People, Venture

Sexual harassment in biotech hits home as OrbiMed’s Sam Isaly steps down in wake of STAT report

Two days after OrbiMed general manager Sam Isaly was hit by a scathing takedown by STAT writer Damian Garde outlining the financier’s preferences for on-the-job porn and a habit of verbally abusing female staffers, he’s gone.

Samuel Isaly

OrbiMed, a global biotech investor, decided to make it all sound like a routine retirement for the 72-year-old Isaly, announcing that he was stepping down “pursuant to years-long succession planning discussions.” Earlier they brought in lawyers to look into the charges.

General partner Sven Borho was left the task of praising Isaly as a “true visionary” who has been an “iconic investor in the healthcare sector for the past 45 years, with countless professional accomplishments.”

Isaly, according to STAT, also enjoyed keeping breast implants on his desk, which he would routinely massage like a stress ball. He also had a rep for sexually harassing female workers at OrbiMed, according to the online healthcare publication, six of whom outlined instances where he would demean the women on staff.

Borho, Carl Gordon, and Jonathan Silverstein will now replace the managing partner as a managing committee.

The issue of a culture of sexual harassment in biotech and in particular the finance world around it has been bubbling for years. Close to two years ago Kate Bingham at SV Life Sciences and Karen Bernstein, chairman of BioCentury Publications, triggered a tempest with an open letter blasting a party at JP Morgan that LifeSci Advisors held every year, recruiting svelte models to escort their guests.

Such events, they said, present women in the industry as “chattel.”

A galaxy of biotech leaders signed off on that letter, and LifeSci Advisors subsequently apologized profusely, launching a program to open up new board opportunities for women in the industry. But others singled out for criticism, specifically Roth Capital, refused to apologize or change.

The question now is whether the issue has a noticeable effect on party planning at the upcoming JP Morgan conference, where women colleagues of mine have complained of the routine boorish behavior of too many male execs who attend the parties that crowd Union Square during every night of the industry confab.


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