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A $43 Billion Biotech Now Has a Female CEO: Brainstorm Health

July 25, 2019, 10:02 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers.

A pretty rare thing happened this morning—a woman became the chief executive of a major biopharmaceutical company.

Reshma Kewalramani, a physician and, until now, the chief medical officer at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, will become its next CEO. She’s taking over the role from Jeff Leiden, who has led the rare disease-focused firm—a company with well over $40 billion in market value as of Thursday’s close—for nearly a decade. Leiden will transition into the executive chairman role.

Vertex is known for its pioneering treatments for cystic fibrosis (although, it should be noted, the price tags associated with those drugs have elicited plenty of controversy, especially in countries with single payer health systems). And Kewalramani is a respected scientist with plenty of experience.

But the fact remains that she’ll be one of just a handful of female CEOs at a major biopharmaceutical company. There are some other notable examples of women in that role, to be sure—such as Emma Walmsley, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, one of the largest drug companies in the entire world. Anne Wojcicki, who heads up the DTC genetic testing upstart 23andMe, also comes to mind (although that company isn’t public).

But there’s a deeper divide here—not just in biopharma, but in health care at large. With a few notable exceptions (including a relative lack of a pay gap between female and male biotech CEOs), inequity in C-Suite and executive representation is rampant. Women hold somewhere between 75% and 80% of health care jobs overall (think: home care providers, nurses, and the other people on the front lines who allow the industry to function).

And, yet, just 21% of hospital CEOs are women. Across the health sector at large, things are even worse, with just about 1 in 5 executive or board member roles held by women. And if you use other metrics of leadership and inclusivity—the CEOs at leading companies in the sector, for example—the numbers only get worse.

Kewalramani, at the moment, is an exception.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee, @the_sy_guy,


Livongo pops in its Nasdaq debut. I'll have way more on this story next week (stay tuned)—but on Thursday, Livongo blew past expectations in its public debut on the Nasdaq. Shares spiked 36% in its initial day of trading; the company raised more than $350 million in the public offering and its valuation soared to about the $4.4 billion mark. I spoke with both the company's CEO and chief medical officer right after its Nasdaq debut—not just about the public offering, but the unique circumstances that drive the company's strategy on digital chronic disease maintenance. 

Health care continues to have the highest cost of data breaches. A new report from IBM Security and the Ponemon Institute finds that, for the ninth year in a row, health care firms had the highest associated costs of data breaches among all analyzed industries. Some key figures from the report: "Data breaches cost healthcare companies $429 per lost or stolen record on average – nearly 3x higher than the cross-industry average which is $150 per lost/stolen record." And, to make matters worse, the industry takes a long time to identify breaches—236 days, the report says, and then about 83 days on average to contain the relevant breach. Yikes.


Eli Lilly snags marketing approval for hypoglycemia drug. Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly won Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for its hypoglycemia drug Baqsimi on Wednesday. The drug treat severe forms of the disorder, which causes dangerously low blood sugar (Lilly has long been a diabetes and metabolic disorder specialist). What's striking about the drug is its method of administration—it's not an injectable, but rather a powder that's taken through the nose. The thinking goes that such a process could be easier than a needle-injected treatment, especially for younger patients. (Reuters)


Yet another sad chapter in the opioid crisis. When things got bad in the opioid addiction and overdose crisis, the health care industry—drug manufacturers, distributors, and physicians alike—doled out and prescribed even stronger pills, according to an Associated Press investigation. "In 2006 and 2007, the counties at the very top of the list of those receiving the most opioids were scattered about the eastern half of the U.S. By 2012, they were all in the Appalachian region. And the numbers were up dramatically," writes the AP. "For instance, in 2006, Tennessee's Hamblen County received the most opioid medication per person in the country—about 70 days' worth of a typical prescription for every man, woman, and child. By 2012, the top county was Norton, Va., and the number of days' worth of opioids was a staggering 134." (Fortune)


'Doesn't Pass the Smell Test': Investors Question Recent Development at WeWork Ahead of IPOby Rey Mashayekhi

160 Million Government Records Exposed in Data Breaches Since 2014, Study Findsby Natasha Bach

How Facebook's $5 Billion Fine Stacks Up to Other Corporate Penaltiesby Anne Sraders

How Climate Change Is Making It Harder for Us to Feed Ourselvesby Feike Sijbesma & Patrick Verkooijen

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