The right mix mat­ters in bio­phar­ma lead­er­ship

Biotech Voices is a collection of exclusive opinion editorials from some of the leading voices in biopharma on the biggest industry questions today. Think you have a voice that should be heard? Reach out to senior editors Kyle Blankenship and Amber Tong.

Break­ing the bio­phar­ma glass ceil­ing isn’t just a moral is­sue; it’s a share­hold­er is­sue. McK­in­sey re­port­ed in a re­cent study that com­pa­nies in the top quar­tile for gen­der di­ver­si­ty are 15 per­cent more like­ly to gen­er­ate fi­nan­cial re­turns above the in­dus­try av­er­age; those in the top quar­tile for racial and eth­nic di­ver­si­ty are 35 per­cent more like­ly to do so.

The right mix of ex­pe­ri­ence, per­spec­tives and back­grounds is al­so a pa­tient is­sue. Whether it’s choos­ing the right end­point for a prospec­tive ther­a­py or mar­ket­ing a prod­uct in a way that will en­able physi­cians and pa­tients to ac­cess the right med­i­cine at the right time, more com­pa­nies are be­gin­ning to un­der­stand the need to di­ver­si­fy their ranks and groom lead­er­ship teams as di­verse as the clin­i­cians and fam­i­lies they’re try­ing to reach. It’s good busi­ness and it’s good for pa­tients.

There are bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies mak­ing in­cred­i­ble progress in the di­ver­si­ty and in­clu­sion space. Oth­ers want to di­ver­si­fy and are ask­ing for help to broad­en ex­ec­u­tive and board search­es out­side of what are of­ten ho­moge­nous per­son­al net­works. That’s why the Biotech­nol­o­gy In­no­va­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion — the world’s largest biotech trade and ad­vo­ca­cy group — is launch­ing a new in­dus­try­wide ini­tia­tive called The Right Mix Mat­ters.

Based on my con­ver­sa­tions, a crit­i­cal mass in biotech al­ready knows that we have a pipeline prob­lem. We should be fas­tid­i­ous in our ef­forts to pro­mote more women, mi­nori­ties and LGBT ex­ec­u­tives up the ranks. Many of us in C-suites and board rooms do feel a sense of ur­gency: More in­sti­tu­tion­al in­vestors and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist are look­ing at lead­er­ship di­ver­si­ty as a fac­tor in where to put cap­i­tal. Frankly, this needs to be a wake-up call for our sec­tor.

Na­tion­al­ly, on­ly sev­en to nine per­cent of CEO po­si­tions at biotech com­pa­nies are filled by women, ac­cord­ing to na­tion­al sur­veys by Lift­stream. It still hap­pens that when I go to net­work­ing events with my fel­low CEOs, I’m of­ten the on­ly woman in the room.

Like al­most every fe­male physi­cian of my era in Scot­land, I re­ceived my med­ical train­ing dur­ing a time when it was as­sumed we would quit our jobs or work part-time when start­ing a fam­i­ly. As a doc­tor in train­ing, I lost count of the num­ber of times I was asked to make a cup of tea for every­one while my male col­leagues talked about their ca­reer paths with the con­sul­tants.

I be­came a doc­tor be­cause I care deeply about the wel­fare of pa­tients, and be­came a rheuma­tol­o­gist be­cause I’ve al­ways been at­tract­ed to the most con­found­ing ar­eas of med­i­cine. I dis­cov­ered help­ing pa­tients suf­fer­ing from vex­ing con­di­tions al­most al­ways re­quired more than even the most de­ter­mined doc­tor’s best ef­forts. The in­ter­ven­tions of the rheuma­tol­o­gist, nephrol­o­gists and oth­er spe­cial­ists might be life-sav­ing, but it was the phys­io­ther­a­pist, wound nurse and oc­cu­pa­tion­al ther­a­pist who made pa­tients’ lives liv­able. This recog­ni­tion that di­verse back­grounds pro­duce the best so­lu­tions has lived with me ever since.

My ca­reer took me to the Unit­ed States for a role in the bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try in clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment. I put in for a trans­fer on the com­mer­cial side, where­upon the head of mar­ket­ing and sales in­formed me, “You are fe­male, Scot­tish and an M.D. You’re just not the right fit.” For­tu­nate­ly, that com­pa­ny even­tu­al­ly got new lead­er­ship, and I found a cham­pi­on in the C-suite who saw some­thing in me. He spon­sored for a com­mer­cial lead­er­ship role even though I didn’t yet have all the ex­pe­ri­ence of the “per­fect” can­di­date. With­out a cham­pi­on will­ing to open the door to that first crack at broad­er lead­er­ship roles, many women and mi­nori­ties in cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca lan­guish in mid­dle man­age­ment in per­pe­tu­ity —un­able to move up and in­to the C-suite.

But I did move up. When I be­came a can­di­date for my first CEO role, I hired a coach to help me in­crease my ef­fec­tive­ness as a com­mu­ni­ca­tor. I pos­sessed that fa­mil­iar fem­i­nine trait of fail­ing to take enough per­son­al cred­it for my role in the suc­cess­es of teams I led. My coach helped me un­der­stand that in­ter­view­ing with boards is not the time to be mod­est. He was right. I learned how to bet­ter sell my cre­den­tials, ex­pe­ri­ence and abil­i­ties, be­com­ing one of the for­tu­nate few to crack the glass ceil­ing in the bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try.

As the cen­ter­piece of BIO’s ef­fort, BIO Board­list went live this month. It’s a search­able on­line data­base of di­verse tal­ent where ex­ec­u­tives can nom­i­nate promis­ing tal­ent and where search com­mit­tees can find lead­er­ship can­di­dates that meet their busi­ness needs. The tool was de­ployed by the high-tech in­dus­try in 2017 in the wake of a firestorm ig­nit­ed by the con­tro­ver­sial writ­ings of a Google en­gi­neer that sparked an in­dus­try­wide dis­cus­sion about sex­ism. Now, BIO is bring­ing this tool to the bio­phar­ma sec­tor.

We al­ready have near­ly 50 out­stand­ing, pre-vet­ted can­di­dates who are search­able in BIO Board­list. Our job now is to add more high­ly qual­i­fied, di­verse lead­ers to the data­base. Once we do, BIO Board­list will be es­pe­cial­ly help­ful for small­er and emerg­ing bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies that do not yet have a ro­bust hu­man re­sources func­tion or the means to hire ex­ec­u­tive re­cruiters. BIO Board­list can help com­pa­nies iden­ti­fy, lift up and in­clude di­verse ex­ec­u­tives with lead­er­ship qual­i­fi­ca­tions and as­pi­ra­tions.

BIO al­so launched a sec­ond re­source — a di­ver­si­ty and in­clu­sion toolk­it. We have pooled to­geth­er the best re­sources from suc­cess­ful pro­grams across BIO mem­ber com­pa­nies. Com­pa­nies will find spe­cif­ic HR tem­plates that can be down­loaded and schol­ar­ly pieces and train­ing cours­es on such top­ics as un­con­scious bias, men­tor­ing and spon­sor­ship.

As a prac­tic­ing rheuma­tol­o­gist, I learned that it can take a vil­lage to give pa­tients a life worth liv­ing. Work­ing my way up the ranks to the CEO’s of­fice in bio­phar­ma, I have dis­cov­ered the same of­ten holds true to de­vel­op a med­i­cine worth tak­ing or a clin­i­cal pro­gram worth fund­ing. If you’re lead­ing a biotech com­pa­ny and want to do right by your con­sumers, in­vestors and share­hold­ers, the right mix re­al­ly does mat­ter.


Dr. He­len Tor­ley is CEO of Halozyme Ther­a­peu­tics in San Diego and chairs BIO’s Com­mit­tee on Work­force De­vel­op­ment, Di­ver­si­ty and In­clu­sion. Biotech Voic­es is a con­tributed col­umn writ­ten by se­lect End­points News sub­scribers.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

The End­points 11: They've got mad mon­ey and huge am­bi­tions. It's time to go big or go home

These days, selecting a group of private biotechs for the Endpoints 11 spotlight begins with a sprint to get ahead of IPOs and the M&A teams at Big Pharma. I’ve had a couple of faceplants earlier this year, watching some of the biotechs on my short list choose a quick leap onto Nasdaq or into the arms of a buyer.

Vividion, you would have been a great pick for the Endpoints 11. I’m sorry I missed you.

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Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis Gene Ther­a­pies? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

FDA au­tho­rizes Pfiz­er's vac­cine boost­er for se­niors, those at high risk for se­vere Covid-19

The Biden administration’s goal of kicking off its booster shot drive for the entire US population this week is not quite going as planned.

First, Pfizer applied for approval of a supplemental application for the booster shots, but since last Friday’s adcomm reviewing them, the plan has devolved into an EUA, which the FDA issued late Thursday evening.

The population that is now eligible for the booster, six months after receiving the first pair of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, also narrowed from what Pfizer applied for (everyone who’s eligible for the initial Pfizer shots) to just those who are 65 or older, or at high-risk of a Covid infection, including health care workers and others with occupational hazards.

Stéphane Bancel, AP Images

Fi­nal analy­sis of US-fund­ed Mod­er­na Covid vac­cine tri­al shows 98% ef­fi­ca­cy against se­vere dis­ease

A final look at the results of the placebo-controlled Moderna trial in the New England Journal of Medicine, published Thursday afternoon, shows how the vaccine continues to prevent Covid-19 and severe cases after more than five months following the second shot.

Of the more than 30,000 enrolled in the trial that ultimately led to the vaccine’s EUA, only two people in the vaccine group got a severe form of the disease, compared to 106 in the placebo group — leading to an efficacy of 98%.

Emma Walmsley, GlaxoSmithKline CEO (Credit: Fang Zhe/Xinhua/Alamy Live News)

The fire un­der Glax­o­SmithK­line's Em­ma Walm­s­ley grows as an­oth­er well-known ac­tivist in­vestor grabs its pitch­fork — re­port

Bluebell Capital Partners, a proxy brawler fresh off a campaign to oust global food giant Danone’s CEO and most of its board of directors, has bought a stake in UK drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline with its eyes trained directly on Emma Walmsley, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

The London-based hedge fund joins another notorious activist firm in Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, which earlier this year called for a shakeup in leadership at GSK to handle what the company described as a wealth of riches across the drug giant’s portfolio hindered by limited vision from top staff.

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The FDA has now spelled out what exactly will be included in the third iteration of Biosimilar User Fee Act (BsUFA) from 2023 through 2027, which similarly to the prescription drug deal, sets fees that industry has to pay for submitting applications, in exchange for firm timelines that the agency must meet.

This latest deal includes several sweeteners for the biosimilar industry, which has yet to make great strides in the US market, with shorter review timelines for safety labeling updates and updates to add or remove an indication that does not contain efficacy data.

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Jean Bennett (Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP Images)

Lux­tur­na in­ven­tor Jean Ben­nett starts a new gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny to tack­le rare dis­eases left be­hind by phar­ma, VCs

A few years ago Jean Bennett found herself in a surprising place for a woman who invented the first gene therapy ever approved in the United States: No one, it seemed, wanted her work.

Bennett, who designed and co-developed Luxturna, approved in 2018 for a rare form of blindness, had kept building new gene therapies for eye diseases at her University of Pennsylvania lab. But although the results in animals looked promising, pharma companies and investors kept turning down the pedigreed ophthalmology professor.

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