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.

The Big Phar­ma dis­card pile; Lay­offs all around while some biotechs bid farewell; New Roche CEO as­sem­bles top team; 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.

With earnings seasons in full swing, we’ve listened in on all the calls so you don’t have to. But news is popping up from all corners, so make sure you check out our other updates, too.

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/Politico via AP Images)

In­fla­tion re­bates in­com­ing: Wyden calls on CMS to move quick­ly as No­var­tis CEO pledges re­ver­sal

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) this week sent a letter to the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services seeking an update on how and when new inflation-linked rebates will take effect for drugs that see major price spikes.

The newly signed Inflation Reduction Act requires manufacturers to pay a rebate to Medicare when they increase drug prices faster than the rate of inflation.

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Raymond Stevens, Structure Therapeutics CEO

Be­hind Fri­day's $161M IPO: A star sci­en­tist, GPCR drug dis­cov­ery and a plan to chal­lenge phar­ma in di­a­betes

What does it take to pull off a $161 million biotech IPO these days?

In Structure Therapeutics’ case, it means having a star scientist co-founder paired with the computational drug discovery company Schrödinger, $198 million in private funding from blue-chip investors, almost six years of research work on G protein-coupled receptors and a slate of oral, small-molecule drugs, with an eye on the huge and growing diabetes and weight-loss market.

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Trodelvy notch­es a win in most com­mon form of breast can­cer

Following a promise last year to go “big and fast in breast cancer,” Gilead has secured a win for Trodelvy in the most common form.

The drug was approved to treat HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer patients who’ve already received endocrine-based therapy and at least two other systemic therapies for metastatic cancer, Gilead announced on Friday.

Trodelvy won its first indication in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer back in 2020, and has since added urothelial cancer to the list. HR-positive HER2-negative breast cancer accounts for roughly 70% of new breast cancer cases worldwide per year, according to senior VP of oncology clinical development Bill Grossman, and many patients develop resistance to endocrine-based therapies or worsen on chemotherapy.

John Roberts, exiting Vyant Bio CEO

Neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive biotech Vyant warns of po­ten­tial wind-down

The CEO and chief scientific officer of Vyant Bio are out the door as the little-known but publicly-listed neurodegenerative biotech searches for an exit or, if all else fails, a wind-down.

The soul-searching bookends a winding journey for the biotech, which rebranded and transitioned from diagnostics company Cancer Genetics in 2021 after a merger with StemoniX. That came after a failed merger attempt with NovellusDx (now Fore Biotherapeutics) in 2018. In the last few years, units have been sold off and the stock price $VYNT has plummeted from the $30 range to penny stock territory.

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Medicago's vaccine greenhouse (Medicago via YouTube)

Cana­di­an plant-based vac­cine de­vel­op­er Med­ica­go shut­ters months af­ter lay­offs

Plant-based Covid-19 vaccine developer Medicago shut down this week with little fanfare. And its two subsidiaries, Medicago R&D and Medicago USA, are also closing their doors, according to a company news release.

The lone shareholder left standing, Japan-based Mitsubishi Chemical Group, “has determined not to make further investments in Medicago and to proceed with an orderly wind-up of its business and operations in Canada and in the United States.”

Af­ter 13 years, Ramy Mah­moud steps in­to CEO seat at Opti­nose; Ru­pert Vessey set to ex­it Bris­tol My­ers in Ju­ly

After 13 years as president and COO at Optinose, Ramy Mahmoud has stepped into a new role as its CEO. He is taking the place of Peter Miller, who stepped down earlier this week, though Miller is still staying with the company as a consultant.

In 2010, the two business partners joined Optinose to take it in a new direction, transforming it from a delivery platform to product company. They previously worked together at Johnson & Johnson, when Miller was president at Janssen and Mahmoud headed medical affairs. Miller said after he learned about Optinose, “I did what I always do, which is find people smarter than me to talk with about the idea. And the first person I called was Ramy … and I said, ‘Hey, Ramy, what do you think of this technology?’”

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Simba Gill, Evelo Biosciences CEO

Sim­ba Gill stay­ing on at Evelo to weath­er lay­offs and a PhII fail

Simba Gill will be staying put as CEO of Evelo Biosciences for now.

Gill announced last year that he would be leaving the head position at Evelo to take on the role of executive partner at Flagship Pioneering. He was aiming to stay on until a successor was selected, but there’s a new course of action in the wake of a Phase II miss and a reduced headcount.

“I want to emphasize that I remain personally committed to Evelo and staying on to lead the organization. I continue to believe that Evelo is a remarkable opportunity in terms of the science, the platform, the type of products that we’re able to produce, and most importantly, the potential of millions of patients suffering from all stages of inflammatory disease,” Gill said on a conference call.

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Te­va drops out of in­dus­try trade group PhRMA

Following in AbbVie’s footsteps, Teva confirmed on Friday that it’s dropping out of the industry trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

Teva didn’t give a reason for its decision to leave, saying only in a statement to Endpoints News that it annually reviews “effectiveness and value of engagements, consultants and memberships to ensure our investments are properly seated.”

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