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.

At the In­flec­tion Point for the Next Gen­er­a­tion of Can­cer Im­munother­a­py

While oncology researchers have long pursued the potential of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, it was unclear whether these therapies would ever reach patients due to the complexity of manufacturing and costs of development. Fortunately, the recent successful development and regulatory approval of chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells have demonstrated the significant benefit of these therapies to patients.

Tillman Gerngross (Adagio)

Till­man Gern­gross on Omi­cron: 'It is a grim sit­u­a­tion...we’re go­ing to see a sig­nif­i­cant drop in vac­cine ef­fi­ca­cy'

Tillman Gerngross, the rarely shy Dartmouth professor, biotech entrepreneur and antibody expert, has been warning for over a year that the virus behind Covid-19 would likely continue to mutate, potentially in ways that avoid immunity from infection and the best defenses scientists developed. He spun out a company, Adagio, to build a universal antibody, one that could snuff out any potential mutation.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

In­cor­po­rat­ing Ex­ter­nal Da­ta in­to Clin­i­cal Tri­als: Com­par­ing Dig­i­tal Twins to Ex­ter­nal Con­trol Arms

Most drug development professionals are familiar with the nerve-racking wait for the read-out of a large trial. If it’s negative, is the investigational therapy ineffective? Or could the failure result from an unforeseen flaw in the design or execution of the protocol, rather than a lack of efficacy? The team could spend weeks analyzing data, but a definitive answer may be elusive due to insufficient power for such analyses in the already completed trial. These problems are only made worse if the trial had lower enrollment, or higher dropout than expected due to an unanticipated event like COVID-19. And if a trial is negative, the next one is likely to be larger and more costly — if it happens at all.

Like the flu vac­cine every year, the FDA could move quick­ly on a vari­ant-tar­get­ed Covid vac­cine

In the same way that the FDA signs off on flu vaccines every year without requiring large clinical trials to measure their efficacy, the FDA may employ a similar strategy in authorizing variant-focused versions of the mRNA vaccines.

As the world braces for more data on the latest variant Omicron, which may reduce vaccine efficacy, top vaccine developers like Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have promised they can pull together a new vaccine targeted against a specific Covid variant in about 100 days. Since Omicron emerged last week, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and J&J have all said they’ve begun work on Omicron-specific vaccines, if needed.

Thanks­giv­ing edi­tion: Top 15 End­points sto­ries of 2021; Can you name that vac­cine?; Mer­ck­'s Covid an­tivi­ral dis­ap­points; FDA nom­i­nee's in­dus­try ties; 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.

Happy Thanksgiving to all those who are celebrating it — although, if we are being honest, this week’s abbreviated edition is really for those who are not. Wherever you’re tuning in from, we appreciate your support, hope you find this recap helpful and we wish you a wonderful weekend.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

What were End­points read­ers tun­ing in­to this year? Here’s a look at our 15 most pop­u­lar re­ports of the year (so far)

At the beginning of this year, I laid out a basic objective for Endpoints News as we headed to our 5th anniversary. We’ve long been doing a fine job covering the breaking news in R&D — if I do say so myself — but we needed to expand our horizons on industry coverage, increase the staff and go much, much deeper when the stories demanded it.

In a phrase: broader and deeper.

It’s safe to say, based on our daily web traffic, that you all seemed to like this idea. We’ve doubled the staff — thanks to a growing group of paid subscribers — ramped up the daily report and now publish a regular slate of in-depth articles. And traffic — those clicks you always read about — have gone up in volume too. Monthly sessions are up 43%, to close to 1.5 million. Unique readers are up 63%, to 874,480 in October, after setting a record of close to a million the month before. Page views are running at 3 million-plus a month. And the overall number of subscribers has surged to 124,000.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

Omi­cron: Re­searchers scram­ble as new coro­n­avirus mu­ta­tion takes flight around the globe — Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech, Mod­er­na vow swift re­sponse

As Americans were waking up for their Black Friday rituals, they were greeted with the news that a new mutation of the Covid-19 virus has appeared and been sequenced — after it caught an international flight to Hong Kong. And two of the leading Covid-19 vaccine developers promised delivery of a new vaccine “within 100 days” if necessary while a third spelled out its 3-prong strategy hours later.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Nev­er too late: For­bion pitch­es $100M SPAC; Kro­nos Bio re­leas­es ear­ly in­ter­im da­ta on CDK9 in­hibitor

Dutch VC Forbion is hopping on the ever-lengthening SPAC train.

To be led by Jasper Bos, who joined Forbion Growth as a general partner back in May just after the fund closed at $428 million, Forbion European Acquisition will target late-stage opportunities in the life sciences industry in Europe to merge with and bring onto Nasdaq.

Cyril Lesser, senior controller at Forbion, will be the CFO while Bos serves as CEO.

Jeff Albers, Blueprint Medicines CEO

Look­ing past Big Phar­ma ri­vals, Blue­print buys a pre­clin­i­cal biotech for $250M+

J&J’s Rybrevant scored the first approval back in May for a small group of lung cancer patients with a rare EGFR mutation. Despite a swarm of other biopharma companies angling for a piece of that market, Blueprint Medicines is betting nearly $500 million on a candidate it thinks will stand out.

Blueprint is putting down $250 million in cash and another $215 million in biobucks for Lengo Therapeutics and its preclinical non-small cell lung cancer program LNG-451. Though it hasn’t been tested in humans, Blueprint says the candidate was “highly brain-penetrant” in preclinical trials, and has the potential to inhibit all common EGFR exon 20 insertion variants — which are found in just 2% to 3% of NSCLC patients.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.