RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Today marks International Women’s Day: a day devoted to celebrating women, their achievements and recognizing the bias that holds many back.

Women in the Workplace 2020, a national report conducted by McKinsey & Company, found that women account for more than half of entry-level positions in pharmaceuticals and medical products, yet fizzle out to a mere quarter of C-suite positions. The proportions are even more stark for the healthcare systems and services industry; women hold a majority 75% of entry-level positions, but only 29% of C-suite roles. COVID-19 aggravated the corporate pipeline more. Women—especially women of color—were more likely to be laid off or furloughed.

The North Carolina life sciences community owes many successes to the women who devote their talents to public health.

Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Corbett, 35, a native of Hurlde Mills who grew up in Hillsborough, came to the fore in the past year. She led the coronavirus team at the Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health to produce the Moderna mRNA Vaccine. In December, the vaccine earned emergency use authorization, marking a pivot point in the pandemic, and giving newfound hope to many.

Corbett proved talented at a young age by spending her summers at research laboratories through the American Chemical Society program Project SEED. Years later, Corbett went on to study human antibody responses to dengue virus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill under Aravinda de Silva, Ph.D.

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After Corbett received her doctorate at UNC, the NIH took her in as a research fellow working as a viral immunologist. Corbett’s impact goes beyond the vaccine; she actively engages with the Black community to resolve distrust in vaccines. According to a study released by the NAACP, only 14% of Black Americans believe the vaccine will be safe, an after-effect of the Tuskegee Study that ended in 1972.

Even when they lead a relatively small share of initiatives, women like North Carolina native Kizzmekia Corbett produce great advancements in public health.

Women Combating COVID-19’s Impact

  • Mandy Krauthamer Cohen, M.D., MPH, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services since 2017.
  • Joy Parr Drach, president and CEO of Advanced Animal Diagnostics (AAD), pivoted AAD’s QScout to be used on humans to test white blood cell differential.
  • Machelle Sanders was appointed as Secretary of the Department of Commerce in February, after serving in the NC Department of Administration. Sanders’ economic restoration vision includes marrying innovation and leadership and expanding workforce development initiatives following the damage created by the pandemic. A graduate of North Carolina State University, Sanders holds a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and a Master of Health Administration from Pfeiffer University. She is a former vice president of manufacturing and general manager of Biogen’s largest manufacturing facility in Research Triangle Park and also held leadership positions overseeing manufacturing, global quality assurance and quality control functions at Biogen and Diosynth-Akzo Nobel. While at Biogen, Sanders created a Women’s Innovation Network.
  • Kimberly Smith, M.D., is senior vice president and head of R&D at ViiV Healthcare in RTP. The AIDS drug development spinout joined the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, which brings together pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions in the search for treatment options. Additionally, the company created ViiV Healthcare Global HIV and COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to fund research on the effects of COVID-19 on the HIV community.

Company Leaders

While International Women’s Day is worldwide, it is important to recognize the great leaders within our state. Of North Carolina’s 775 life sciences companies, only some 6% of these are led by women. The ratio is similar to that of the nation’s other leading life sciences hubs.

Here are female leaders of North Carolina life science companies so far identified by NCBiotech.

  • Afreen Allam, president and CEO of SiNON Therapeutics, Durham
  • Mindy Allport-Settle, CEO of PharmaLogika Inc., Willow Springs
  • Suzanne Babcock, chairman and CEO of CivaTech Oncology Inc., Morrisville
  • Deborah Bitterfield, CEO and founder of Lindy Biosciences, Inc., RTP
  • Ann Black, president and CEO of ImmunoReagents Inc., Raleigh
  • Donna Bortner, CEO of TransViragen Inc., Chapel Hill
  • Allison London Brown, founder, CEO, UVision 360, Raleigh
  • Paula Brown Stafford, president and COO of Novan, Morrisville
  • Jennifer Byrne, CEO of Javara Inc., Winston-Salem
  • Ginger Dosier, co-founder and CEO of Biomason, RTP
  • Joy Parr Drach, president and CEO of Advanced Animal Diagnostics Inc., Morrisville
  • Hortense Dodo – president, CEO, co-founder, IngateyGen LLC
  • Amanda Elam, president of Galaxy Diagnostics Inc., RTP
  • JiNan Glasgow, president and CEO of Neo IP, Durham
  • Cynthia Greer, president of Cedarlane Laboratories Ltd., Burlington
  • Amy Greeson, CEO of Natural Discoveries Inc., Winston-Salem
  • Lisa Grimes, CEO of PurThread Technologies Inc., Cary
  • Dipti Gulati, president of PJI Biotech LLC, Morrisville
  • Mary Helms, president and co-founder of Rho, Durham
  • Elut Hsu, president of Asymchem Laboratories, Morrisville
  • Edna Hu, president of BIoCI Systems Inc., Raleigh
  • Pratap Joshi, CEO of Bio Matrix Inc., Greensboro
  • Rita King, CEO of MethodSense Inc., RTP
  • Pepper Landson, co-founder and CEO of Praetego Inc., Durham
  • Myla Lai-Goldman, president and CEO of GeneCentric Diagnostics Inc., RTP
  • Yolanda Renee Lea-Currie, Ph.D., president and founder, Brite Bio, RTP, and director of cell biology, ZenBio, RTP
  • Sharon Letchworth, president of Letchworth Pharma Consulting Inc., Kernersville
  • Karen LeVert, president and CEO of Southeast TechInventures Inc., Durham
  • Elizabeth Livanos, president and senior cytogeneticist of KaryoLogic Inc., Durham
  • Kelli Luginbuhl, founder and CEO of Isolere Bio, Durham
  • Elizabeth Miescher-Clemens, president and COO of HepatoSys Inc., Cornelius
  • Sheila Mikhail, CEO and co-founder of Asklepios BioPharmaceutical Inc., RTP
  • Natalia Mitin, CEO of Sapere Bio, RTP
  • Susan B. Nichols, president and CEO of Falcon Therapeutics, Durham
  • Meg Powell, co-chair of TARGET PharmaSolutions, Durham, and co-founder of 501 Ventures, Chapel Hill
  • Nirmala Ramanujam, founder of Zenalux Biomedical Inc., Durham
  • Karen Romines, president and CEO of Pathfinder Pharmaceuticals Inc., Durham
  • Nancy Rosborough, founder and CEO of Mycorrhiza Biotech LLC, Burlington
  • Kimberly Smith, M.D., senior vice president and head of R&D at ViiV Healthcare, RTP
  • Lea Strickland, president and CEO of F.O.C.U.S. Resources, Morrisville
  • Lynda Sutton, president and chief regulatory officer of Cato Research Ltd., Durham
  • Anne Whitaker, director and CEO of Aerami Therapeutics, Durham
  • Constance Wilson, founder, president and CEO of Endacea Inc., RTP
  • Women Cultivating the Next Generation of Life Sciences Professionals
  • Samira Musah, Ph.D., Duke Dept. of Biomedical Engineering, assistant professor
  • Lenora Campbell, Ph.D., NC A&T, dean of the College of Health & Human Sciences
  • Kristen Rhinehardt, NC A&T, assistant professor,  College of Engineering
  • Liesl Jeffers-Francis, NC A&T, assistant professor. College of Science and Technology, Biology
  • Sherine Obare, Ph.D., dean and professor at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering in Greensboro, member of NCBiotech’s Triad Advisory Committee

Women in the Funding Landscape

  • Mary Cantando, founder of The Woman’s Advantage Forum and foudning member of xElle Ventures, Durham
  • Dina Coker, MBA, founder and CEO of BLINK Agency and xElle Ventures executive committee member, Durham
  • Eva Doss, president and CEO of The Launch Place, RTP
  • Robbie Hardy, chair of xElle Ventures, Durham
  • Jill Kaplan, Escape Velocity Inc and xElle Ventures executive committee member, Durham
  • Karen LeVert, MBA, president and CEO Southeast TechInventures and venture partner with Pappas Capital, Durham
  • Shawna Lemon, JD, Ph.D., patent attorney, founder and co-managing shareholder at Stanek Lemon Law Firm as well as partner and shareholder with xElle Ventures, Durham
  • Ann Miller, owner at Sobeck Miller Solutions, LLC and xElle Ventures executive committee member, Durham
  • Christy Shaffer, Ph.D., general partner, Hatteras Venture Partners, Durham
  • Jennifer Turnage, founding member of xElle Ventures, Durham

(Note: Please send additions to this list to Jim Shamp at the NC Biotech Center.)

(C) N.C. Biotech Center