Spe­cial re­port: Twen­ty ex­tra­or­di­nary women in bio­phar­ma R&D who worked their way to the top

What differentiates a woman leader in biopharma R&D from a man?

Not much, except there are fewer of them in senior posts. Data suggest women are not more risk-averse, family-oriented or less confident than their male counterparts — indeed the differences between the two sexes are negligible. But a glance at the top R&D positions in Big Pharma leaves little doubt that upward migration in the executive ranks of biopharma R&D is tough.

And the industry is worse off because of it.

“We know that if you have more diverse leadership teams and more diverse boards, you end up with better financial performance for the company, more innovation, and there are countless studies that show this,” noted Helen Torley, chair of BIO’s diversity committee and CEO of Halozyme Therapeutics, in an interview earlier this year with Endpoints News

While the odds may be stacked against them, though, a growing number of women have been blazing trails to senior positions in drug discovery and development — opening paths in labs and C-suites that can be followed by future generations. And because of these women, and the many others they represent, gender diversity will become the norm.

Here at Endpoints News we interviewed 20 women who have cleared the barriers — both tangible and figurative — to scale the heights of biopharma R&D. This list is by no means exhaustive but reflects the hundreds of nominations we received celebrating the trailblazers who have directly and indirectly played a crucial role in developing the medicines in use today. 

Our conversations offer a glimpse into how these women were molded into leaders, and their reflections on the status of diversity. Perhaps most significantly, these luminaries prescribe their antidotes for the generations that lie in wait — ideas the industry could champion in the future.

— Amber Tong (amber@endpointsnews.com), Natalie Grover (natalie@endpointsnews.com) and Jason Mast (jason@endpointsnews.com)

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Am­gen lays off about 300 work­ers, cit­ing 'in­dus­try head­wind­s'

Amgen has laid off about 300 employees, a company spokesperson confirmed to Endpoints News via email Sunday night.

Employees posted to LinkedIn in recent days about layoffs hitting Amgen last week. The Thousand Oaks, CA-based biopharma, which employs about 24,000 people, said the reduction “mainly” impacted US-based workers on its commercial team.

Drug developers of all sizes, including small upstarts and pharma giants, have let employees go in recent months as the biopharma market drags through a quarters-long winter doldrum.

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Late Fri­day ap­proval; Trio of biotechs wind down; Stem cell pi­o­neer finds new fron­tier; Biotech icon to re­tire; 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.

I hope your weekend is off to a nice start, wherever you are reading this email. As for me, I’m trying to catch the tail of the Lunar New Year festivities.

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Boehringer In­gel­heim touts pre­ven­tion re­sults in rarest form of pso­ri­a­sis

Boehringer Ingelheim uncorked some positive results suggesting that Spevigo can help prevent flare-ups in patients with a severe form of psoriasis, months after the drug was approved to treat existing flares.

Spevigo, an IL-36R antibody also known as spesolimab, met its primary and a key secondary endpoint in the Phase IIb EFFISAYIL 2 trial in patients with generalized pustular psoriasis (GPP), Boehringer announced on Monday. While the company is keeping the hard numbers under wraps until later this year, it said in a news release that it anticipates sharing the results with regulators.

As­traZeneca, No­vo Nordisk and Sanofi score 340B-re­lat­ed ap­peals court win over HHS

AstraZeneca, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi won an appeals court win on Monday, as the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that the companies cannot be forced to provide 340B-discounted drugs purchased by hospitals from an unlimited number of community and specialty pharmacies.

“Legal duties do not spring from silence,” the decision says as the court makes clear that the federal government’s interpretation of the “supposed requirement” that the 340B program compels drugmakers to supply their discounted drugs to an unlimited number of contract pharmacies is not correct, noting:

Ap­peals court toss­es J&J's con­tro­ver­sial 'Texas two-step' bank­rupt­cy case

A US appeals court has ruled against Johnson & Johnson’s use of bankruptcy to deal with mounting talc lawsuits, deciding that doing so would “create a legal blind spot.”

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a previous bankruptcy court decision on Monday, calling for the dismissal of a Chapter 11 filing by J&J’s subsidiary LTL Management.

Faced with more than 38,000 lawsuits alleging its talc-based products caused cancer, J&J spun its talc liabilities into a separate company called LTL Management back in October 2021 and filed for bankruptcy, a controversial move colloquially referred to as a “Texas two-step” bankruptcy. Claimants argued that the strategy is a misuse of the US bankruptcy code — and on Monday, a panel of judges agreed.

Troy Tazbaz, FDA's newly-named director of the Digital Health Center of Excellence (Oracle via YouTube)

Or­a­cle ex­ec­u­tive Troy Tazbaz named new FDA di­rec­tor of dig­i­tal health

The FDA has found a brand new director of the Digital Health Center of Excellence in Troy Tazbaz, a former senior vice president at Oracle.

According to Tazbaz’s LinkedIn, he took a five-month break after leaving an 11-year career at Oracle before joining the FDA in January. Stat News first reported the hire. Tazbaz also said on his LinkedIn that he biked all the way from Chesapeake Bay to the San Francisco Bay over 58 days during his career break.

Chad Mirkin, Flashpoint co-founder

‘The field is at a flash­point’: New Chad Mirkin-found­ed biotech hopes to make more ef­fec­tive can­cer vac­cines

Following the success of the mRNA Covid vaccines, cancer vaccines are seeing renewed interest after years of middling results. But a group of researchers suggests that more attention needs to be paid not to what goes into those vaccines, but how the parts are put together.

In a recent paper published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, researchers led by Northwestern University’s Chad Mirkin describe how the placement of different antigens in a cancer vaccine impacts its efficacy. The paper builds on past work done by Mirkin’s lab that suggests the structure, or how the parts of a vaccine are arranged, impact a vaccine’s efficacy, not just its components.

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#JPM23: Reg­u­la­to­ry un­cer­tain­ty? What about M&A? Da­ta rule? Alessan­dro Masel­li and John Car­roll take out their crys­tal balls

Endpoints editor and founder John Carroll sat down the Catalent CEO Alessandro Maselli to talk about what’s ahead in 2023. Right or wrong, this covers all the big issues faced by biopharma. This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

John Carroll:

I think 2022 had to be one of the worst years ever for crystal balls. You went into 2022 thinking all sorts of nice things about what was ahead, not thinking about a European land war, maybe not thinking that the Federal Reserve was going to be jacking up interest rates as fast as they could to get ahead of inflation. Just a tremendous number of macroeconomic issues that were out there. The sudden and complete collapse of support on the markets in Nasdaq for biotech. A lot of darlings in the industry that had been out there for a while suddenly found themselves moving from a really hot market to a really cold market all of a sudden and had to make a lot of different changes in terms of strategizing.

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Eric Lander (Matt Slocum/AP Images)

Er­ic Lan­der to re­turn to Broad In­sti­tute, one year af­ter White House ex­it over bul­ly­ing al­le­ga­tions

Eric Lander is returning to the Broad Institute, the prestigious genomic research center he helped launch and led for 16 years, a year after he resigned from the White House’s top science position following accusations of demeaning and disrespectful conduct toward subordinates.

Todd Golub, who succeeded Lander as Broad’s director, announced Lander’s return, early next month, on the institute’s intranet. Lander will also resume the tenured faculty positions he left behind at MIT and Harvard, Golub added.