Home | MIT Sloan Fellows | Leadership Blog

Category: Biotech

Boosting the ranks of women in biotech

More women are entering science and tech-related fields than ever before, but the number occupying the executive suite still lags far behind men. The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) and Takeda Pharmaceuticals have launched a new initiative to help right the balance. MassNextGen is a five-year program that will fund and support early stage biotech companies run by women.

A recent report by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) and the executive recruiting firm Liftstream found growing gender disparities in the state’s life-sciences industry. The report integrated the responses of 70 companies and more than 900 professionals and revealed that while women enter the industry in equal proportion to men, their numbers decline in the early stages of their careers. As a result, they account for just 24 percent of C-suite executives in biotech—the gap is even greater at the board level. Between 2011 and 2013, only 15% of the companies receiving venture capital investment included a woman on the executive team.

A support system for women founders and leaders

The cause of this disparity? The report notes fewer opportunities to advance, a perceived bias in evaluations and promotions, and a paucity of opportunities for mentoring and career development. Jennifer Griffin, Vice President for Industry Programs and Relations at MLSP, says MassNextGen will “encourage and support more women entrepreneurs in the life sciences industry and provide them with the skills, the tools, and the network they need to go out and successfully raise funds for their small, innovative companies.”

Seed stage money is the hardest for women executives to come by. Only 3% of the total venture capital dollars in the U.S. went to companies with a woman CEO, according to “Women Entrepreneurs 2014: Bridging the Gender Gap in Venture Capital,” a report produced by Babson College in 2014. To address this issue, MassNextGen will support annually two women-owned companies with $50,000 and executive coaching that will include mentoring and access to a network of entrepreneurs, investors, and industry experts.

Catalyst for change

Takeda was the first private partner to support the program. The pharma giant provided $250,000 in support to match MLSC’s $250,000. “It’s one initiative,” Takeda CEO Christophe Weber noted at the launch of the initiative, “but it creates some visibility and allows us to express our willingness to improve the situation.”

Griffin’s intention is that MassNextGen will prove to be a catalyst for change over time. “We’re targeting young entrepreneurs, but certainly those women entrepreneurs will someday become board members of larger companies and advise those companies.”

MassNextGen begins taking applications in early 2018.

Annual EmTech Conference—a window on the digital frontier

Every fall, technology, business, and culture converge at MIT for the EmTech Conference, organized by MIT Technology Review. The 16th annual EmTech, which takes place October 18-20, 2016, at the MIT Media Lab, will offer participants a look at what’s just over the horizon in the digital world. Those present will also get the opportunity to meet and network with the entrepreneurs who are poised to bring those innovations to the world stage, including MIT Technology Review’s35 Innovators Under 35”—the guiding lights of the digital frontier.


The MIT Media Lab, venue for the 2016 EmTech Conference


EmTech 2016 will examine the year’s most significant news on emerging technologies in sessions such as:

The Robots Among Us

Breakthroughs in robotics are giving machines the skills they need to work side by side with humans. Find out how humans and machines can learn from one another.

The Future of Energy

Climate change, driven in part by the demand for energy, is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Find out how emerging technologies can help create and store sustainable power.

AI’s Next Leap Forward

Artificial intelligence has had an impact on every industry. Find out how collaboration— with one another and with intelligent systems—can advance work, life, and commerce.

Continue reading

Can financial engineering cure cancer?

Like so many of civilization’s great conundrums, the quest for a cure for cancer needs more money. Drug development can take a decade and close to a billion dollars, so funders aren’t exactly queuing up to help commercialize innovations.

Andrew LoMIT Sloan Professor Andrew Lo and his colleagues have devised a revolutionary way of financing drug development through “securitized debt.” In an article in Nature Biotechnology, Lo and his coauthors Jose-Maria Fernandez, SF ’10, and Roger M. Stein of Moody’s suggest that a large megafund comprising long-term bonds issued by leading drug companies could help investors justify the funding of risky biomedical research.

Continue reading

Philanthropy: The next biotech frontier

Jessica HarringtonJessica Harrington, SF ’07, is driving revolutionary medical innovations to market with a funding model that is as radical as the biotech innovations she’s supporting. Dr. Harrington is a cofounder, former director, and now an advisor to Broadview Ventures, a for-profit philanthropic organization that singles out biotech innovations that would not attract traditional venture capital because of a long runway to market.

Founded in 2008, the Leducq Family Trust established Broadview specifically to accelerate the development of promising technology in cardiovascular and neurovascular disease through targeted investments in and support of early stage ventures. By making funding available at a critical moment in the development of new technology, Broadview is taking a leadership position in venture philanthropy by finding creative ways to support translational research that bring the advancements of science to the care of patients.

Continue reading

Conquering pandemics through global collaboration

Pandemics have afflicted the planet since ancient times—the 400-BC Plague of Athens, for example. (Medical anthropologists now believe it was probably a form of typhoid fever.) But today, the ease, frequency, and volume of travel across borders give pandemics a greater range of proliferation—the spread of HIV being a case in point.

Monique Mansoura, SF ’12, director of policy and development for the Medical Countermeasures (MCM) franchise at pharma giant Novartis, helped build a multibillion-dollar program designed to prepare the world for pandemics. A public-private partnership between the U.S. government and Novartis, MCM was launched in 2001 after the 9/11 and anthrax attacks.

Headquartered near Kendall Square, the organization spearheaded national health security strategy and policy for programs that develop drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics in response to global health threats like influenza pandemics, chemical warfare, and radiation exposure from events like the Fukushima nuclear accident.

Continue reading

You, too, can invent a new drug…but try getting it off the runway.

Pierre Azoulay 004Today’s global marketplace is complex, fickle, and volatile. If you’re an entrepreneur or a venture capitalist, it’s tough to know where to invest. Biotech multiplies that uncertainty by a factor of 10. As political, economic, and technological forces shift, so does the biotech marketplace. And yet, cures for the diseases that plague society rely on bold visionaries who are prepared to take that risk. What is the best way to get a biotech innovation into the lab and out into the world?

MIT Sloan Associate Professor Pierre Azoulay likens drug development to bringing a new jumbo jet to the runway. “The two processes are similar. It takes a decade and billions of dollars to get each product to market. The science, the testing, and the materials have to be meticulous to gain the respect of investors and regulators.” However, for many biotech entrepreneurs, Azoulay notes, years of crossing t’s and dotting i’s is not as exciting as the original scientific impulse and ultimately wears down many a budding pioneer. As does the sobering fact that the jumbo jet has a better chance of making it to market than the medical treatment. A recent article in Forbes noted that 95% of the experimental medicines studied in humans fail to be both effective and safe.

Continue reading