in my mind. I don’t want to speak for the board, but I’m pret­ty con­fi­dent that every­one’s on the same page. They all see us re­main­ing a non­prof­it, and re­al­ly our mis­sion is to give back to the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty and the life sci­ence com­mu­ni­ty.

Schloess­er: Next year, we have the 2024 elec­tion com­ing up. With some of the things that we’ve seen with cer­tain bills be­ing in­tro­duced and/or passed, is it with­in OUT­Bio’s purview to ad­dress these?

John­son: We’ve not pre­vi­ous­ly ad­dressed, in a ma­jor pub­lic way, our stance on a lot of these is­sues. It cer­tain­ly comes up in re­marks that are made dur­ing events or things like that, but we’ve tried to stay out of the po­lit­i­cal are­na a lit­tle bit. As we’ve got­ten big­ger and more well-known, I think the pres­sure is on a bit more to en­dorse can­di­dates or put your weight be­hind cer­tain move­ments or bills. And I’m cer­tain­ly not op­posed to that. It be­comes dif­fi­cult when you are a sin­gle per­son rep­re­sent­ing an en­tire or­ga­ni­za­tion. I have my opin­ions. And I have things that I would like to say, as a gay man and as a per­son, but I’m very wary that OUT­bio is not nec­es­sar­i­ly mine any­more — it’s tak­en on a life of its own. And I don’t want to say some­thing that im­pacts neg­a­tive­ly on the or­ga­ni­za­tion as a whole.

But that be­ing said, I think there are cer­tain­ly things hap­pen­ing right now that im­pact not on­ly the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty but al­so po­ten­tial­ly the life sci­ence com­mu­ni­ty, as well, like what’s hap­pen­ing with the Plan B pill. So at a cer­tain point, we’re prob­a­bly go­ing to have to make our stance on that known be­cause it af­fects — it has a di­rect im­pact not on­ly on the drug de­vel­op­ment in­dus­try but al­so po­ten­tial­ly on mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties. So women, and the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty, the trans com­mu­ni­ty. So there are cer­tain things we prob­a­bly will have to weigh in on. — Paul Schloess­er

  • Name Su­san White­head
  • Com­pa­ny PACT Phar­ma
  • Po­si­tion Pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer

De­riv­ing pow­er from be­ing au­then­tic 

For all her years of ex­pe­ri­ence in drug de­vel­op­ment, much of Su­san White­head’s un­der­stand­ing of the short­com­ings of the health­care sec­tor comes from her ex­pe­ri­ence as a pa­tient.

White­head is half-Asian and half-African Amer­i­can, with ad­di­tion­al eth­nic her­itage. When she was di­ag­nosed with a med­ical con­di­tion, she re­mem­bers “im­me­di­ate­ly be­ing thrown stats” about how African Amer­i­cans tend to do poor­ly — but not giv­en a good ex­pla­na­tion of why, de­spite her ask­ing.

“It re­al­ly just came down to two things,” she said. “One is lack of da­ta be­cause of the lack of di­ver­si­ty in clin­i­cal tri­als. And then, with­out an un­der­stand­ing of my back­ground, there were some as­sump­tions there — ‘well, she doesn’t know’ — or just putting me in a buck­et.”

Health eq­ui­ty is key to White­head’s mis­sion as she moved through a va­ri­ety of roles in bio­phar­ma, spear­head­ing reg­u­la­to­ry fil­ings, build­ing out in­ter­nal process­es and, at one point, lead­ing a glob­al ac­cess pro­gram for a con­tract ser­vice provider.

Ques­tions about di­ver­si­fy­ing clin­i­cal tri­als are al­so be­com­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant at PACT Phar­ma, where she’s pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, as the biotech has down­sized and piv­ot­ed to fo­cus on ap­ply­ing its tech­nol­o­gy for per­son­al­ized can­cer ther­a­pies on treat­ing can­cers as­so­ci­at­ed with HPV —  which tend to im­pact un­der­rep­re­sent­ed mi­nori­ties.

Cell ther­a­py, she ac­knowl­edges, is not in­ex­pen­sive. But she al­so be­lieves it’s worth try­ing to push ahead and over­come the sup­ply chain chal­lenges in scal­ing so they can one day reach un­der­priv­i­leged groups.

White­head, who went to col­lege as­pir­ing to be a so­cial work­er, said she fell in­to bio­phar­ma af­ter tak­ing a chem­istry class and find­ing it could still align with her de­sire to help peo­ple. But she al­so re­al­ized she didn’t love be­ing in the lab all the time and quick­ly switched to project and pro­gram man­age­ment a few years in­to her ca­reer.

Al­though she de­vel­oped a knack for op­er­a­tions and prob­lem-solv­ing, she said she “played it safe” to avoid the spot­light — un­til she came out in her 30s.

“If you think of a sports team like bas­ket­ball, you have your five starters on the court,” she said. “I was re­al­ly good at be­ing the sixth per­son.”

Her ca­reer ac­cel­er­at­ed af­ter com­ing out, a process that oc­curred af­ter con­ver­sa­tions with an open­ly LGBTQ fe­male col­league.

She al­so thinks back on ad­vice from her ex­ec­u­tive coach who, in re­sponse to the fears she shared about work­ing for a new CEO, told her the boss didn’t care about the things that she thought could be hold­ing her back; “he just cares if you make him look good.”

Once she start­ed speak­ing up, White­head found that be­ing a woman of col­or and al­so be­ing out drew peo­ple to her who didn’t have the courage to share cer­tain in­for­ma­tion with oth­er top lead­ers. It put her in a po­si­tion to take the con­cerns or feed­back and share them anony­mous­ly with the man­age­ment team.

“I was just lucky enough to be at or­ga­ni­za­tions that re­al­ly thanked me for that,” she said.

Hav­ing raised funds for HIV re­search and vol­un­teered with LGBTQ and can­cer ad­vo­ca­cy groups in the past, White­head re­cent­ly got in­volved with Biotech Am­i­cus Ef­fort. The group aims to ral­ly biotech lead­ers to voice out on cer­tain le­gal or po­lit­i­cal is­sues, such as the court fights around lim­it­ing the FDA-ap­proved use of the abor­tion pill, mifepri­s­tone, or state laws re­strict­ing LGBTQIA+ rights.

“There’s not a whole lot of di­verse lead­ers out there that kind of check those box­es,” she said, adding it’s im­por­tant to pay it for­ward. Her ad­vice for mentees? “Num­ber one, to be re­al­ly good at what they do. And num­ber two, to be true to them­selves and to take your seat at the ta­ble. I wish I had start­ed to do that soon­er.” — Am­ber Tong

  • Name Paul Hast­ings
  • Com­pa­ny Nkar­ta
  • Po­si­tion CEO and pres­i­dent

Be­ing vo­cal = A good, ac­ci­den­tal re­cruit­ing tool

You’ve prob­a­bly heard from Paul Hast­ings be­fore. Or know what he does. He speaks out of­ten. And he doesn’t shy away from is­sues like gun con­trol, abor­tion, di­ver­si­ty in clin­i­cal tri­als and LGBTQ rights.

The Biotech­nol­o­gy In­no­va­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion chair strolls the halls of his Bay Area biotech, Nkar­ta Ther­a­peu­tics, reg­u­lar­ly to speak with em­ploy­ees about is­sues they care about. He wor­ries that so­ci­ety will drift back­ward if peo­ple like him­self don’t con­tin­ue to push for change.

“I talk to peo­ple and say, ‘Hey, I’ve spo­ken out about this, I’ve spo­ken about that, are there things that you’d like me to speak out for you for?’ And it’s pret­ty amaz­ing the re­spons­es I get,” Hast­ings said.

The decades of ad­vo­ca­cy — he came out in phar­ma in the 1990s while at Gen­zyme — have el­e­vat­ed him to the point where peo­ple look­ing to join Nkar­ta are al­ready fa­mil­iar with his voice.

“We have peo­ple that come here for in­ter­views that say, ‘Oh, we don’t need to meet Paul, we al­ready know Paul, we’ve seen him on so­cial me­dia, he de­fends a lot of things, and my CEO doesn’t do that. I’m re­al­ly in­ter­est­ed in com­ing there be­cause of that,’” Hast­ings said. “It ac­tu­al­ly is a re­cruit­ing tool. I don’t use it like that, but it has that ring to it for folks where they re­al­ize that I’m will­ing to do these kinds of things. To me, it’s just part of my ac­tiv­i­ties of dai­ly liv­ing, whether it be my neigh­bor­hood in San Fran­cis­co, on the na­tion­al stage or on the in­ter­na­tion­al stage.”

End­points News caught up with Hast­ings in ear­ly April. Be­low is a Q&A edit­ed for length and clar­i­ty.

LaHu­cik: Was there a par­tic­u­lar part of your up­bring­ing or ear­ly days in in­dus­try that re­al­ly drove your ad­vo­ca­cy?

Hast­ings: I’m a pa­tient ad­vo­cate be­cause I was di­ag­nosed with Crohn’s since the time I was 13 years old, and I learned at a very young age not to ac­cept what I was told be­cause it was an adult or a doc­tor or some­body with au­thor­i­ty or pow­er.  It was my body that was go­ing to be in­trud­ed and have surgery on or have pro­ce­dures, and I learned to stand up for my­self. Then in the 80s, when I was first at Roche, we were de­vel­op­ing Al­pha in­ter­fer­on for HIV, for AIDS-re­lat­ed Ka­posi’s sar­co­ma, and that’s where I met ACT UP (AIDS Coali­tion to Un­leash Pow­er), and that’s where I watched them ad­vo­cate for HIV ther­a­pies in the 90s. The learn­ing from that helped me to ad­vo­cate be­yond just the groups like ACT UP for equal­i­ty for LGBTQ folks, but al­so to reach out more broad­ly. Once I left the world of Big Phar­ma in the 80s and came in­to biotech and re­al­ized that biotech was full of very smart, very sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly-fo­cused peo­ple that tend­ed to be very open-mind­ed, it made it easy for me to feel com­fort­able and to start ex­ert­ing some of my in­flu­ence.

LaHu­cik: Has the tight fi­nanc­ing en­vi­ron­ment for biotech had an im­pact on com­pa­nies’ di­ver­si­ty com­mit­ments or back­ing for em­ploy­ee re­source groups as it re­lates to LGBTQ groups or oth­er DEI ini­tia­tives?

Hast­ings: I haven’t seen that. I would be disin­gen­u­ous if I didn’t tell you that we have dis­cus­sions at the BIO board all the time about what does BIO want to ad­vo­cate for. I have to dis­tin­guish what is fund­ed by an or­ga­ni­za­tion that wants to ad­vo­cate for cer­tain things and what is some­thing that I need to do as a per­son or to get oth­er peo­ple to speak up as per­sons to do, but I haven’t re­al­ly seen a re­duc­tion in DEI ini­tia­tives.

It’s in every­one’s best in­ter­est to con­tin­ue to push for these things, no mat­ter how much one side or an­oth­er ac­cus­es us of be­ing a ‘woke,’ or as I would say, ‘awake and not asleep at the switch,’ so I think that the push on these ini­tia­tives by peo­ple who re­al­ly ad­vo­cate for it and want to use their lead­er­ship to help ad­vo­cate for it has not slowed these ini­tia­tives down.

LaHu­cik: What’s next for you per­son­al­ly?

Hast­ings: I’m proud to say I’m 63. I feel like I’m 45. I have a lot of juice left, and I love what I do. This is my sixth com­pa­ny. I’m in this in­dus­try for the long haul. I just had din­ner with a friend Sat­ur­day night, and he said to me, ‘I’m done. This in­dus­try is now all about fi­nan­cial en­gi­neer­ing. It’s all about sav­ing our way to what­ev­er the next date is when the mar­ket comes back, and where’s the fo­cus on pa­tients gone?’ And I said, ‘Right here — I’m still here. I’m not leav­ing. And it’s OK if that’s your de­ci­sion that you hap­pen to be more in­volved on boards and hear­ing in­vestors talk about what we need to do.’ But I still think we fight, we fight for pa­tients and we fight for our in­dus­try and the place this in­dus­try has in the world­wide pop­u­la­tion. I’ll be do­ing that for quite some time.

LaHu­cik: The next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is com­ing up, that cam­paign sea­son, so talk about what you’ll be vo­cal about, what you’ll be ad­vo­cat­ing dur­ing that.

Hast­ings: I just ar­gued with my­self at the gym this morn­ing about whether I should post Randy Rain­bow’s song that he post­ed re­cent­ly. He did a song [a spoof on Trump’s ar­raign­ment]. He did this mock in­ter­view of the for­mer pres­i­dent and what he’s go­ing through with his tri­als and what have you. My sis­ter sent it to me. It was hys­ter­i­cal. I’m watch­ing it on the phone this morn­ing at the gym. Every­one’s watch­ing me, and they see me laugh­ing. And I was just think­ing to my­self, ‘Should I re­post this, or should I not re­post this to­day?’ On a more se­ri­ous note, just watch­ing what is go­ing on in our coun­try and watch­ing what’s go­ing on in Is­rael right now, I’m scared. I’m scared that we’re go­ing back­ward. We took away rights that we gave to women 50 years ago. Elec­tions mat­ter be­cause those things tend to eke out of elec­tions.

I’d like to get back to the days of mod­er­a­tion when peo­ple from both sides of the aisle talked to each oth­er, worked to­geth­er, have dif­fer­ences but ac­knowl­edged them. I think that’s re­al­ly, re­al­ly, re­al­ly im­por­tant. So one of the rea­sons I didn’t re­post Randy Rain­bow’s lit­tle fun­ny thing this morn­ing was be­cause I didn’t want some­one to say, ‘Oh, here he goes again.’ — Kyle LaHu­cik

  • Name Celia Sand­hya Daniels
  • Com­pa­ny Re­bekon Con­sult­ing
  • Po­si­tion CEO and founder

Clin­i­cal tri­al di­ver­si­ty and trans rights in bio­phar­ma

Celia Sand­hya Daniels grew up in the south­ern part of In­dia in the 1970s. The first time she came out to her mom as a kid, her mom told her, “You’re a boy — you’re not a girl,” Celia re­called. “That was the on­ly an­swer she gave.”

Lat­er on, Celia worked on the first hu­man genome project in In­dia while get­ting her mas­ter’s in com­put­er sci­ence, and then moved to the US to work for var­i­ous life sci­ence com­pa­nies. Many years lat­er, in 2017, she de­cid­ed to come out as Celia to her co-work­ers.

But af­ter tran­si­tion­ing, Celia no­ticed it was dif­fi­cult to find new jobs.  “Ac­cen­ture of­fered me a job with­out even an in­ter­view be­cause they knew how good I was be­fore I tran­si­tioned,” she said. “But af­ter I tran­si­tioned, I reached out to all these com­pa­nies and said, ‘Hey, I’m avail­able, and you know, I’m the same per­son.’ And none of them re­spond­ed back.”

“They didn’t want to hire me be­cause they didn’t know how to hire me,” she said.

So in­stead, she took her daugh­ter’s ad­vice. “When I came out, she was 12 years old. She told me, ‘Why don’t you start your own com­pa­ny?’” Celia said. “That’s what be­came Re­bekon Con­sult­ing. And I went to my clients, and I said, ‘I want to con­sult with you.’ They were will­ing to now open their po­si­tions be­cause I was com­ing in as a con­sul­tant, so they didn’t have to car­ry the ex­tra bag­gage.”

As a man­age­ment con­sul­tant, she has worked with com­pa­nies like Am­gen, Gilead and Genen­tech, but a ma­jor part of her work now is ad­vo­cat­ing for LGBTQ+ rights.  “I ed­u­cate com­pa­nies,” she said. “How do you not just re­cruit but al­so re­tain the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty?”

“And in the health eq­ui­ty space, one of the is­sues the LGBTQ folks face when it comes to clin­i­cal tri­als and when they brand a med­i­cine, they al­ways show a het­ero­nor­ma­tive fam­i­ly — hus­band, wife, chil­dren, right? On­ly when it comes to HIV do they show a gay cou­ple. But when it comes to oth­er med­i­cines, why can’t they show LGBTQ pa­tients?”

Celia thinks bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies can do much bet­ter. “I chal­lenge any phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny to come and tell me that they have re­al­ly made a change across pa­tient di­ver­si­ty in clin­i­cal tri­als for trans pa­tients. Not for a trans-ori­ent­ed drug, but for any drug.” — Lei Lei Wu

  • Name Mar­tin Chavez
  • Com­pa­ny Re­cur­sion
  • Po­si­tion Chair

Bio­chem­istry to bank­ing to life sci­ences’ com­pu­ta­tion­al fu­ture

While for­mer Gold­man Sachs CFO Mar­tin Chavez was once the most se­nior open­ly gay ex­ec­u­tive there, the way he de­scribes him­self is al­ways as a com­put­er sci­en­tist.

And he’s used those com­put­er sci­ence and biochem chops to nav­i­gate his way in­to the cen­ter of the life sci­ences in­dus­try af­ter spend­ing decades on Wall Street.

Writ­ing via email, Chavez ex­plained how he felt this urge to en­ter the life sci­ences in­dus­try back in 1981 when he got to Har­vard, and the leg­endary pro­fes­sor Steve Har­ri­son of high-res­o­lu­tion virus crys­tal­log­ra­phy fame, told Chavez: “The fu­ture of the life sci­ences is com­pu­ta­tion­al.”

“How pre­scient was that? I ma­jored in bio­chem­istry as well as com­put­er sci­ence, then stud­ied med­i­cine and com­put­er sci­ence as a grad­u­ate stu­dent at Stan­ford,” Chavez said.

Af­ter re­tir­ing from Gold­man and more than 30 years on Wall Street, Chavez told the Wall Street Jour­nal: “The next fron­tier is mak­ing life — genes, cells, or­gans — pro­gram­ma­ble.”

And since then, he’s sought to do just that, work­ing with com­pa­nies such as Re­cur­sion, Data­vant, Mam­moth, Ear­li, and Cam­bri­an.

As far as any strug­gles to break in­to the biotech in­dus­try be­cause of his sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, Chavez said, “I haven’t en­coun­tered any chal­lenges that arise from my be­ing gay. I’ve made my way by work­ing with com­pa­nies who have been in­dif­fer­ent to my sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion. As com­pa­nies have worked to be­come in­clu­sive, not just in­dif­fer­ent, all of us have reaped the ben­e­fits.”

But Chavez ac­knowl­edges that the biotech in­dus­try still isn’t a very di­verse one over­all.

“In­dus­try, in gen­er­al, has a di­ver­si­ty prob­lem,” he said. “Across the board, com­pa­nies have worked to make their en­try-lev­el re­flect the de­mo­graph­ics of the places where they op­er­ate. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, that’s not enough: The se­nior ranks will re­main less di­verse un­less and un­til com­pa­nies ac­tive­ly work to give coach­ing, men­tor­ship, spon­sor­ship, and equal op­por­tu­ni­ty to his­tor­i­cal­ly un­der­rep­re­sent­ed groups.”

He al­so made clear that he doesn’t think peo­ple should wait for this change be­fore break­ing down bar­ri­ers.

“Many young peo­ple from di­verse back­grounds tell me that they’ll be­lieve in their pos­si­bil­i­ty of suc­cess when they see a suc­cess­ful per­son who shares their back­ground,” Chavez said. “If I had been wait­ing for a His­pan­ic and LGBTQ+ leader on Wall Street or in Sil­i­con Val­ley, I’d still be wait­ing. I’ve sought and re­ceived the spon­sor­ship of great lead­ers, who were gen­er­al­ly straight white men, and that has made all the dif­fer­ence.” — Zachary Bren­nan

  • Name Jayson John­son
  • Com­pa­ny Genen­tech
  • Po­si­tion Head of di­ver­si­ty & in­clu­sion busi­ness part­ner­ing and learn­ing & de­vel­op­ment

Mov­ing from the bal­let stage to big phar­ma

Af­ter spend­ing most of his ca­reer in dance, Jayson John­son tip­toed in­to an un­fa­mil­iar in­dus­try six years ago. Now he’s chore­o­graph­ing Genen­tech’s di­ver­si­ty and in­clu­sion ef­forts — and he couldn’t be hap­pi­er.

The for­mer dancer spent about sev­en years in fundrais­ing at The Wash­ing­ton Bal­let in DC and the San Fran­cis­co Bal­let and was al­so on the board at LEVY­dance. In 2017, he joined Roche’s Genen­tech as se­nior tal­ent dis­cov­ery part­ner.

“I had a pret­ty eclec­tic back­ground. I’ve al­ways loved the per­form­ing arts,” John­son said. He start­ed play­ing the sax­o­phone in fifth grade, sang in his high school choir, and lat­er stud­ied un­der Kather­ine Dun­ham, a fa­mous mod­ern dance chore­o­g­ra­ph­er. When he de­cid­ed to leave the non­prof­it world, and af­ter eight years in fundrais­ing at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty, Genen­tech was “a very easy sell.”

“It was very im­por­tant for me to go some­place that had a strong mis­sion that I could get be­hind,” he said. “We are do­ing now what pa­tients need next,” he added.

In Jan­u­ary of last year, John­son was pro­mot­ed to head of D&I busi­ness part­ner­ing and learn­ing and de­vel­op­ment at Genen­tech. His teams help shape D&I pro­grams, plan train­ing on top­ics like un­con­scious bias, ally­ship and mi­croag­gres­sions and have es­tab­lished an in­clu­sive hir­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process.

“My team in­spires our in­dus­try-lead­ing change­mak­ers to re­al­ly em­bed di­ver­si­ty and in­clu­sion in every as­pect of their work,” he said. “So it’s not just an add-on; it’s ac­tu­al­ly in­ter­wo­ven in through their day-to-day work.”

John­son is al­so a mem­ber of the com­pa­ny’s gPRIDE or­ga­ni­za­tion, which fa­cil­i­tates events and pro­grams to es­tab­lish “a sense of be­long­ing for all em­ploy­ees, no mat­ter what their back­grounds are.” The com­pa­ny’s ben­e­fits team al­so hous­es a va­ri­ety of LGBTQ+ re­sources, in­clud­ing an ex­ten­sive gen­der tran­si­tion sup­port sys­tem.

Out­side of work, he’s a com­mis­sion­er on the San Fran­cis­co Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion, on the board of trustees at the San Fran­cis­co Bal­let, and an ac­tive mem­ber of sev­er­al com­mit­tees at his al­ma mater, Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty in St. Louis. He’s in­spired, in part, by his fam­i­ly, who were sup­port­ive when he came out in col­lege and con­tin­ues to be “amaz­ing cham­pi­ons of me and the work that I do and what I rep­re­sent.”

“When I think about di­ver­si­ty and lead­er­ship, it takes time to cul­ti­vate that lead­er­ship. So that’s why it’s im­por­tant to in­vest in lead­ers of to­mor­row,” he said. “When I look around the in­dus­try, I see ba­by steps as well as leaps and bounds be­ing made by or­ga­ni­za­tions to re­al­ly change the way we ap­proach the work, the way we think in­clu­sive­ly.” — Nicole De­Feud­is

  • Name Mi­ra Chau­rushiya
  • Com­pa­ny West­lake Vil­lage BioPart­ners
  • Po­si­tion Man­ag­ing di­rec­tor

Ven­tur­ing to­ward a time when sex­u­al­i­ty is the ‘least in­ter­est­ing thing’ about one­self.

Mi­ra Chau­rushiya used to think be­ing part of the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty was the “least in­ter­est­ing thing” about her. She’d like that to be the case again.

But more work has to be done on LGBTQ+ in­clu­sion in biotech and broad­er so­ci­ety for her to feel com­fort­able with that re­turn. With close to a decade un­der her belt as a biotech ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist at 5AM Ven­tures and now West­lake Vil­lage BioPart­ners, Chau­rushiya fo­cus­es her time on help­ing the next gen­er­a­tion build new drug de­vel­op­ment com­pa­nies, whether by in­vest­ing in them or serv­ing on the board of Nu­cle­ate, an or­ga­ni­za­tion help­ing life sci­ences en­tre­pre­neurs find their foot­ing. Pri­or to in­vest­ing, she spent most of the 2000s and ear­ly 2010s at re­search in­sti­tu­tions like Rock­e­feller Uni­ver­si­ty, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, the Salk In­sti­tute and then in­dus­try at Genen­tech.

The fol­low­ing Q&A has been edit­ed for length and clar­i­ty. 

LaHu­cik: We spoke about a year and a half ago about be­ing LGBTQ in biotech. We both changed jobs since then, so talk a lit­tle bit about what you’ve been up to since then. What’s it been like at (Los An­ge­les-area ven­ture firm) West­lake so far?

Chau­rushiya: I grew up in LA. I’ve lived all over the coun­try, and worked in labs all over the coun­try. I have nev­er worked in LA, and that’s not be­cause I have any aver­sion to my fam­i­ly. Quite the con­trary. I just didn’t be­lieve that there was a ca­reer and an ecosys­tem to func­tion in the biotech space in Los An­ge­les. And when I met Beth [Sei­den­berg, West­lake found­ing man­ag­ing di­rec­tor] and she con­vinced me to come down and see LA, re­al­ly see­ing the in­fra­struc­ture that had been built, West­lake’s role in cat­alyz­ing var­i­ous parts of the ecosys­tem from tal­ent to in­fra­struc­ture, to fi­nanc­ings to com­pa­ny-build­ing ex­per­tise come to­geth­er was re­al­ly com­pelling.

[Beth’s] ob­vi­ous­ly a leg­end in our ecosys­tem and a per­son I felt like there’s a ton to learn from along­side build­ing the firm and ecosys­tem.

It was a lit­tle bit of a leap of faith be­cause these things live or die by the re­la­tion­ships with the peo­ple around the part­ner­ship, but it’s been great so far.

LaHu­cik: This spe­cial re­port is fo­cused on LGBTQ lead­ers. Last time we spoke, you had talked about changes in the in­dus­try. Have you seen any ad­di­tion­al changes since that point?

Chau­rushiya: Maybe frus­trat­ing­ly not. When we talked then, I was in a mode of, “I think there has been a lot of progress,” and I still be­lieve that. Maybe the rate at which the progress is ac­cel­er­at­ing is not as high. Maybe that’s to some ex­tent re­flec­tive of progress we’ve made as a com­mu­ni­ty, but I think there’s still a ways to go. From the West­lake per­spec­tive, when you look at the man­ag­ing di­rec­tors at West­lake to­day, of the four of us, two of us iden­ti­fy as LGBTQ. That’s pret­ty rare. I can’t imag­ine any oth­er biotech firm where the lead­er­ship has that kind of rep­re­sen­ta­tion. I used to think be­ing gay was the least in­ter­est­ing thing about me. I would love for this to be­come so com­mon that it once again be­comes the least in­ter­est­ing thing about me, but I just think we’re re­al­ly far from that right now.

LaHu­cik: What are some key ar­eas that you think peo­ple in biotech can work on and broad­er so­ci­ety can do?

Chau­rushiya: A num­ber of ju­nior peo­ple have come to me, and they’re much ear­li­er in their jour­neys of whether they want to come out, how they’re feel­ing about their own LGBTQ sta­tus, so be­ing a per­son that peo­ple came to to say, “Here’s what I’m do­ing. Here’s what I’m think­ing. Here’s what I’m reeval­u­at­ing, and how do I in­te­grate this on a per­son­al lev­el and how do I in­te­grate this on a pro­fes­sion­al lev­el?” That has been a good out­come. But sep­a­rate­ly, the fact that so many came for­ward and they con­fid­ed in me, but a year lat­er, they still have not told any­one else, that’s been sur­pris­ing. They’re work­ing at dif­fer­ent places than I work at, but they are in the biotech in­dus­try, so I feel that’s one of the in­di­ca­tors we still have some work to do just to make peo­ple feel com­fort­able, and that they can be their au­then­tic selves at work.

LaHu­cik: With the fi­nance en­vi­ron­ment where it is, are star­tups pulling back on DEI ini­tia­tives?

Chau­rushiya: I haven’t seen it per­son­al­ly, but I can ab­solute­ly tell that if you are in a re­ac­tive mode and you are try­ing to fi­nance a com­pa­ny or you’re try­ing to ex­tend your run­way or you’re block­ing and tack­ling through tough clin­i­cal read­outs, that these are things that can very eas­i­ly fall on the way­side. I haven’t per­son­al­ly seen it at our com­pa­nies. But I would caveat this as be­ing LGBTQ is a non-vis­i­ble type of di­ver­si­ty. The rep­re­sen­ta­tion at a com­pa­ny or in an or­ga­ni­za­tion is as vis­i­ble as peo­ple want them­selves to be, and so it’s an in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult met­ric to track if peo­ple aren’t will­ing to tell us who they are.

LaHu­cik: Are there any oth­er or­ga­ni­za­tions that you’ve got­ten in­volved with in LA or any from San Fran­cis­co that you want to high­light?

Chau­rushiya: I’m in­volved with Nu­cle­ate, which is a na­tion­wide or­ga­ni­za­tion [fo­cused on biotech en­tre­pre­neur­ship]. I’m on the board there. Di­ver­si­ty is some­thing we talk about a lot, and the con­ver­sa­tions have been more around gen­der di­ver­si­ty. When you don’t pay at­ten­tion to this type of di­ver­si­ty and you let things hap­pen or­gan­i­cal­ly, you wind up where you will get one fe­male around a ta­ble and that per­son will call you and say, “Kind of in­ter­est­ing, a year in­to this, we don’t have the di­ver­si­ty we want.” It does have to be fore­front of mind.

LaHu­cik: When do those con­ver­sa­tions hap­pen, bring­ing it to the fore­front of mind?

Chau­rushiya: From the ear­li­est stages. You’re eval­u­at­ing the team on their com­ple­men­tary skill sets, and how well they work to­geth­er. How do they work to­geth­er? Where is one per­son’s su­per­pow­er, and where’s the oth­er per­son’s? They should have dif­fer­ent ones. We’re al­so look­ing for di­ver­si­ty be­cause di­ver­si­ty of back­ground, and di­ver­si­ty of ex­pe­ri­ence means di­ver­si­ty of opin­ions at the ta­ble, which by de­f­i­n­i­tion gives you more op­tion­al­i­ty to con­sid­er. When you look around a ta­ble and every­body looks the same, and every­body talks the same, and every­body’s been in the same places, you are not go­ing to get the di­ver­si­ty of ex­pe­ri­ence that dri­ves in­no­va­tion. We’re al­ways try­ing to in­no­vate our­selves out of sticky sit­u­a­tions in biotech, whether it’s tech­ni­cal, whether it’s strate­gic, whether it’s op­er­a­tional ex­e­cu­tion. If you have a bunch of the same peo­ple around the ta­ble, they’re all go­ing to give the same idea, and it’s usu­al­ly an idea they tried in the past, and you need a new idea. — Kyle LaHu­cik

  • Name Greg Vladimer
  • Com­pa­ny Ex­sci­en­tia
  • Po­si­tion VP of trans­la­tion­al re­search

Found­ing a com­pa­ny and serv­ing ‘dual roles as man­agers’ 

Greg Vladimer has made it a point to cre­ate a safe, ac­cept­ing and di­verse com­mu­ni­ty at work — first as co-founder and CSO of pre­ci­sion med­i­cine biotech All­cyte, ac­quired by Ex­sci­en­tia in 2021.

As Ex­sci­en­tia’s VP of trans­la­tion­al re­search, he’s made sure the in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ment he fos­tered at All­cyte moved over to its new home. That en­tails sup­port sys­tems, men­tor­ship and project own­er­ship as the team works on func­tion­al and deep learn­ing, omics, com­plex bio­mark­er dis­cov­ery and pre­clin­i­cal da­ta for tar­get dis­cov­ery.

It all be­gan when Vladimer moved to Aus­tria for a post­doc on trans­la­tion­al im­munol­o­gy us­ing sys­tems bi­ol­o­gy ap­proach­es.

This in­ter­view has been edit­ed for length and clar­i­ty.

Lewin: Talk a lit­tle bit about how you cre­ate net­works and links amongst col­leagues in the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty.

Vladimer: EDI sur­veys are great. They can place you and your com­pa­ny and where you stand on a map of di­ver­si­ty and in­clu­sion with­in your com­pa­ny, but what’s nice about Ex­sci­en­tia and what’s nice about the com­mu­ni­ty here is that it goes one step fur­ther. It goes in­to small things like Slack chan­nels, where you have an LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty of sci­en­tists that can com­mu­ni­cate, and those are pub­lic chan­nels. There are pri­vate chan­nels where we can help each oth­er if there is a mis­step or some­one needs ad­vice from some­body with a sim­i­lar back­ground to over­ar­ch­ing ac­cep­tance of the com­mu­ni­ty amongst the peo­ple that we are hir­ing.

Lewin: These are re­al­ly chal­leng­ing roles that take a lot of brain­pow­er and fo­cus. How do you stay fo­cused and in­spired with work?

Vladimer: I think we play dual roles as man­agers, es­pe­cial­ly in a di­verse en­vi­ron­ment. We need to ex­e­cute on the goals of the com­pa­ny, and we are here as men­tors. Ul­ti­mate­ly, if we let un­for­tu­nate news cy­cles or un­for­tu­nate po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions sway the boat, they can cause rip­ple ef­fects. I think our jobs ul­ti­mate­ly re­quire us to look at po­lit­i­cal events, es­pe­cial­ly that tar­get the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty in gen­er­al, and be able to look to­wards the big­ger pic­ture and work to­geth­er to fight back against those poli­cies. We can do that through suc­cess­es with­in sci­ence, with­in me­dia, and with­in the pub­lic en­vi­ron­ment to show that mem­bers of the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty that might be the tar­get of these chang­ing po­lit­i­cal back­grounds can still be suc­cess­ful.

Lewin: If you had some­one come to you, whether part of the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty or not, who was mov­ing in­to a man­age­ment role, what would you rec­om­mend to them to cre­ate the same en­vi­ron­ment that you’ve made?

Vladimer: One, fos­ter mu­tu­al re­spect for col­leagues. This is manda­to­ry. And two, it’s to en­able de­ci­sion-mak­ing, and it’s to en­able de­ci­sion-mak­ing at all lev­els where you have own­er­ship of projects and own­er­ship of work­flows, no mat­ter what they are, with the peo­ple who are ac­tu­al­ly do­ing the ex­e­cu­tion of this. Our jobs as man­agers are to push the train in the right di­rec­tion, but ul­ti­mate­ly the speed and the de­ci­sion-mak­ing pow­er come from the peo­ple who are in the lab­o­ra­to­ries or who are at the com­put­ers do­ing the work. — Kather­ine Lewin

  • Name Peng Leong
  • Com­pa­ny BioAge
  • Po­si­tion Chief busi­ness of­fi­cer, head of brain ag­ing

In­fus­ing qual­i­ty in­to our lat­er years with ther­a­peu­tics to curb ag­ing-re­lat­ed dis­eases

Peng Leong wants to help us live a bet­ter qual­i­ty life in our lat­er years.

The three-decade in­dus­try vet­er­an — who’s gone from sci­en­tist roles to in­vest­ment bank­ing to busi­ness de­vel­op­ment to the C-suite — is part of the grow­ing field of biotech star­tups try­ing to tack­le ag­ing-re­lat­ed dis­eases.

He’s “deep in­to the sci­ence” and rou­tine­ly finds him­self comb­ing through the dataset at BioAge, a Cal­i­for­nia up­start look­ing for new drug tar­gets for chron­ic dis­eases with the as­sis­tance of mil­lions of da­ta points across thou­sands of pa­tients.

“Of course, all of us, when we get old­er, we want to have healthy bod­ies and minds, as well, so that we can have a great qual­i­ty of life in­to our old age, so our dataset al­so al­lows us to look at cog­ni­tive de­cline as peo­ple age,” Leong said.

The biotech is gear­ing up for Phase II tri­als of an ex-Am­gen drug can­di­date, now dubbed BGE-105. BioAge ex­pects to start en­rolling pa­tients this sum­mer to in­ves­ti­gate the drug’s po­ten­tial to pre­vent ICU di­aphrag­mat­ic at­ro­phy and crit­i­cal ill­ness my­opa­thy, and then an­oth­er study next year for mus­cle preser­va­tion dur­ing GLP-1 ther­a­py for old­er adults who have obe­si­ty, Leong said. Pre­clin­i­cal ef­forts are al­so in­ves­ti­gat­ing an NL­RP3 for neu­ro and oc­u­lar in­flam­ma­tion and an­oth­er APJ ag­o­nist for undis­closed brain ag­ing con­di­tions.

Leong is head of brain ag­ing at the 60-em­ploy­ee up­start. The ti­tle is a rar­i­ty in the in­dus­try but is at­tached to one of his oth­er hats, the role of chief busi­ness of­fi­cer, which is a po­si­tion he’s held at Shasqi and Kazia Ther­a­peu­tics pre­vi­ous­ly. Be­tween those, he was strat­e­gy chief for a brief stint at En­gine Bio­sciences.

His ca­reer be­gan as a sci­en­tist at Ch­i­ron pri­or to the 2006 No­var­tis deal. He moved in­to in­vest­ment bank­ing short­ly be­fore the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, dur­ing which he worked on health­care IPOs, M&A and oth­er fi­nanc­ing ve­hi­cles for Piper Jaf­fray’s clients. In the midst of that, he adopt­ed his son, who’s about to en­ter high school. He then worked on a drug roy­al­ty fund at DRI Cap­i­tal, led Asia-Pa­cif­ic busi­ness de­vel­op­ment for Mer­ck KGaA out of Sin­ga­pore (where he was a lit­tle less open about his sex­u­al­i­ty be­cause of re­gion­al laws) and then trans­ferred to the start­up world in the mid-2010s.

Through­out that time, he’s seen first­hand the ex­pan­sion of the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty with­in life sci­ences.

He re­calls at­tend­ing his first hol­i­day par­ty at Ch­i­ron in the late 1990s with his then-part­ner, now hus­band, and telling col­leagues that the man be­side him was his room­mate.

“Lat­er on, peo­ple said, ‘You know, it’s ob­vi­ous he’s not your room­mate,’” Leong re­called. “‘It’s ab­solute­ly not an is­sue — you’re in the Bay Area.’”

In the ear­ly 2000s, when he’d at­tend the an­nu­al JP Mor­gan Health­care Con­fer­ence, there’d be on­ly a cou­ple dozen LGBTQ folks gath­er­ing for drinks at the or­ga­ni­za­tion of John Cran­don, an out­side gen­er­al coun­sel to mul­ti­ple life sci­ences com­pa­nies.

But in the past few years, Leong said, it’s be­come more of an of­fi­cial event with JPM’s back­ing for a cock­tail event that at­tracts hun­dreds of peo­ple. — Kyle LaHu­cik

  • Name Joshua Co­hen
  • Com­pa­ny Brae­burn 
  • Po­si­tion Chief med­ical of­fi­cer

Ad­dress­ing health­care dis­par­i­ties and bring­ing an opi­oid use dis­or­der med to the mar­ket in Sep­tem­ber

“I was in my sec­ond year of med­ical school when I came out.”

Com­ing out as gay in 2001 was not easy, ac­cord­ing to Co­hen, now the chief med­ical of­fi­cer at Brae­burn.

“I didn’t know oth­er peo­ple that were gay. Re­al­ly, un­til I went to col­lege, I had nev­er met any­one who was gay. And even in col­lege, I didn’t re­al­ly re­late to the peo­ple I met that were gay — I didn’t see my­self in them,” said Co­hen.

How­ev­er, af­ter he came out and saw a pos­i­tive re­sponse, Co­hen said he knew he had to get in­volved in the com­mu­ni­ty — es­pe­cial­ly with dis­par­i­ties that he saw in the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty, such as high­er rates of de­pres­sion, sub­stance use dis­or­ders and sui­cide.

To that end, he got in­volved with the Trevor Project’s NextGen, a young pro­fes­sion­als group in New York City that sup­port­ed the Trevor Project, a cri­sis sup­port non­prof­it fo­cused on young LGBTQ+ peo­ple. He even­tu­al­ly be­came co-chair while he was still in prac­tice.

“And we were rais­ing mon­ey for Trevor Project, do­ing all sorts of pro­gram­ming, re­al­ly en­gag­ing with the com­mu­ni­ty to try to re­al­ly tell sto­ries of hope for young peo­ple in sup­port of that or­ga­ni­za­tion’s mis­sion,” Co­hen said, adding that it “was a re­al­ly amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, got me in­volved in the LGBTQ ad­vo­ca­cy world.”

Co­hen start­ed out as a prac­tic­ing neu­rol­o­gist at Mount Sinai be­fore piv­ot­ing to his first biotech for­ay at Te­va, where he worked on now-ap­proved mi­graine drug Ajovy. Out­side of his dai­ly work, Co­hen is a board mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Med­ical As­so­ci­a­tion Foun­da­tion.

When he got start­ed at the foun­da­tion, Co­hen formed a fundrais­ing ef­fort to look at and ad­dress health­care dis­par­i­ties for LGBTQ+ peo­ple. The project ex­pand­ed in­to fel­low­ship train­ing for doc­tors to fo­cus on the com­mu­ni­ty’s health needs.

The im­pact can be seen in fel­low­ship pro­grams at Har­vard, Van­der­bilt, Mount Sinai and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin.

At Brae­burn, Co­hen ad­vo­cates for the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty as the ex­ec­u­tive spon­sor for the Penn­syl­va­nia biotech’s di­ver­si­ty, eq­ui­ty, in­clu­sion and be­long­ing group, which it calls BraE­DI. As med­ical chief, Co­hen leads work on an opi­oid use dis­or­der med, a long-act­ing form of al­ready-ap­proved opi­oid de­pen­dence drug buprenor­phine. The FDA ap­proved the med in May as Brixa­di for mod­er­ate to se­vere opi­oid use dis­or­der. This comes more than two years af­ter the FDA is­sued a CRL for the drug in 2020, cit­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing de­fi­cien­cies.

The com­pa­ny orig­i­nal­ly in-li­censed the mol­e­cule from Ca­mu­rus, a Swedish biotech that de­vel­oped the mol­e­cule, in a $151 mil­lion deal in 2014 — and Brae­burn gets ex­clu­sive rights in North Amer­i­ca.

Co­hen said Brae­burn hopes to have the drug, which can be giv­en in ei­ther a week­ly or month­ly in­jec­tion, avail­able by Sep­tem­ber.

Peo­ple who suf­fer from opi­oid use dis­or­der al­so face a lot of health dis­par­i­ties — es­pe­cial­ly more so in his­tor­i­cal­ly mar­gin­al­ized groups, Co­hen not­ed.

“That cer­tain­ly af­fects peo­ple of col­or; it af­fects the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty. And so we’re very thought­ful in how we en­gage with the com­mu­ni­ty of pa­tients that we’re try­ing to help,” the med­ical chief added.

Co­hen al­so touched on some of the an­ti-LGBTQ laws be­ing in­tro­duced in many states, call­ing it “the great­est at­tack on the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty since the ’80s.” And while the chief med­ical of­fi­cer said it is a tough thing to solve, “we’re go­ing to do what­ev­er we can to con­tin­ue to sup­port that com­mu­ni­ty, re­gard­less of what goes on.” — Paul Schloess­er

  • Name Amit Rakhit
  • Com­pa­ny Flare Ther­a­peu­tics
  • Po­si­tion CEO

Pro­gress­ing cor­po­rate tax poli­cies, ig­nit­ing a Third Rock can­cer start­up 

Amit Rakhit was chat­ting with two top Bio­gen ex­ec­u­tives about a decade ago when he brought up some­thing that, to him, was a mat­ter of fact.

Al­though Rakhit, then a vice pres­i­dent of pro­gram lead­er­ship and man­age­ment, sup­pos­ed­ly earned as much as oth­er VPs at the com­pa­ny, he had to pay more fed­er­al tax on the spousal ben­e­fits his hus­band re­ceived — be­cause he’s in a same-sex mar­riage.

“Ini­tial­ly, I didn’t think much of it,” he re­called. “It was what it was.”

But it was news to Steve Holtz­man and Su­san Alexan­der, Bio­gen’s ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of cor­po­rate de­vel­op­ment and gen­er­al coun­sel at the time, re­spec­tive­ly. The con­ver­sa­tion set in mo­tion a move for Bio­gen to off­set the dif­fer­ence by re­im­burs­ing gay em­ploy­ees for the ad­di­tion­al tax­es un­til it was no longer nec­es­sary.

It was one promi­nent ex­am­ple of Rakhit’s long­time in­volve­ment in ini­tia­tives to make every­one feel wel­come at the com­pa­nies he helped lead. Af­ter mov­ing from Bris­tol My­ers Squibb to Bio­gen — then a small­er play­er with around 2,000 peo­ple — he spear­head­ed the cre­ation of a new LGBT em­ploy­ee re­source group to re­view and dri­ve in­ter­nal changes.

Now, as the CEO of Flare Ther­a­peu­tics, he con­tin­ues to keep up with is­sues of the day with the biotech’s di­ver­si­ty, eq­ui­ty, be­long­ing and in­clu­sion, en­sur­ing HR poli­cies are not ham­per­ing em­ploy­ees’ abil­i­ty to bring their full selves to work.

“Some­times these seem to be small changes, but they can have mean­ing­ful im­pact,” he said. “Not every­body thinks about those be­cause they don’t have to, right? But for the per­son that it mat­ters to, that’s re­al­ly im­pact­ful for them.”

Grow­ing up in Cal­i­for­nia, Rakhit counts him­self for­tu­nate to feel sup­port­ed as he came out at 17 years old. Through­out his med­ical train­ing at Tufts Med­ical School and Boston Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, and as he moves through his biotech ca­reer, he’s re­mained “fair­ly open.”

“That whole com­ing out process and be­ing com­fort­able with who you are gives you a re­silien­cy, a kind of in­ner strength that you car­ry for­ward,” he said.

At the same time, it al­so meant be­com­ing sen­si­tive to bul­lies and out­siders — while tak­ing a stand and speak­ing up for those who don’t have a voice. Out­side of work, he vol­un­teers and sup­ports groups like Hu­man Rights Cam­paign and the Trevor Project, which he be­lieves could be bet­ter po­si­tioned to take ac­tion on ad­dress­ing po­lit­i­cal or le­gal at­tacks on LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties.

For Rakhit, Flare’s in­vest­ment in di­ver­si­ty and dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives is pay­ing off di­rect­ly in the biotech’s work, bring­ing to­geth­er “su­per-smart” peo­ple from in­dus­try and aca­d­e­m­ic back­grounds who he said are both pas­sion­ate about the work and each oth­er. Flare’s lead pro­gram is slat­ed to en­ter the clin­ic just 18 months af­ter dis­cov­ery, and the Third Rock-backed start­up, which is de­vel­op­ing can­cer drugs that tar­get tran­scrip­tion fac­tors, re­cent­ly closed a $123 mil­lion fi­nanc­ing round with par­tic­i­pa­tion from Pfiz­er, Eli Lil­ly and No­var­tis.

“The di­ver­si­ty piece and the peo­ple piece are the un­der­ly­ing sub­strates, the un­der­ly­ing foun­da­tion of what makes the com­pa­ny able to reach those goals that we set for our­selves,” he said. — Am­ber Tong

Ed­i­tor’s note: This pro­file has been up­dat­ed to cor­rect that Rakhit went to Tufts Med­ical School, not Har­vard Med­ical School. 

  • Name Coy Stout
  • Com­pa­ny Brii Bio­sciences
  • Po­si­tion SVP, head of pa­tient ad­vo­ca­cy & pol­i­cy

Forg­ing a new path af­ter ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Near­ly 30 years ago, Coy Stout vowed nev­er to com­pro­mise him­self for his ca­reer.

Stout in­tend­ed to join the mil­i­tary af­ter shift­ing from an un­der­grad pre-med track, en­list­ing in the Air Force ROTC. But when for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton in­sti­tut­ed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” pol­i­cy in the mid-1990s, Stout — who said he came out as gay in col­lege — de­cid­ed to change paths again and pur­sued a ca­reer in so­cial work.

“Once I came out, I de­cid­ed I’m out,” Stout said. “I’m not go­ing to com­pro­mise who I am to get a job or be ac­cept­ed for on­ly part of my iden­ti­ty.”

That choice led to Stout’s suc­cess­ful ca­reer in health­care, first in the non­prof­it sec­tor and then in bio­phar­ma. Feel­ing a “so­cial jus­tice call­ing” af­ter drop­ping out of the ROTC pro­gram, Stout found a place at Whit­man-Walk­er Health, one of the coun­try’s old­est LGBTQ+ health clin­ics in Wash­ing­ton, DC, where he was at the fore­front of the HIV epi­dem­ic.

His time at Whit­man-Walk­er gave him the ex­pe­ri­ence need­ed to help ad­vo­cate for pa­tients, he said, as he learned how to get peo­ple en­rolled in clin­i­cal tri­als and part­ner with drug com­pa­nies work­ing with them on com­mu­ni­ty out­reach. It was al­so the first time he con­sid­ered the pos­si­bil­i­ty of work­ing in phar­ma, he said.

“I saw how the med­ica­tions that were be­ing de­vel­oped for HIV trans­formed it from al­most a guar­an­teed death sen­tence in­to a chron­ic, treat­able dis­ease and now a pre­ventable dis­ease,” Stout said. “That re­al­ly opened my mind up to how phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies ad­vanced health­care and re­search.”

He soon jumped to work­ing for the Mary­land state gov­ern­ment as head of their AIDS drug as­sis­tance pro­gram, where he con­tin­ued fos­ter­ing re­la­tion­ships in the in­dus­try. And those ties even­tu­al­ly land­ed him a gig at Gilead, where he spent 17 years on the com­mer­cial side, fo­cus­ing on cov­er­age, re­im­burse­ment and de­sign­ing pa­tient ac­cess pro­grams.

Stout said he both re­ceived sup­port and faced re­sis­tance through­out his ca­reer. Old­er cowork­ers who hadn’t come out would pri­vate­ly thank him for serv­ing as a role mod­el, where­as some bris­tled at hav­ing to work for a gay man­ag­er. Stout, though, is thank­ful for the grow­ing ac­cep­tance of LGBTQ+ peo­ple since the 1990s.

“As painful as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was, it did start a very im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tion around pub­lic ser­vice and be­ing gay. That had nev­er hap­pened be­fore,” Stout said. “There’s def­i­nite­ly been an evo­lu­tion where more val­ue has been placed on be­ing out and be­ing gay in the work­place.”

Now, Stout works for Brii Bio­sciences as a leader in its post­par­tum de­pres­sion ad­vo­ca­cy strat­e­gy. He al­so joined a men­tor­ship pro­gram at OUT­bio, a bio­phar­ma in­dus­try LGBTQ+ pro­fes­sion­al group, where he was re­cent­ly matched with his first mentee. Stout said he’s ex­cit­ed to learn about the ex­pe­ri­ences of younger LGBTQ+ folks in bio­phar­ma. — Max Gel­man

  • Name Al­lene Di­az
  • Com­pa­ny Io­n­is Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and Mer­sana Ther­a­peu­tics
  • Po­si­tion Di­rec­tor

Break­ing a self-im­posed si­lence

Al­lene Di­az re­calls help­ing rate top ex­ec­u­tives for a year­ly raise while on the as­sess­ment com­mit­tee for a com­pa­ny. Two can­di­dates were high per­form­ers but had both re­ceived some push­back on the way they did things. The com­mit­tee gave the man a high­er rat­ing than the woman. Di­az was sure to point that out.

“Years be­fore, I would have been qui­et. I was like, wait a minute, this oth­er per­son, who was a male, ticks a lot of peo­ple off, yet he got a stel­lar rat­ing on how he did things,” Di­az said. “But the woman de­liv­ered the same amount and ticked peo­ple off, but she got in the mid­dle­box. That is not fair.”

For many years of her ca­reer, she said she might have been qui­et in sit­u­a­tions like that, in­clud­ing around her own life. Over the ma­jor­i­ty of Di­az’s ca­reer, she was care­ful to keep her pri­vate life ex­tra-pri­vate — us­ing neu­tral pro­nouns for her part­ner and avoid­ing dis­cus­sions with her col­leagues about how she spent her week­ends.

Grow­ing up in the South, raised by a con­ser­v­a­tive, Catholic, Cuban fam­i­ly, she had been told to keep her per­son­al life “in­vis­i­ble.”

That is, un­til 2015 when her spouse joined her for a com­pa­ny event.

“I think what I have done, which is fair­ly re­cent for me, is start­ing to be­come much more vis­i­ble as a mem­ber of the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty,” Di­az said. “I start­ed work­ing in the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try in 1987, and 2015 was the first time I brought her to a cor­po­rate event. So you can imag­ine how many years I was pars­ing my words very care­ful­ly.”

Over the last few years, Di­az has made an ef­fort to tell her sto­ry more fre­quent­ly.

That in­cludes help­ing found the Boston WITH chap­ter in 2020. Com­pris­ing a group of lead­ers in the health­care in­dus­try, WITH mem­bers make per­son­al com­mit­ments to cham­pi­on and ad­vance peo­ple in un­der­rep­re­sent­ed groups.

Di­ver­si­ty and in­clu­sion are im­prov­ing when it comes to the biotech in­dus­try, Di­az said. She’s for­tu­nate to have worked for 10 com­pa­nies over the last few decades where, over time, each one was more open and in­clu­sive than the pre­vi­ous. She plans to con­tin­ue to stick up for un­der­rep­re­sent­ed peo­ple in her work and per­son­al life and to con­tin­ue to tell her sto­ry.

“If any­body was hold­ing any­body back, it was prob­a­bly me be­cause of my own fear,” Di­az said. “I’ve nev­er once when I have come out to any­one in the biotech or phar­ma in­dus­try, been treat­ed with any­thing but re­spect, to be fair. So, I think that was a self-im­posed si­lence.” — Kather­ine Lewin

  • Name Jon New­ton
  • Com­pa­ny ICON
  • Po­si­tion VP of cor­po­rate de­vel­op­ment, in­no­v­a­tive part­ner­ships & strate­gic health­care

Rug­by, clin­i­cal tri­al di­ver­si­ty and OUT­bio in Ire­land

Jon New­ton, a VP at Ire­land-based con­tract re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion ICON, said his biggest ac­com­plish­ment will be get­ting mar­ried in Sep­tem­ber.

New­ton’s ex­ten­sive ca­reer in the CRO space spans var­i­ous lead­er­ship roles at PPD and PRA. But he has dealt with is­sues in lead­ing teams in coun­tries where LGBTQ peo­ple are not rec­og­nized or out­lawed.

The ex­pe­ri­ences have en­cour­aged him and his com­pa­ny to pur­sue more DEI ini­tia­tives and to ex­pand work with both in­dus­try groups and even LGBTQ-aligned sports or­ga­ni­za­tions.

End­points News spoke with New­ton about his ca­reer and di­ver­si­ty ef­forts in 2023.

This in­ter­view has been edit­ed for length and clar­i­ty. 

Patchen: What would you say are some of the biggest ad­ver­si­ties you faced as an open man in this space?

New­ton: I wasn’t im­me­di­ate­ly out when I joined the work­force. Com­ing out lat­er in my ca­reer was a chal­lenge be­cause peo­ple kind of know you one way, and then you’re not your au­then­tic self. As I evolved and moved in­to man­age­ment, the size of my team grew. At max­i­mum ca­pac­i­ty, I was man­ag­ing a re­gion of APAC and Eu­rope for 800 peo­ple. I was trav­el­ing to coun­tries and man­ag­ing in­di­vid­u­als where ho­mo­sex­u­al­i­ty was il­le­gal in some coun­tries or, at a min­i­mum, frowned up­on. So, I did wor­ry about the im­pact my sex­u­al­i­ty might have on the team’s per­for­mance, as crazy as that sounds to­day, but I was al­ways sup­port­ed by man­agers.

We of­ten say, “Well, maybe it’s dif­fi­cult to be your­self at work, and when you leave the of­fice, that’s when you can be your­self,” but some­times the op­po­site is true. Maybe there’s on­ly the safe space at work where they can be them­selves in the four walls of the of­fice, and then they have to go home to a fam­i­ly that isn’t ac­cept­ing or a sit­u­a­tion that’s not as open as we would like it to be.

Patchen: Can you talk about some of the or­ga­ni­za­tions that you are in­volved with?  

New­ton: Mov­ing coun­tries, sports has been a great way to con­nect with peo­ple and get in­clu­sive clubs on board. I joined the Lon­don Knights bas­ket­ball and Emer­ald War­riors rug­by [teams]. As you get old­er, you start to play less, but I found I stay in­volved through events and fundrais­ers. We just did a drag show with the Emer­ald War­riors rug­by club, and we raised €17,000. I am of the sev­en co-founders who de­cid­ed to start OUT­bio in Ire­land. So they had chap­ters in the US, the UK and now Ire­land. So sev­en of us got to­geth­er across the in­dus­try, Gilead, MSD, Ab­b­Vie, and ICON.

Patchen: Why did you start OUT­bio in Ire­land?

New­ton: I got in­tro­duced dur­ing Covid. I had stum­bled across OUT­bio, and I thought the name was go­ing to be cool; that kind of fit what we were think­ing. So we reached out to the US branch and said, “What do you guys think about an OUT­bio Ire­land chap­ter?” And they were su­per-en­thu­si­as­tic. We start­ed in 2022 and have done five events so far in Dublin. We have 13 dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies and or­ga­ni­za­tions of all sizes at­tend­ing. Our last speak­er was from HIV Ire­land. We just got in­cor­po­rat­ed as a non­prof­it, so that’ll help with the fundrais­ing ac­tiv­i­ties to spon­sor the events.

Patchen: What is your per­spec­tive on the an­ti-trans and an­ti-LGBTQ leg­is­la­tion in the US?

New­ton: We’re an Irish com­pa­ny, and Ire­land, in gen­er­al, is pret­ty pro­gres­sive in terms of LGBTQ-plus rights. So we’re pret­ty pro­gres­sive in Ire­land over­all, and that men­tal­i­ty per­me­ates with­in the or­ga­ni­za­tion it­self and sen­si­bil­i­ty trick­les down. Ire­land was the first coun­try to rec­og­nize mar­riage equal­i­ty by pop­u­lar vote. I wouldn’t say Ire­land is im­mune to the glob­al trends that you’re see­ing in the US and UK, but in gen­er­al, we’re pret­ty OK as a coun­try. As a com­pa­ny, I think ICON’s proud­ly Irish, and the lead­er­ship re­flects a stance of pos­i­tive sup­port for the com­mu­ni­ty and em­ploy­ees as­so­ci­at­ed with that. We can’t con­trol the pol­i­tics of the world, but we can fo­cus on the cul­ture and what we can do for our em­ploy­ees with­in those four walls so they feel like they have a safe space. And they can be their au­then­tic selves. And I’d say we hold em­ploy­ees ac­count­able to those val­ues. — Tyler Patchen

  • Name John Davis
  • Com­pa­ny Sono­ma Bio­ther­a­peu­tics
  • Po­si­tion In­ter­im chief med­ical of­fi­cer

Urg­ing for com­pa­nies to be more vo­cal

John Davis re­calls tak­ing up golf lessons af­ter find­ing out work-re­lat­ed dis­cus­sions were tak­ing place with­out him out on the course. There were al­so din­ner par­ties and oth­er so­cial events where he and his part­ner were not in­vit­ed. The main fac­tor: He was out in the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try at a time when there were few role mod­els and lead­ers dri­ving ac­cep­tance.

Dur­ing four decades of be­ing out in the drug de­vel­op­ment world, the in­dus­try ad­vi­sor has seen changes in at­ti­tudes and ac­cep­tance, but it hasn’t come easy.

In his ca­reer, Davis wit­nessed slurs to­ward LGBTQ pa­tients and oth­er staff mem­bers. But at the time, in a more ju­nior role, he didn’t feel he could con­front the peo­ple in more se­nior po­si­tions. He said that slurs and oth­er harm­ful lan­guage were more overt in the 1990s and 2000s but can still con­tin­ue in less ob­vi­ous ways.

“And there have been times when I had to stay in the clos­et when I was deal­ing with sit­u­a­tions where they were com­ing up with their ho­mo­pho­bic lead­ers, or en­vi­ron­ments. And I think al­so it was hard from a ca­reer ad­vance­ment and net­work­ing per­spec­tive in some less ob­vi­ous ways,” he said.

Davis’ reach in the life sci­ences is ex­pan­sive, hav­ing first worked in the pub­lic do­main at the Na­tion­al In­sti­tutes of Health as a clin­i­cal as­so­ciate in the mid-to-late 1990s, then teach­ing med­i­cine at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San Fran­cis­co, for near­ly two decades. He en­tered the in­dus­try in the mid-2000s on the in­flam­ma­tion team at Genen­tech, then moved up the lad­der to be­come a VP at Bax­al­ta, SVP at Pfiz­er, med­ical chief at Ma­gen­ta Ther­a­peu­tics, then pres­i­dent of a con­sult­ing firm and ad­vi­sor to mul­ti­ple star­tups like HI­Bio and Oak Hill Bio. As of last month, he’s serv­ing as Sono­ma Bio­ther­a­peu­tics’ in­ter­im chief med­ical of­fi­cer af­ter hav­ing sat on their board.

“When I first came out near­ly 40 years ago, be­lieve it or not, I was told that if peo­ple knew that I was out, that I would nev­er get in­to med­ical school,” Davis said. “This was re­al­ly dif­fi­cult to hear as a pre-med stu­dent; very de­mo­ti­vat­ing and a bit frus­trat­ing. There were not a lot of role mod­els that were in the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty that were out at that time. And we were al­so deal­ing with the be­gin­ning of the AIDS cri­sis. So, it was very chal­leng­ing, but I ap­plied to med­ical school and got in and the rest is his­to­ry.”

He said progress has been made, with a key spark com­ing af­ter the De­fense of Mar­riage Act was struck down in 2013, but more still needs to be done, like un­der­stand­ing the LGBTQ de­mo­graph­ics of biotech star­tups and the shrink­ing num­ber of em­ploy­ee re­source groups ded­i­cat­ed to the com­mu­ni­ty, cit­ing a BIO di­ver­si­ty re­port from last sum­mer.

He wor­ries about the pro­lif­er­a­tion of laws tar­get­ing the com­mu­ni­ty. More than 40 an­ti-LGBTQ laws have been en­act­ed so far this year, per an ear­ly May tal­ly from the Hu­man Rights Cam­paign. Davis is urg­ing all com­pa­nies to stand up and be vo­cal against these is­sues when they arise.

Some com­pa­nies are be­ing vo­cal about the sit­u­a­tion, but he wish­es for more.

“It’s just be­com­ing more and more com­mon in cer­tain states, and com­pa­nies that are lo­cat­ed in some of these states will need to think long and hard about how they’ll be able to at­tract and re­tain tal­ent across the board,” Davis said. — Tyler Patchen