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.

Op­ti­miz­ing Cell and Gene Ther­a­py De­vel­op­ment and Pro­duc­tion: How Tech­nol­o­gy Providers Like Corn­ing Life Sci­ences are Spurring In­no­va­tion

Remarkable advances in cell and gene therapy over the last decade offer unprecedented therapeutic promise and bring new hope for many patients facing diseases once thought incurable. However, for cell and gene therapies to reach their full potential, researchers, manufacturers, life science companies, and academics will need to work together to solve the significant challenges facing the industry.

David Baker working with a student on their protein design (Jason Mast)

Sci­en­tists are fi­nal­ly learn­ing how to de­sign pro­teins from scratch. Drug de­vel­op­ment may nev­er be the same

SEATTLE — It’s a cloudy Thursday afternoon in mid-July and David Baker is reclining into the futon in his corner office at the University of Washington, arms splayed out like a daytime talk show host as he coaches another one of his postdocs through the slings and arrows of scientific celebrity.

“Be jealous of your time,” he says, before plotting ways of sneaking her out of Zooms. “It’s this horrible cost to science that you’re tied up in some stupid meeting.”

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Pre­sent­ing a live End­points News event: Man­ag­ing a biotech in tur­bu­lent times

Biotech is one of the smartest, best educated industries on the planet. PhDs abound. We’ve had a long enough track record to see a new generation of savvy, experienced execs coming together to run startups.

And in these times, they are being tested as never before.

Biotech is going through quite a rough patch right now. For 2 years, practically anyone with a decent resume and some half-baked ideas on biotech could start a company and get it funded. The pandemic made it easy in many ways to pull off an IPO, with traditional road shows shut down in exchange for a series of quick Zoom meetings. Generalist investors flocked as the numbers raised soared into the stratosphere.

Clay Siegall (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Gabrielle's Angel Foundation)

UP­DAT­ED: Clay Sie­gall re­signs from Seagen amid in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence claims

A week after Seagen revealed that longtime CEO Clay Siegall was on leave due to an allegation of domestic violence, he has resigned.

Since that shocking revelation, more details about the claims have emerged into the public eye. As Endpoints News reported, Siegall was arrested on April 23. A police report about that night and a subsequent temporary restraining order described a pattern of abusive behavior against his wife and a physical altercation that left her with multiple bruises. Siegall denied the claims.

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Patty Murray, D-WA (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­ate user fee reau­tho­riza­tion bill omits ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval re­forms, shows wide gaps with House ver­sion

The Senate health committee on Tuesday released its first version of the bill to reauthorize all the different FDA user fees. But unlike the House version, there are only a few controversial items in the Senate’s version, which does not address either accelerated approval reforms or clinical trial diversity (as the House did).

While it’s still relatively early in the process of finalizing this legislation (the ultimate statutory deadline is the end of September), the House and Senate, at least initially, appear to be starting off in different corners on what should be included.

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Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway CEO

Berk­shire Hath­away pulls out of Ab­b­Vie, Bris­tol My­ers Squibb in­vest­ments

It looks like Warren Buffett is sticking to ice cream and railroads for the moment.

The billionaire CEO of Berkshire Hathaway backed out of two major holdings in the pharma industry, Forexlive first reported, including a $410 million investment in AbbVie and a $324.4 million stake in Bristol Myers Squibb.

The move comes after Berkshire abandoned its Teva shares just last quarter, Bloomberg reported.

Long-ex­pect­ed UK lay­offs im­mi­nent for No­var­tis fol­low­ing sale

Nearly a year ago, more than 200 workers at Novartis’ Grimsby, UK, facility were able to hang on to their jobs after the pharma closed a Switzerland site as a part of its workforce restructuring plan. Now, it looks like those employees’ time is up, as the site has been sold, Grimsby Telegraph reported today.

The manufacturing site has been sold to Humber Industrials, a subsidiary of International Process Plants. None of the current staff members will be working with the new owners, however.

FDA lob­bies Con­gress over rare dis­ease court rul­ing with wide im­pli­ca­tions

Usually reserved for making decisions on drug applications or enforcing what Congress stipulates, the FDA is now dipping its toe into the wild world of congressional politics as it attempts to fix a major court decision that could have a chilling effect on rare disease R&D.

The case in question from last October saw a US appeals court overturn a prior FDA court win, saying that the agency never should’ve approved a rare disease drug because a previously approved but more expensive drug with the same active ingredient has orphan drug exclusivity barring such an approval.

Peter Marks (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Even FDA's Pe­ter Marks is wor­ried about the com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­i­ty of gene and cell ther­a­pies

When bluebird bio’s gene therapy to treat beta thalassemia won European approval in 2019, the nearly $2 million per patient price tag for the potential cure seemed like a surmountable hurdle.

Fast forward two years later, and bluebird has withdrawn Zynteglo, the beta thal drug, along with the rest of its gene therapy portfolio from Europe, which the company said is generally unwilling to pay a fair price for the treatment.