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February 28, 2022

Women’s History Month: 40 women in science and biotech to know

Women’s History Month: 40 women in science and biotech to know

During Women’s History Month, Good Day BIO has been highlighting the accomplishments of women who have broken barriers in the sciences, medicine, and biotechnology—here’s a list of 40 innovators you should know.

1. Phyllis Arthur

Phyllis Arthur, BIO’s VP of Infectious Diseases and Emerging Science, has been one of the industry’s leading voices on the importance of vaccines and diagnostics in the fight against COVID-19. Previously, she led marketing and sales teams at Merck where she launched the first HPV vaccine, GARDASIL.

2. Dr. Elizabeth Helen Blackburn

Molecular biologist Dr. Elizabeth Helen Blackburn’s research has focused on the telomere, the structure at the end of the chromosome that protects the chromosome. This culminated in her 1984 joint discovery of the enzyme telomerase, along with her student Carol Greider, while working at UC-Berkeley. She received a 1/3 share of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this discovery, making her the first Australian woman Nobel Laureate.

3. Mary-Dell Chilton

Mary-Dell Chilton’s pioneering work in genetic engineering led to the discovery that Agrobacterium could be used to transfer genes from other organism into plants—providing an alternative to traditional plant breeding. She led a research study that produced the first transgenic plants—a.k.a. genetically modified (GM) plants.

4. Dr. Marie Curie

Dr. Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize—and the only woman in history to win two. In 1903, she became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics—and any Nobel, period—for her research on radiation alongside her husband, Pierre. In 1911, she earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering the elements radium and polonium and creating a means for measuring radioactivity—an award she earned all on her own.

5. Dr. Marie Daly

Dr. Marie Daly was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry. “Her work contributed to our basic understanding of histones and, ultimately, the organization of our DNA,” explains Harvard University. Dr. Daly established a scholarship fund for African American science students at Queens College in New York, in honor of her father who couldn’t finish his graduate degree.

6. Dr. Jennifer Doudna

Dr. Jennifer Doudna is one of the winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work to develop the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique. Dr. Doudna and her collaborator, Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier, published their research in a landmark 2012 paper in the journal Science, which showed they could isolate the components of CRISPR/Cas9, insert them in a test tube, and make specific edits to DNA. In 2017, she founded BIO member company Mammoth Biosciences, which has received FDA Emergency Use Authorization for its DETECTR BOOST® SARS-CoV-2 Reagent Kit, a first of its kind CRISPR-based COVID-19 test.

7. Dr. Cartier Esham

As BIO's Chief Science Officer and EVP for Emerging Companies, Dr. Cartier Esham manages and directs BIO’s policy development, advocacy, research, and educational initiatives for emerging companies, which comprise approximately 90% of BIO’s membership. With a Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Georgia and a Master's in Marine Biology from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, she has published several papers on water quality, marine microbial ecology, and bacterial phylogeny.

8. Dr. Rosalind Franklin

Dr. Rosalind Franklin’s research paved the way for biotechnology innovations such as synthetic biology, biobased manufacturing, and carbon capture and utilization. Her work was crucial to the discovery of DNA’s structure—which ultimately led to Francis Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins being awarded a Nobel Prize in 1962, a few years after Rosalind’s death from cancer at age 37. BIO’s Rosalind Franklin Award (sponsored by the Rosalind Franklin Society) is presented annually to a pioneering woman in the industrial biotechnology and agriculture sectors.

9. Dr. Julie Gerberding

As Chief Patient Officer and Vice President at Merck, Dr. Gerberding oversees global public policy, strategic communications, patient engagement, population health, and corporate responsibility. She was the first woman to serve as director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which she led during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax bioterrorism attacks. Dr. Gerberding is a BIO board member as well as a member of the MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories and the Cerner Corporation boards.

10. Dr. Ruby Hirose

Japanese American biologist and biochemist Dr. Ruby Hirose overcame anti-Asian racism and violence to save countless lives with her groundbreaking research, which led to the development of the polio vaccine.

11. Dr. Jennifer Holmgren

Dr. Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech (and a member of BIO’s Executive Committee), has spent her career driving the development of renewable energy and more sustainable products. She’s received many awards for her work and her leadership, including the 2015 U.S. EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Award and BIO’s Rosalind Franklin Award.

12. Matilda Joslyn Gage

Matilda Joslyn Gage was a suffragist, abolitionist, and Native American rights advocate who was one of the leading voices for women’s and Native Americans’ rights in the mid-1800s. She co-founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Gage is the namesake of historian Dr. Margaret Rossiter’s  term “The Matilda Effect” to describe how women’s contributions to society, particularly in science, have been erased by history.

13. Dr. Reshma Kewalramani

Dr. Reshma Kewalramani is CEO and President at Vertex, which develops new medicines for cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. The approval of Vertex’s SYMDEKO/SYMKEVI, as well as the speedy approval of TRIKAFTA, could result in potentially treating up to 90% of all CF patients. She has received numerous awards including the American College of Physicians Associates Council Award, the American Medical Women's Association Janet M. Glasgow Memorial Achievement Citation, and the Harvard Medical School Excellence in Teaching Award, among others.

14. Rachel King

Co-founder and CEO of GlycoMimetics, Rachel King has dedicated her career to driving innovative breakthroughs for patients. She founded the company to develop new medicines to treat various blood diseases and has been named one of the Top 10 Women in Biotech by FierceBiotech and Executive of the Year by the Maryland Technology Council. She is devoted to helping small, emerging biotechs bring new cures to patients and serves on several boards (including BIO's).

15. Esther Lederberg

Esther Lederberg laid the groundwork for discoveries on genetic inheritance in bacteria, gene regulation, and genetic recombination. Her work on replica plating played a part in her first husband Joshua Lederberg winning the 1958 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine along with George Beadle and Edward Tatum. (Esther received no credit for the discovery.) A microbiologist, she is perhaps best known for discovering a virus that infects bacteria—called the lambda bacteriophage.

16. Mila Makovec

In 2018, Mila Makovec became the first person in the world to receive a drug tailored just to her when she received a drug customized for one patient: milasen, which was developed by Dr. Timothy Yu at Boston Children’s Hospital. Mila was born with CLN7, an extremely rare form of Batten disease, an inherited neurodegenerative disease, which tragically cut her life short at the age of 10. Her mother founded Mila’s Miracle Foundation to find and fund paths to a cure for devastating neurological conditions like Batten disease.

17. Dr. Barbara McClintock

Dr. Barbara McClintock won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1983 for discovering mobile genetic elements—paving the way for breakthroughs in plant breeding and genetic engineering. When she won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, McClintock became the first woman to be the sole winner of the award.

18. Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath

Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath is the first woman and Black woman to lead the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO). The common thread in her work across academia, government, and industry has been her focus on broadening access to scientific progress so patients from diverse backgrounds can benefit from cutting-edge innovation. The first African American to graduate with an M.D./Ph.D. from Duke’s Medical Scientist Training Program, Dr. McMurry-Heath has held leadership roles at Johnson & Johnson as well as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under President Barack Obama.

19. Ellen Ochoa

Ellen Ochoa was the first Latina in space, serving a nine-day mission aboard space shuttle Discovery in 1993. Before she became an astronaut, she was researcher and inventor for NASA, working on optical systems for automated and robotic space exploration. She was also the 11th director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

20. Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey

Canadian American pharmacologist and general practitioner Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey joined the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960, where her work would lead to laws strengthening FDA oversight of pharmaceuticals. As a reviewer at FDA, she was criticized for her refusal to authorize the sleeping drug thalidomide because of her concerns about dangerous side effects—which would prove to be correct when the drug was shown to cause serious birth defects. She was the second woman to receive the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service, in 1962, and the first person to win the FDA’s Drug Safety Excellence Award, in 2010.

21. Mary G. Ross

The first Native American woman engineer, Mary G. Ross paved the way for historic space missions—as well as for Native Americans in STEM. In 1942, she was hired by Lockheed Martin, where she designed fighter jets during WWII. She was a founding member of the company’s secret “Skunk Works” program, where much of her groundbreaking work on interplanetary spacecraft, ballistic missiles, and satellites remains classified today.

22. Dr. Margaret Rossiter

Dr. Margaret Rossiter is a renowned historian and the Marie Underhill Noll Professor of History of Science Emerita and Graduate School Professor at Cornell University. She has dedicated her career to highlighting the accomplishments of women in the sciences who have been overlooked, authoring the groundbreaking Women Scientists in America book series. In 2004, the History of Science Society voted to rename The Women’s Prize to The Margaret W. Rossiter History of Women in Science Prize.

23. Dr. Florence Sabin

Dr. Florence Sabin achieved a number of firsts for women medical educators. In 1896, she enrolled in The Johns Hopkins Medical School as a member of the fourth class to admit women. In 1902, she became the first woman on the Hopkins medical faculty, and in 1917, the first woman to become a full professor. In 1925, she was the first woman to be elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences, due to her pioneering work on the pathology of tuberculosis and blood vessels.

24. Christi Shaw

Christi Shaw is CEO of Kite, Gilead’s cell therapy company, where she manages cell therapy operations worldwide—and is pursuing a cure for cancer through the company’s industry-leading pipeline and manufacturing capabilities. A BIO board member, she founded the More Moments More Memories Foundation, which provides support for cancer patients.

25. Dr. Nettie Stevens

Dr. Nettie Stevens performed studies crucial in the discovery of sex chromosomes—the “X” and “Y” chromosomes. She was also one of the first women to be recognized for her scientific research, in which she provided critical evidence for Mendelian and chromosomal theories of inheritance.

26. Sara Little Turnbull

Got masks? Thank Sara Little Turnbull, whose 1972 face mask design led to the medical-grade N95 mask. 3M hired her to explore uses for a new melded polymer fiber material, which she realized might block disease particles. Turnbull also consulted for DuPont, Pfizer, and NASA, designing things like medication delivery systems, space suits, and household cleaning products.

27. Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu

Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu was a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University in 1944, just eight years after arriving from China. She was awarded the first-ever Wolf Prize in Physics in 1978 for dismantling the idea that there was such a thing as perfect mathematical symmetry in all “subatomic processes,” in an experiment that would be known as the “Wu Experiment.” She also became the first person to prove the theory of beta decay. She advised fellow researchers Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen-Ning Yang through the “Wu Experiment,” for which they would win the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics.

28. Tu Youyou

The first mainland Chinese scientist and the first Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize, pharmaceutical chemist Tu Youyou discovered a treatment in the 1970s – artemisinin – for malaria, based on her study of traditional Chinese medicine. She was one of three individuals to win the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery, though she received a ½ share. Now 91 years old, she is the chief scientist at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

29. Dr. Alice Hamilton

Dr. Alice Hamilton has the distinction of being the first female faculty member at Harvard University where, in 1919, she was appointed Assistant Professor of Industrial Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She was the first American physician to devote her career to the practice of occupational health, becoming a renowned expert in this field of study.

30. Sylvia Wulf

Sylvia Wulf is the President and CEO of AquaBounty and also serves as a member of the Executive Committee of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. Wulf was previously the President of Stock Yards and Senior Vice President Merchandising for US Foods. Prior to that she was the President of Guardian Food Technologies and previously she has held several other executive level positions at other organizations.

31. Erika Smith

Erika Smith is the CEO of ReNetX Bio and in addition, she is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. Over the course of her career she has led the launch of three investment funds: the Blavatnik Fund for Innovation at Yale, the YEI (Yale) Innovation Fund, and the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) BioLife Fund in partnership with Johnson & Johnson.

32. Anna Rath

Anna Rath is the President and CEO and Director of Vestaron and is a member of the Executive Committee of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. Previously, she was the founder and CEO of NexSteppe, to develop and commercialize optimized crops for the bio-based economy. Prior to that, she led Commercial and Business Development at Ceres, an agricultural biotechnology company. Rath began her career at McKinsey & Co. and holds a master’s degree in genetics from the University of Michigan, and received her J.D. from Yale Law School.

33. Liz Lewis

Liz Lewis is Head of Global Oncology Patient Value, Policy and Access, OBU at Takeda Oncology and leads the acceleration Takeda’s efforts in securing patient access and continuing to strengthen Takeda’s patient advocacy, policy approach and initiatives. She is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. Since joining Takeda in 2002, Lewis has led the Legal function supporting the Specialty BUs/R&D (including oncology) and was a key leader in rolling out the global Legal function.

34. Sue Washer

Sue Washer is President and CEO of AGTC and is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. Previously, she worked in pharmaceutical management and research with Abbott Labs and Eli Lilly & Company. In addition, Washer has more than 30 years of senior management experience with entrepreneurial firms, including three start-ups.

35. Sofia Elizondo

Sofia Elizondo is the Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer of Brightseed, a California biotech startup which utilizes AI to detect plant-based nutritional bioactives that advance human health. Prior to co-founding Brightseed, she worked at food tech company Hampton Creek and was a special advisor to the United Nations Global Compact, among other accomplishments.

36. Dr. Cynthia Seidel-Dugan

Dr. Cynthia Seidel-Dugan is the Chief Scientific Officer for Werewolf Therapeutics, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company advancing a novel class of cancer biotherapeutics designed to enhance the body’s immune response to cancer. Dr. Seidel-Dugan was previously the Chief Scientific Officer for Potenza Therapeutics and built a pipeline of therapeutic antibodies targeting immunologic costimulatory receptors while Vice President, Biology of CoStim Pharmaceuticals.

37. Dr. Nicole Wagner

Dr. Nicole Wagner is President and CEO of LambdaVision, a biotechnology company treating patients with retinal degenerative diseases by developing a protein-based artificial retina. Dr. Wagner’s research has included producing artificial retinas onboard the International Space Station (ISS), leveraging unique clinical and commercial opportunities from the environment’s microgravity.

38. Diane Tager

Diane Tager is Vice President of Strategy and Operations for Volastra Therapeutics, a West Harlem-based biotechnology company developing a deep understanding of chromosomal instability to ultimately leverage it into life-saving therapies to treat cancer. Tager previously worked at Celgene, managing a $2 billion portfolio of strategic equity investments. Prior to her career in pharmaceuticals and biotech, she was a community health nurse. Tager serves on the Board of Directors at World Hope International.

39. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell is the first woman in the United States to have been granted an MD degree. In spite of being turned away by 10 medical schools due to her gender, Blackwell persisted and ultimately gained admission to Geneva Medical College in western New York. She went on to co-found the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children to serve the poor.

40. Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi

Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi was an American doctor who was the first woman to study at l’École de Médecine in Paris. In 1872, she created the Association for the Advancement of the Medical Education of Women to address inequities in women’s medical education. She is also known for debunking sexist myths about menstruation, writing a paper refuting a Harvard professor’s book on the matter; her paper won Harvard’s Boylston Prize and helped advance the cause of women’s rights in the field of higher education.