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ICYMI: Insights from my time with Vicki Sato at BIO CEO & Investor Conference

February 15, 2018
At this week’s BIO CEO & Investor Conference the idea of saving the “best for last” certainly did apply. I had the great pleasure of moderating the final fireside chat with Vicki Sato, Chairman of Denali Therapeutics and Vir Biotechnologies, and co-Chair of Mayor de Blasio’s Life Sciences Advisory Council. Vicki’s career journey in the life sciences industry is as diverse as it is impressive, and she opened up to the audience about just a few of the successes and challenges she’s encountered along the way.

In case you missed it live, I’m sharing my top 3 takeaways from this raw and inspiring session:
The life sciences/biotech industry wouldn’t exist without people who are willing to take tremendous risk.

This industry has been built on taking major risks not only in science, but also from a business and financial perspective. A persistent belief in yourself that you can always do better and taking those tough challenges on, that while ridiculous to some, are equally irresistible.

Vicki’s current risk of choice? Getting involved with companies who are focused on some of the most complex healthcare challenges of our time, including Hepatitis C and Cystic Fibrosis. “If someone doesn’t take on these diseases we won’t improve the rate of progress against them… I feel I have a scientific and moral obligation to get involved.”

New York City is ripe for “irresistible risk taking” in this industry.

NYC is already a hub for biomedical innovation – an epicenter for academia, medical institutions and both private and public funding at your fingertips. 

The city and state are now providing incentives to keep healthcare innovation companies local, versus moving to the likes of Boston or Silicon Valley, and progress is being made a rate faster than ever to make the necessary adjustments to other perceived bottlenecks, such as challenging zoning laws and expensive rent.

All the more reason we are thrilled to be partnering with the state to open the doors to our JLABS @ NYC site in June of this year!

Diversity, in all senses of the word, is critical in this business.

Cultivating a culture of diversity and inclusion in the life sciences industry was a major topic at this year’s conference. Vicki highlighted that diversity certainly impacts the bottom line of business, emphasizing that in her experience it hasn’t been necessarily “in the labs” where we’re lacking. The challenge lies in maintaining that diversity at the management and board level, especially when it comes to gender disparity.

She highlighted that diversity of ALL kinds is impactful, beyond the traditional definition. Diverse management skills, such as the ability to raise significant quantities of funding on a sustainable basis, are also key when we think about influencing this industry.

It’s conversations like this that remind me why I’m so proud to be a part of a company that is passionate about these issues. While we’ve come a long way in NYC, it’s going to take banding together as a community to ensure we’re moving the needle and enabling this ecosystem to thrive.