Good afternoon to colleagues, friends and family gathered here today to celebrate the wonderful work of the HBA for women across the US and Europe. It is an honor to be standing on stage sharing this day with my fellow honorees, all of us collectively driven by our passion for advancing science, improving medicine and delivering health care solutions globally. We also share the belief that as we thrive and survive professionally, we must pay it forward – and as women, lead, build and grow the next generation of leaders across our industry.
As I reflect on the 30 years since I entered the workforce as an undergraduate in London, I am vividly aware of doors that were opened for me, thanks in part to the support of senior leaders who saw potential—even when I did not. Who pushed me forward, and ensured my continued growth and development. Jeremy Levin and Sylvia Hewlett were certainly part of my support system. Every day making a difference for women in their workplace – ensuring every voice is heard and every door is open.
With the support of Jeremy, Sylvia, and many others, I have experienced several incredible defining moments over the course of my career. As I shared at the HBA conference last year in Boston, I was an officer in the British Royal Navy, rising to the rank of Surgeon Lieutenant Commander. I was the first female physician ever to serve on the front line, with the Minesweeper Squadron during the Gulf War. I bobbed off the coast of Kuwait at sea – the only woman with 700 men – truly a defining moment, I can assure you! But the defining moment I’d like to share with you today is the birth of biopharma. This moment unlocked a new energy in my professional life, and transformed the belief system and approach to innovation in biomedical and life science R&D.
I had joined Bristol-Myers Squibb as a cardiovascular medical advisor in the UK. I was accelerated to senior leadership roles through the mentoring and sponsorship of three incredible people. Elliott Sigal, who has been a defining chief scientific officer for the industry over the last 10 years. Brian Daniels, unparalleled in his accomplishments as head of development. And Paul Biondi, an inspiring authentic leader and R&D, COO at BMS. Our journey started in 2002, we worked together for the next nine years.
The defining moment took place in 2006, when the four of us were in a bar in Shanghai, because the best magic always happens over a beer. We had just finished a day of debating the evolution of the industry, globalization and how the old monolithic silos of the past would not sustain success for the future. At BMS, we had a pipeline of opportunities but we knew that our R& D budget would not be able to maximize the potential from bench to bedside. Elliott had the idea to take the best of biotech and the best of pharma as a platform for a new ecosystem across the industry, one that combined the entrepreneurial, creative and fun culture of biotech, with the scale, geographic scope and operational discipline of pharma. Literally the best of both worlds.
In that jet-lagged moment, across the other side of the world “biopharma” was born. It became translated into the desire to innovate, to integrate partners from across the eco system of healthcare, and to commit to a long term goal of continuous learning and improvement…and ultimately, this collaborative enterprise approach would accelerate the broader industry’s ability to bring hope to patients.
Today, biopharma is a way of thinking, acting and behaving,bringing to reality the belief that traveling alone we may go fast, but traveling together we will go further. We know now that the biopharma model is set to be the foundational platform for the next wave of innovation in science and medicine.
I was so privileged to have been part of that night in Shanghai, and on the BMS journey for 14 years with such exceptional leaders, that opened up a new way of thinking for many in our industry.
It was therefore a privilege to share these experiences with my colleagues at Merck Serono, where we have together been building a new global biopharma organization with a team of very special people who share our collective passion to make great things happen for patients worldwide.
Now, I am starting a new journey, grateful for these experiences that have shaped me and my thinking, and excited by the opportunities ahead. I remain humbled by my family, friends, close colleagues and sponsors who have unlocked every door for me over the last 30 years by saying “yes you can.” and “you go for it.” I recognize that I owe my professional journey and achievements to many in this room today. I truly thank you all.
I’d like to also extend my appreciation and thanks to the HBA for their commitment to creating platforms that serve as opportunities for all of us. Innovation and moments in time are always about the ‘we’ and never about the ‘me.’ Together we are stronger and together we can all shape science, medicine and health for generations to come.