we shed light on the disparities people of colour face in Life Sciences and its
associated industries. Now, as Black History Month comes to a close, we want to
spotlight a number of inspirational individuals smashing through the glass
ceiling within the space.
There’s certainly no
lack of talent among our Black peers, but there is a deep, rich,
underappreciated history of ethnic minorities within Life Sciences, with a
disproportionately low percentage in leadership positions.
In fact, in the US
alone, Black Americans make up just 6% of the Life Sciences workforce compared
to the 13% they account for in the overall population. When it comes to
leadership, only 3% of Black professionals make up executive positions, according
to Nature Biotechnology.
For that reason, we
want to give worthy appreciation and acknowledgement to some prominent Black
trailblazers who’ve completely re-imagined and revolutionised the industry.
Those who are significantly impacting global health and helping Life Sciences
1. Kelly Chibale, Founding CEO of H3D and Professor of
Organic Chemistry at the University of Cape Town
Professor Chibale is
not one who’s shy of recognition. Previously, he’s been featured in Fortune as
one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders and named one of the 100 Most Influential Africans by New African Magazine.
The reason why he’s
got so many acclamations is because in 2010, Professor Chibale founded the very
first integrated drug discovery centre in Africa, H3D. The goal was and
continues to be, discovering and developing life-saving medicines for diseases
that predominantly affect African patients, as well as building Africa-specific
models to improve treatment outcomes.
hopes to provide longstanding opportunities for Life Sciences professionals in
Africa. So far, he’s stuck to his word, growing H3D from an initial small
handful of employees to a headcount of over 80.
Together, the team
at H3D work on research for tuberculosis and antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
Plus, in 2018, the centre formed a five-year partnership with German-based
pharmaceutical company Merck KGaA and Medicines for Malaria Venture in order to
work on drug discovery for the life-threatening disease.
Chibale’s role in Life Sciences doesn’t stop at H3D. He also teaches Organic
Chemistry at the University of Cape Town, is a Full Member of the UCT
Institution of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, a Tier 1 South Africa
Research Chair in Drug Discovery, and founding Director of the South African
Medical Research Council Drug Discovery and Development Research Unit at UCT.
As if he wasn’t busy
enough, Professor Chibale is also an Associate Editor for the highly regarded
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.
2. Abraham Ceesay, President of Cereval Therapeutics
Unlike the majority
of Life Sciences professionals, Abraham Ceesay didn’t attend medical school or
acquire a PhD. As many reading this will relate, he didn’t feel drawn in any
specific direction after college and had no idea what his dream job looked like
or what route he should take.
Then in the early
2000s, while Abraham was studying for a master’s in Business Administration at
Suffolk University, he found the world of biotechnology. It was there that he
set his sights on Genzyme (now named Sanofi) and worked his socks off to secure an internship with
and drive paid off, and throughout his time at Genzyme, Abraham’s hard work
awarded him more responsibilities and a multitude of roles, including Field
Sales Specialist, Senior Product Manager, and eventually Director.
successful years with Genzyme, Abraham decided to pivot his career to take on
new commercial and operating challenges at smaller firms around the Boston
area. More recently, between 2019 and 2021, Abraham served as CEO at
rare-disease start-up, Tiburio Therapeutics. During his time there, he fully
integrated the company, which led to investigational new drug application enablement
for a rare neuroendocrine tumour.
So, what’s Abraham
Ceesay up to today?
Currently, he serves
as President at Cereval Therapeutics – a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical
company that partners with Pfizer and Bain Capital. Their joint mission is to transform
the lives of people suffering from neuroscience diseases, including
Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and schizophrenia.
Abraham took a
different route into Life Sciences, but it just goes to show that if you really
want it, nothing is out of reach! On top of his impressive career, he also
serves on the Board of Directors for Life Science Cares and the Board of
Trustees at the Museum of Science.
3. Tia Lyles-Williams, Founding CEO of LucasPye Bio
is an ultimate pioneer in the Life Sciences industry, holding the crown for the
very first Queer African American woman to own and lead a large-scale biopharma
and biotech manufacturing organisation.
With 20 years of
experience, she’s also the type of leader who proceeds with what she believes,
making LucasPye Bio the first company in the space to have 50% of its C-suite
team seated by women and 85% of them being from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Tia hopes that the
level of diversity she demonstrates in her own company is reflected by Big
Pharmas and other established Life Sciences companies. She also believes
diversity in the industry will be amplified by the increasing number of Life
Sciences start-ups founded by women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and those from ethnic
So, what does
LucasPye Bio do?
After being founded
by Tia in 2018, LucasPye Bio remains to be the only large-scale biologics
contract developing manufacturing organisation within the Pennsylvania area.
They offer their clients a wide range of services, including fast-tracking the
clinical development of biologics for regulatory approval, manufacturing
biologics below standard market price, and accelerating treatments into the
global market for commercial sale.
And what makes
LucasPye Bio different?
Well, aside from
their focus on diversity setting them apart, LucasPye Bio’s unique approach
includes innovative digital transformation of development and manufacturing
processes as well as an insightful and authentic dedication to social change in
the biopharma/biotech space.
They hope to make
biotherapeutic drugs more affordable while transforming the economy and
strengthening healthcare offerings within underserved communities around the
globe. What’s more, as the company continues to scale, they’ve acquired a
60,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in an underserved Philadelphia
community. Tia and her team have committed to hiring a percentage of staff from
the surrounding neighbourhood – bravo!
4. Bruce K. Redding Jr., Founder of Transdermal
Some might say that
Bruce K. Redding Jr. is out of this world! That’s because before pursuing a
career in Life Sciences, he was a NASA Mission Specialist. Since moving away
from space, he’s made it his mission to revolutionise drug delivery,
particularly for diabetes patients.
groundbreaking technology has already been used in food tech, developing family
favourites like Fruit Roll-Ups, Oreos, and Hamburger Helper, to name a few.
Now, as Bruce sets
his sights on Life Sciences, his microencapsulation technology is being
leveraged as a way to deliver insulin to diabetes patients through a patch,
separating itself from current diabetes treatments by being non-invasive and
As the market
currently stands, approved transdermal patches can only deliver small
molecule-based medicines. Transdermal Specialities Global’s innovative
technology can administer large-size molecules like insulin, Parkinson’s
medication, and potentially over 170 other drugs that are currently too large
for existing patch delivery systems and instead require pumps or injections.
So how has Bruce and
his team improved what already exists?
The technology uses
an ultrasound system that opens the skin’s pores to essentially push the
medicine inside the body. The Transdermal Specialities Global team has already
demonstrated the use of the insulin patch to the FDA, revealing that it was
able to keep a patient’s glucose levels in a safe range over several days.
If the patch is
approved, it will completely transform diabetes treatment across the globe and
ultimately give patients a better quality of life.
But, of course,
Bruce wasn’t going to stop there. He and his team also have another patch for
Parkinson’s disease that is currently in Phase I of clinical trials. We look
forward to seeing how their work transforms drug delivery systems!
5. Charles Cathlin, CEO and Co-Founder of TruGenomix
served in the US Air Force and Public Health Service for 23 years until his
retirement in 2018. He also is a former Chief of Staff of the Defense and
Veterans Brain Injury Center, where he provided operational and strategic
leadership to support traumatic brain injury clinical research programmes.
Before that, he served as Chief of Radiology, Anesthesiology and Neurology
Devices at the FDA.
navigating the waters of Life Sciences, Charles is dedicated to improving
people’s lives by paving the way for precision in behavioural health. His
company, TruGenomix, was built to help tackle the mental health crisis
resulting in 21 veteran suicides daily. Together, the team pioneers the use of
genomics to diagnose and treat behavioural health disorders.
with Illumina Accelerator and scientists from Mount Sinai and the Max PlanckInstitute of Psychiatry, TruGenomix succeeded in developing the first-to-market
patented genomic biomarker assay to identify PTSD risk.
The technology is
the first of its kind and can be integrated with other evidence-based tools as
part of the TruGenomix behavioural health platform. The idea is that the
platform will provide physicians with a ‘whole picture’ of their patient’s
health, leading to earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment.
As a veteran-owned
business, the founding mission of improving the lives of military service
members and veterans remains at its roots. However, due to an evolving
behavioural health landscape, the team understands that many more people could
benefit from improvements in PTSD diagnoses and treatment platforms, and so
they’ve expanded their mission to embrace a broader range of people, including
first responders, healthcare professionals, individuals in high-risk
occupations and trauma-exposed communities.
Charles says, “ours
is a mission seeded in service: we’re working to reduce suffering and save
lives through objective and more effective behavioural healthcare.”
The stories shared
in this post are ones that stood out to us as particularly inspirational.
However, we are aware there are many more extraordinary, talented, and
motivated Black leaders within Life Sciences.
If there are any
careers, stories, or journeys that have touched you and your loved ones and
were not mentioned in this post, we’d love to hear them and include them in a
follow-up article. As always, you can get in touch with us here.