Sangeeta Bhatia (Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Fe­male en­tre­pre­neurs have long been un­der­rep­re­sent­ed in biotech. An MIT team de­cid­ed to find out why

In the male-dom­i­nat­ed world of biotech, it’s an un­spo­ken fact that gen­der plays a big role in whose sci­ence even­tu­al­ly be­comes a win­ner. But to what de­gree are male sci­en­tists fa­vored in terms of en­tre­pre­neur­ial op­por­tu­ni­ty? An MIT-fo­cused work­ing group sought to find out.

At MIT alone, the lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties giv­en to women has re­sult­ed in at least 40 few­er com­pa­nies found­ed, a re­port pub­lished in the MIT Fac­ul­ty Newslet­ter by the Boston Biotech Work­ing Group found. The re­port’s biggest take­away? This is not a pipeline prob­lem. Women in the sci­ences are equal­ly ca­pa­ble of launch­ing their own com­pa­nies giv­en the same amount of op­por­tu­ni­ty, ac­cord­ing to Sangee­ta Bha­tia, one of the re­port’s au­thors.

“We re­al­ly looked hard at our da­ta be­cause one of the things that we al­ways hear is that ‘it’s a mat­ter of time,'” Bha­tia told End­points News. “We re­al­ly need­ed an in­ter­ven­tion.”

The re­port stud­ied tenure-track, full-time fac­ul­ty in half of MIT’s 14 sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing de­part­ments — 337 peo­ple, 73 of which are women — and found a to­tal of 263 com­pa­nies spurred by MIT fac­ul­ty. Women ac­count­ed for just 9% — 24 com­pa­nies — of all star­tups.

Su­san Hock­field

The study al­so found that the per­cent­age of men in the study who had found­ed at least one com­pa­ny is 40%, while just 22% of women have done the same. The nar­ra­tive that there aren’t enough women in the space can be squashed, ac­cord­ing to for­mer MIT pres­i­dent and Pfiz­er board mem­ber Su­san Hock­field. For years at MIT, the bi­ol­o­gy de­part­ment has churned out more women with bi­ol­o­gy un­der­grad­u­ate de­grees than men.

There have been many stud­ies that have doc­u­ment­ed this un­der­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women fac­ul­ty in these ac­tiv­i­ties, but this re­port, which was fund­ed by a $175,000 grant from the Sloan Foun­da­tion in 2019, looked to es­tab­lish con­sis­tent meth­ods and poli­cies for gath­er­ing da­ta that can be trans­lat­ed to oth­er in­sti­tu­tions wish­ing to do the same.

For Bha­tia, the study was per­son­al. About eight years ago, she was fin­ish­ing up some work on a project that she planned to pitch to ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists af­ter talk­ing to a men­tor of hers. That men­tor rec­om­mend­ed that she bring along a male grad­u­ate stu­dent.

“His feel­ing was that would make the au­di­ence more com­fort­able,” she said. “When I tell that sto­ry to oth­er fe­male col­leagues, the re­mark­able thing is that many women have a sim­i­lar sto­ry like that of their own. Many women have a shock­ing sto­ry.”

Chris­tine Liv­oti

Bha­tia her­self is no stranger to en­tre­pre­neur­ship. In 2018, Glympse Bio spun out of her MIT lab and raised $22 mil­lion in Se­ries A fi­nanc­ing and $46.7 mil­lion in a Se­ries B. The com­pa­ny fo­cus­es on “ac­tiv­i­ty sen­sors” that can both flag dis­eases as well as mon­i­tor a pa­tient’s re­sponse to a drug. In No­vem­ber, the com­pa­ny pre­sent­ed its first in-hu­man da­ta at the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion for the Study of Liv­er Dis­ease an­nu­al meet­ing.

The MIT re­port close­ly fol­lows a pa­per pub­lished by Deer­field di­rec­tor Chris­tine Liv­oti and part­ner Leslie Hen­shaw, which re­vealed that less than one in five roles at pri­vate­ly backed health­care com­pa­ny boards are held by women.

Leslie Hen­shaw

“Gen­der Dis­par­i­ty Among Ven­ture-backed Health­care Com­pa­nies and Their In­vestor Base” found that 48.5% of those com­pa­nies have no fe­male board mem­bers, and of the six or­ga­ni­za­tions sur­veyed that have at least half of its board mem­ber­ship po­si­tions held by women, just five of those are head­ed by fe­male CEOs. In the in­vest­ment space, just 20% of board mem­bers are women.

“Giv­en the out­sized role that in­vestors play in board seat al­lo­ca­tion and place­ment, the gen­der di­ver­si­ty of in­vest­ment firms can­not be ig­nored in the con­text of gen­der di­ver­si­ty of pri­vate com­pa­ny boards,” Deer­field said in a state­ment. “Their find­ings aim to hold com­pa­nies and in­vestors ac­count­able and en­cour­age greater fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion.”

The fac­ul­ty newslet­ter fea­tured a re­port from pro­fes­sor Nan­cy Hop­kins, who chaired the first MIT Com­mit­tee on the Sta­tus of Women Fac­ul­ty in Sci­ence in the mid-1990s, and found that on­ly one of 99 peo­ple who had been fund­ed to start biotech com­pa­nies were women. Near­ly 15 years lat­er, in 2011, a woman from Har­vard Busi­ness School re­port­ed to her that an­oth­er list of 100 sci­en­tists re­ceived biotech fund­ing from ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists, and just one more woman had made that list as well. This hap­pened de­spite 70% of stu­dents re­ceiv­ing an un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree and more than 50% of PhD stu­dents be­ing women. Lit­tle had changed.

Nan­cy Hop­kins

That is where the work­ing group hopes things can change in the fu­ture. It hopes to con­nect more women to the in­no­va­tion ecosys­tem by in­tro­duc­ing them to ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists and get­ting them in­to more roles on the com­pa­ny’s board of di­rec­tors. The team is al­so work­ing with the Fu­ture Founders Ini­tia­tive — a non­prof­it plan­ning to hold a boot camp se­ries for 500 fe­male MIT fac­ul­ty mem­bers look­ing for men­tor­ship. MIT is al­so of­fer­ing a sab­bat­i­cal for fe­male re­searchers to get to spend time in the VC world to un­der­stand the process of com­pa­ny-found­ing and meet the peo­ple who are in­volved.

“We’re im­pa­tient for change,” Bha­tia said.

No­var­tis reshuf­fles its wild cards; Tough sell for Bio­gen? Googling pro­teins; Ken Fra­zier's new gig; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

If you enjoy the People section in this report, you may also want to check out Peer Review, my colleagues Alex Hoffman and Kathy Wong’s comprehensive compilation of comings and goings in biopharma.

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Demis Hassabis, DeepMind CEO (Qianlong/Imaginechina via AP Images)

Google's Deep­Mind opens its pro­tein data­base to sci­ence — po­ten­tial­ly crack­ing drug R&D wide open

Nearly a year ago, Google’s AI outfit DeepMind announced they had cracked one of the oldest problems in biology: predicting a protein’s structure from its sequence alone. Now they’ve turned that software on nearly every human protein and hundreds of thousands of additional proteins from organisms important to medical research, such as fruit flies, mice and malaria parasite.

The new database of roughly 350,000 protein sequences and structures represents a potentially monumental achievement for the life sciences, one that could hasten new biological insights and the development of new drugs. DeepMind said it will be free and accessible to all researchers and companies.

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In­side Bio­gen's scram­ble to sell Aduhelm: Pro­ject 'Javelin' and pres­sure to ID as many pa­tients as pos­si­ble

In anticipation of Aduhelm’s approval for Alzheimer’s in June, Biogen employees were directed to identify and guarantee treatment centers would administer the drug through a program called “Javelin,” a senior Biogen employee told Endpoints News.

The program identified about 800 centers for use, he said, and Biogen now pays for the use of bioassays to identify beta amyloid in potential patients having undergone a lumbar puncture procedure, the employee said — and one center preparing to administer the drug confirmed its participation in the bioassay program.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis dis­cards one of its ‘wild card’ drugs af­ter it flops in key study. But it takes one more for the hand

Always remember just how risky it is to gamble big on small studies.

A little more than 4 years ago, Novartis reportedly put up a package worth up to $1 billion for the dry eye drug ECF843 after a small biotech called Lubris put it through its paces in a tiny study of 40 moderate to severe patients, tracking some statistically significant markers of efficacy.

By last fall, the program had risen up to become one of CEO Vas Narasimhan’s top “wild card” programs in line for a potential breakthrough year in 2021. These drugs were all considered high-risk, high-reward efforts. And in this case, risk won.

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UP­DAT­ED: Three biotechs price hefty IPOs just be­fore the week­end, while a fourth and a SPAC seek spots on Wall Street

Editor’s note: Interested in following biopharma’s fast-paced IPO market? You can bookmark our IPO Tracker here.

A handful of biotechs are hitting Wall Street just before the start of the weekend, with three companies — Caribou Biosciences, Sophia Genetics and Absci — all pricing big raises Wednesday and Thursday. Gamma delta T cell-focused IN8bio relaunched its IPO campaign months after postponing it last November, seeking a slightly lower raise. And another SPAC has filed for a public debut.

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Victor Perlroth, Kodiak Sciences CEO

Ko­di­ak turns down $125M pay­ment from Bak­er Bros. deal, slash­es roy­al­ty cap by 55%

Following a massive public raise last November, Kodiak Sciences has re-worked a royalty sale agreement with an old partner — and declined new funds in the process.

Kodiak is turning down a planned $125 million payment from Baker Bros. Advisors, according to an SEC filing, cutting short an agreement that saw the biotech hand over a 4.5% stream of royalty sales on its experimental anti-VEGF therapy KSI-301 for retinal vascular diseases. In conjunction with the move, Kodiak is shrinking the royalty cap from just over $1 billion to $450 million.

EMA re­jects FDA-ap­proved Parkin­son's drug, signs off on Mod­er­na vac­cine use in ado­les­cents ahead of FDA

The European Medicines Agency on Friday rejected Kyowa Kirin’s Parkinson’s disease drug Nouryant (istradefylline), which the US FDA approved in 2019 under the brand name Nourianz.

EMA said it considered that the results of the clinical studies used to support the application “were inconsistent and did not satisfactorily show that Nouryant was effective at reducing the ‘off’ time. Only four out of the eight studies showed a reduction in ‘off’ time, and the effect did not increase with an increased dose of Nouryant.”

6 top drug­mak­ers of­fer per­spec­tives on FDA's new co­vari­ates in RCTs guid­ance

Back in May, the FDA revised and expanded a 2019 draft guidance that spells out how to adjust for covariates in the statistical analysis of randomized controlled trials.

Building on the ICH’s E9 guideline on the statistical principles for clinical trials, the 3-page draft was transformed into an 8-page draft, with more detailed recommendations on linear and nonlinear models to analyze the efficacy endpoints in RCTs.

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Al Sandrock, Biogen R&D chief (Biogen via YouTube)

Bio­gen has a shaky end to H1 with a $542M write-off adding to its woes — but an­a­lysts see big rev­enue ahead for Aduhelm

All eyes at Biogen’s Q2 earnings call Thursday were on Aduhelm, but investors also got a glimpse of what Biogen would have faced had the FDA not opted to approve their controversial Alzheimer’s drug.

That glimpse, revealing a combination of declining sales, growing competition and failed medicines, underscores the stakes of the big biotech’s Aduhelm efforts, as execs punch back at the criticism they’ve engendered in the political and medical world and vigorously pushes its sales staff to roll out the drug as fast as possible.

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