5 Black Leaders Making Huge Strides in Life Sciences

8-9 Minutes

Previously, we shed light on the disparities people of colour face in Life Sciences and its...

By Emily Davies

Content Writer

Previously, 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 ecosystems flourish.

 


 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.

 

Professor Chibale 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.

 

But Professor 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 the company.

 

His determination 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.

 

After eight 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

 

Tia Lyles-Williams 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 minority backgrounds.

 

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 Specialities Global 

 

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.

 

Bruce’s 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 needleless.

 

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 

 

Charles Cathlin 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.

 

Nowadays, while 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.

 

After partnering 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.

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