A catalyst for change in international health

MBA student Anastasia Semienko helps to forge market-based solutions to developing-world health issues

MIT Sloan MBA student Anastasia Semienko

Since it began in 2001, the Sloan Non-Profit Internship Fund has helped dozens of MBA students gain experience working for nonprofit organizations all over the world.

This year, one of the recipients, Anastasia Semienko, MBA '07, was able to spend the summer in Washington, D.C., working for BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH), a nonprofit which operates at the nexus between the biotech industry and the international public health community.

BVGH is helping biotechnology companies forge market-based programs, based on sound business strategies, to develop innovative new products for developing-world health issues.

BVGH, Semienko explains, works to break down barriers that hinder industry involvement in global health product development and to catalyze new industry investment by identifying market opportunities and building strategies and commitment.

“Traditionally,” she says, “a problem for companies which could develop products for neglected diseases is that most of the people afflicted with these diseases live on less than three dollars a day. A different approach to revenue-generation becomes necessary.”

BVGH works to find mechanisms that will allow biotech companies to pursue global heath issues, “whether it is trying to help with the upfront costs or identify supplementary markets.”

Taking on TB

Focusing on the growing global threat of tuberculosis, this summer Semienko researched vaccine companies — with or without experience in infectious disease — and developed specific strategies to encourage those companies to help address the disease.

“Looking at each company's current technologies, their existing product development pipelines, and their core capabilities, we tried to tailor a strategy for how they could get involved in TB vaccine development,” she says.

“Ultimately,” Semienko explains, “these strategies would enable BVGH to sit down with each company, present their findings, and talk with senior business and scientific leaders to determine if it would make sense for the company to develop a tuberculosis product.”

A chance to combine two passions

BVGH seems a perfect place for Semienko. She has always been interested in the social side of economics and health economics in particular.

After graduating from Baylor University with a bachelor's degree in economics, she went on to work at the Harvard Institute for International Development, where she focused on a child-health program. When the institute closed a year later, she went to work in the biotech industry and subsequently spent five years working in several areas, from clinical development to finance.

Now, at MIT Sloan, she is striving to combine her two passions — business and global health.

“After working in the biotechnology industry,” she says, “I wanted to find out how I could put those two pieces together. ... I decided to further develop my business strategy skills and leadership experience. So here I am at [MIT] Sloan.”

Semienko credits the Sloan Non-Profit Internship Fund for enabling her to spend the summer at BVGH, and she encourages other students to consider taking internships that might be slightly less traditional or outside their comfort zone.

“BVGH was a wonderful fit for me because I could utilize my experience working in the biotech industry, my [MIT] Sloan education, and my interest in global health. ... I was constantly inspired by the people I worked with and how they have used their skills to make a difference in global health.”

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