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BIO’s New CEO Michelle McMurry-Heath- Exemplifying the Diverse Biotech Ecosystem

At a time when most companies are challenged with planning their initial diversity and inclusion dialogues, The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) had already introduced their first black, woman CEO.  She is the third chief executive of the organization that made their announcement on May 14, 2020 and Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath assumed this role as President and CEO on Jun1, 2020. Dr. McMurry-Heath succeeds Congressmen Jim Greenwood who stepped down in October rounding out his 14-year tenure leading the organization and lobbying to Congress to protect drug developers and promote innovation.

BIO is the world’s largest science and public advocacy organization, and hosts the industry’s most central annual conventions. The organization has grown, graciously, to be a major influential advocate for science innovation and it is surprising that with Dr. McMurry-Heath’s appointment, not only will she be the first black women leader, but the first with a professional and academic background in science. As a medical doctor and molecular immunologist, Michelle has proven industry leadership amassed from previous industry roles at Johnson & Johnson as Global Head of Evidence Generation for Medical Device Companies and then Vice President of Global External Innovation and Global Leader for Regulatory Sciences, as founding director of the Aspen Institute, and as Associate Director of Science appointed to the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDER) by President Obama.

Greenwood’s ties to Washington were instrumental in the growth of the BIO organization and with McMurry-Heath’s past experience as Senior Policy Advisor for Health, Social and Biomedical Innovation Policy, BIO will maintain impact and presence. The board was undoubtedly vigilant in identifying a successor that exemplifies the multidisciplinary ecosystem that biotech embodies and selected a leader that will continue to elevate the organization’s mission and influence.

Dr. McMurry-Heath brings with her the energy and level of preparedness needed to amplify the organization’s mission of supporting companies that are making scientific breakthroughs improving human health. With the coronavirus disrupting both the focus of our sector and government policy, albeit an overdue requisite to progress, the nation at this critical time needs not only drivers of innovation but advocates in Washington. The BIO trade association has long been on such a campaign as it has committed its 37 years of existence to representing biotechnology companies and academic and state institutions in its mission to improve health and environmental stewardship.

On Jun 8 2020, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization kicked off their first ever BIO Digital conference. The organization presented timely leadership panels centered on both the COVID-19 crisis and equity, diversity and inclusion issues impacting out world. McMurry-Heath moderated a discussion with black CEO’s of biotechnology companies and leaders of BIO about their “unique perspectives on being pioneers in developing medicines”. Topics covered business priorities, advancing diversity in clinical trials, and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented populations.

As part of BIO Digital’s special three-part plenary session on COVID-19 vaccines, sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath also moderated a Fireside Chat with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health. This would be a reunion for the two, having met for an interview Michelle had with Anthony at The Aspen Institute 15-years ago. Dr. Fauci expressed his surprise about the disease with how “efficient it was in its ability to transmit”. In turn, McMurry-Heath noted how “the industry has been efficient in rising its response to COVID where, over 16 weeks, member companies within BIO have launched over 500 drug and vaccine programs”.  A major theme for the industry during this time has been “collaboration”. Dr. McMurry -Heath admits “we’ve never seen this quickly targeted and collaborative scientific approach from the bio community.”  She posed the question-“How do we keep this cooperation going?  How do we ensure that all of this energy and investment do not go to waste once the pandemic subsides?”

Dr. Fauci, “heartened” by all of the companies “stepping up to the plate’, is hopeful that the industry efforts will afford them the “capability to respond even better in the future.”

For all the innovators in biotech, and especially for the women trailblazers, expect that Dr. McMurry-Heath will champion for diverse representation, not only at the C-Suite, but equally in the discovery of drug therapies benefitting the rare disease community and bring attention to the unmet needs of underrepresented populations. The CEO appointment of McMurry-Heath doesn’t echo trend nor the tokenism that otherwise overshadows the credit due to qualified colleagues. When BIO contacted Dr. McMurry-Heath in early January, the only apparent bias was their pursuit of the best human to lead the organization.  A strong indicator of the ‘bio revolution‘ is the manifestation of trusted, multidisciplinary relationships coming full circle to impact our global economy in a positive and powerful way.  Within a diverse life science ecosystem, the message is clear- effective innovation is reflective of inclusivity as we advance biotechnology for the betterment of society.