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.

Biotech and Big Phar­ma: A blue­print for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship

Strategic partnerships have long been an important contributor to how drugs are discovered and developed. For decades, big pharma companies have been forming alliances with biotech innovators to increase R&D productivity, expand geographical reach and better manage late-stage commercialization costs.

Noël Brown, Managing Director and Head of Biotechnology Investment Banking, and Greg Wiederrecht, Ph.D., Managing Director in the Global Healthcare Investment Banking Group at RBC Capital Markets, are no strangers to the importance of these tie-ups. Noël has over 20 years of investment banking experience in the industry. Before moving to the banking world in 2015, Greg was the Vice President and Head of External Scientific Affairs (ESA) at Merck, where he was responsible for the scientific assessment of strategic partnership opportunities worldwide.

No­var­tis' sec­ond at­tempt to repli­cate a stun­ning can­cer re­sult falls flat

Novartis’ hopes of turning one of the most surprising trial data points of the last decade into a lung cancer drug has taken another setback.

The Swiss pharma announced Monday that its IL-1 inhibitor canakinumab did not significantly extend the lives or slow the disease progression of patients with previously untreated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer when compared to standard of-care alone.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 120,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Robert Califf (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP Images, File)

As buzz on Califf FDA nom heats up, in­dus­try and agency in­sid­ers of­fer a strong nod for the ‘per­fect’ choice

For once in this long, dramatic road to finding a new FDA commissioner, there’s been some continuity. Both CNN and Politico reported this weekend that Rob Califf met with President Biden to discuss the permanent commish role, following earlier news broken by the Washington Post that all signs point to Califf.

Although there may be a few Democrats who continue to grandstand about the dangers of COI (Califf has worked for Verily, sits on the board of Centessa Pharmaceuticals, and has other ties to industry research), with the pandemic ongoing and the need for some kind of continuity at FDA mounting, Califf is likely to meet the same fate as when he first won Senate confirmation in 2016, by a vote of 89-4 — Bernie Sanders and 6 others didn’t vote.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 120,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot (Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa USA)

A com­bo of As­traZeneca's Imfinzi and chemo wins where oth­ers have failed in piv­otal bil­iary tract test

Looking to run with the big dogs in the PD-(L)1 class, AstraZeneca’s Imfinzi has a tall hill to climb to compete in an increasingly bustling market. An aggressive combo strategy for the drug has paid off so far, and now AstraZeneca is adding another notch to its belt.

A combo of Imfinzi (durvalumab) and chemotherapy significantly extended the lives of first-line patients with advanced biliary tract cancer over chemo alone, according to topline results from the Phase III TOPAZ-1 study revealed Monday.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 120,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Sean Ianchulev, Eyenovia CEO and CMO

Re­cent court de­ci­sion push­es FDA to re­ject and re­clas­si­fy drug-de­vice com­bo, crush­ing shares

Back in April, the FDA lost a crucial court case in which its broad discretion of regulating medical products that might satisfy the legal definitions of either “drug” and/or “medical device” was sharply curtailed.

In addition to the appeals court ruling that Genus Medical Technologies’ contrast agent barium sulfate (aka Vanilla SilQ) should not be considered a drug, as the FDA had initially ruled, but as a medical device, the agency also was forced to spell out which drugs would transition to devices as a result of the ruling.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 120,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Peter Greenleaf, Aurinia CEO

Af­ter pass­ing on Ac­celeron, Bris­tol My­ers eyes bolt-on ac­qui­si­tion of au­toim­mune spe­cial­ist — re­port

Bristol Myers Squibb is looking to beef up its autoimmune portfolio by scooping up Aurinia Pharmaceuticals, Bloomberg reported.

The recent overtures to Aurinia, relayed by anonymous insiders, came just as Bristol Myers turned down buyout talks with partners at Acceleron — which Merck ultimately struck a deal to acquire for $11.5 billion. Bristol Myers has reportedly decided to cash out on its minority stake, likely bagging $1.3 billion in the process, while keeping the royalty deals on two of Acceleron’s blood disorder drugs.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 120,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

So — that pig-to-hu­man trans­plant; Po­ten­tial di­a­betes cure reach­es pa­tient; Ac­cused MIT sci­en­tist lash­es back; 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.

We’re incredibly excited to welcome Beth Bulik, seasoned pharma marketing reporter, to the team. You can find much of her work in our new Marketing channel — and in her weekly newsletter, Endpoints PharmaRx, which will launch in early November. Add it to your subscriptions here.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 120,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

NYU surgeon transplants an engineered pig kidney into the outside of a brain-dead patient (Joe Carrotta/NYU Langone Health)

No, sci­en­tists are not any clos­er to pig-to-hu­man trans­plants than they were last week

Steve Holtzman was awoken by a 1 a.m. call from a doctor at Duke University asking if he could put some pigs on a plane and fly them from Ohio to North Carolina that day. A motorcyclist had gotten into a horrific crash, the doctor explained. He believed the pigs’ livers, sutured onto the patient’s skin like an external filter, might be able to tide the young man over until a donor liver became available.

UP­DAT­ED: Agenus calls out FDA for play­ing fa­vorites with Mer­ck, pulls cer­vi­cal can­cer BLA at agen­cy's re­quest

While criticizing the FDA for what may be some favoritism towards Merck, Agenus on Friday officially pulled its accelerated BLA for its anti-PD-1 inhibitor balstilimab as a potential second-line treatment for cervical cancer because of the recent full approval for Merck’s Keytruda in the same indication.

The company said the BLA, which was due for an FDA decision by Dec. 16, was withdrawn “when the window for accelerated approval of balstilimab closed,” thanks to the conversion of Keytruda’s accelerated approval to a full approval four months prior to its PDUFA date.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 120,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.