Women make up 60-70 percent of roles in the biotechnology sector in Israel, a number that has not changed in almost a decade, according to the Nisha group, an Israeli recruitment and placement firm that specializes in biotech, biomed, fintech, and cleantech. But while women are ahead in the field, leading research teams and heading clinical trials, men still dominate upper management and executive roles, Nisha noted in a comprehensive report focused on women in biotech that was first published in 2012.
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On Sunday – International Women’s Day 2020 – Lizi Shoov London, Nisha’s partner and managing director of the company’s Biotech division, confirmed to NoCamels that “the numbers have not changed.”
Professor Rivka Carmi, former president of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev — the first and only woman to hold this position at a university — says that despite the expectations that the field would mature and more women would take on executive roles, this hasn’t been the case yet.
“There are a lot of female researchers involved in biotech companies,” she tells NoCamels, but “there are not enough women in leadership roles — or who have their own startups.” In a time where high-tech and biotech go hand in hand, Carmi says, women only make up “a third of the pie, not 50/50.” The latest High-Tech Human Capital Report 2019 published by Start-Up Nation Central and the Israel Innovation Authority last month showed that the rate of women employed in the sector is at a standstill at about 30 percent, with just 22 percent for technology positions and 18 percent for tech management roles.
Carmi, who made it her mission during her 12 years as BGU president to increase cooperation between academia and industry – she called it “applied research” – set out to work with government authorities to push major biotech initiatives that would potentially make the future of women as biotech leaders a reality. These initiatives included the National Institute For Biotechnology In The Negev (NIBN), established as a company in November 2009 through a trilateral agreement between the Israeli government, founder Dr. Edgar de Picciotto, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, to become the first independent research entity established under the auspices of a university in Israel.
While she didn’t specifically do so to put women in executive biotech positions, “this was very unusual at the time,” she says of NIBN’s mission to “bridge the gap between basic and applied research, while figuring out how to go about commercializing novel ideas and technologies” developed by NIBN researchers.
“I see how difficult it is for women to get leadership roles, so I am very vocal about it,” she says. “Women are in the minority in terms of having their own biotech startups. Many of them have to balance career and family. Not many of them want to make that concession. It’s a lot of work building a startup and attracting investors.”
“Every woman will tell you that she encounters obstacles,” Professor Carmi tells NoCamels.
Reaching for executive biotech roles
Israel’s biotechnology and life sciences industry is a fast-growing sector, with at least 1,600 companies, including nearly 1,400 companies that were established since 2009 (that’s 139 companies every year), according to the 2019 Israeli Life Sciences Report from the Israel Advanced Technology Industries’ (IATI.) The sector, which employs 83,000 people across the country, according to the report, has seen upwards of $1.5 billion from investors.
Even so, Dr. Irit Yaniv says that the Israeli biotech sector is “enriched with but not yet dominated by women.”
Dr. Yaniv is “a less typical example,” as she calls herself. The accomplished medtech and biopharma executive is a co-founder and investor now serving as a managing partner for health care venture capital fund Accelmed Ventures II. Dr. Yaniv has held top-level positions as CEO of heart medical device firm Impulse Dynamics and Type 2 diabetes treatment firm Metacure and a number of chairperson and board member positions at various medtech, biotech, and life science companies. She also co-founded Type 2 diabetes firm Digma Medical and obesity treatment firm NitiNotes Surgical.
But she also knows firsthand the obstacles women run into in the biotech industry. “We do see many women holding mid-level positions, however when it comes to C-level (specifically, CEOs and chairperson positions), the picture is not much different from other sectors,” she says.
And there is so much room for improvement. “Women are still lacking the extensive networking ties and some assistance from our peers,” she tells NoCamels. “Women, especially younger women, are keen for proper mentoring to assist them to grow and stay at the top. I believe developing the right networks as well as other soft skills, will make a difference in the long run.”
Realizing the need for mentorship and a support network for both newbies and veterans in the industry, Dr. Yaniv co-established a forum called Life Science Women. The open forum, which got too big for WhatsApp and is now on Telegram and LinkedIn, aims to establish a women’s network for professional topics in the life sciences space, including HR, content, questions, lectures, and education.
The forum currently includes 300 women who use it on a daily basis, Dr. Yaniv says, with questions such as ‘Who is willing to give a presentation at a conference?” or “Who knows a great service provider for regulatory matters?”
Dr. Yaniv also believes another gap that prevents women from reaching high-level positions is the “dissonance between how women perceive themselves and their real competencies and capabilities.” For that reason, Dr. Yaniv, together with Ronit Harpaz, co-founder and CEO of medical device company Endoron Medical, and the support of the 8400 – The Health Network, with a mission to advance the healthcare and life science industry in Israel, will be establishing an academic organization for junior women who have been recognized as having the potential to reach key managerial positions in their organizations. The academy will focus on teaching soft skills, networking, and specific theoretical content. It will also feature inspirational talks from prominent role models and theory segments from professional speakers.
“Working together with the talented women that made it to the top, I believe we can make the change and, in the future, see more women in C-positions, including directors,” she says. “My wish is that there will be no need for specific women guidelines for places like board of directors, as there will be enough women holding senior positions everywhere.”
Professor Carmi and Dr. Yaniv are just a few of the Israeli women who have made great strides for women in biotechnology. As the world marked International Women’s Day 2020 on Sunday, NoCamels wanted to highlight some of the leading women making an impact in the field. The list is by no means comprehensive.
Professor Shulamit Levenberg
Professor Shulamit Levenberg, dean of the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, is one of the world’s leading scientists in the field of tissue engineering. As the head of the 3D Bio-Printing Center for Cell and Biomaterials Printing, launched last year, Levenberg is poised to lead the Technion’s tissue engineering into new territory. Professor Levenberg’s stem cell and tissue engineering research has shown that it is possible to generate tissues and blood vessels in a lab that can in the future be implanted and integrated into human hosts.
Professor Levenberg is also the co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Aleph Farms, a clean meat Israeli company that unveiled the world’s first lab-grown steak prototype grown from animal cells in Dec 2018. Founded in 2017, Aleph Farms has raised more than $14 million and is working to transform its prototype into a commercial product.
Professor Levenberg has co-authored more than 100 publications, including six in 2019. In 2007, she appeared on Scientific American’s list of 50 leading scientists, Last year, she was named one of 50 influential women in 2019 by Israeli magazine Lady Globes.
Dr. Ora Dar
Dr. Ora Dar has almost three decades of science, tech, and management experience, including 13 years as the head of the life sciences sector at the Israel Innovation Authority (then the Office of the Chief Scientist.) She also spent 16 years on academic research and has been a venture capital consultant for over two decades.
Today, Dr. Dar leads the National Infrastructure Forum for Research and Development (Telem) at the Israel Innovation Authority. She is also among the leaders of the Israeli National Genomic and Personalized Medicine Initiative, which includes a research-oriented genomic-clinical database of 100K volunteers.
Dr. Dar co-chairs the annual MIXiii-BIOMED Conference and Exhibition, a leading biotechnology and healthcare conference for both Israeli and international professionals.
Anat Naschitz is the managing director of OrbiMed, a dedicated healthcare fund management company with investments covering the entire healthcare spectrum, ranging from biopharmaceuticals to medical devices. Naschitz has over 17 years of experience in the healthcare industry. She also spent seven years as an Associate Partner for McKinsey & Company in London, managing strategy and M&A projects for senior management of some of the world’s top-notch pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
Naschitz led pharmaceutical spinout work which resulted in the creation of two European biotech companies. She then joined Apax Partners where she focused on life sciences investments. She has served as a director and advisor to the boards of numerous life science companies and investors.
Professor Varda Shalev
Professor Varda Shalev is the director of the KSM Kahn-Sagol-Maccabi Research and Innovation Institute and a primary care physician at Maccabi Health Care Services, Israel’s second-largest HMO.
She recently announced that she would be stepping down from the institute to establish a digital health startup.
The institute she’s led has been behind a number of important collaborations introducing advanced tech into Maccabi’s services. These include a partnership with Medial EarlySign, a Hod Hasharon-based medtech company, to help identify patients who run a high risk of developing complications from the flu, and a partnership with Ibex Medical Analytics, an Israeli artificial intelligence-powered cancer diagnostics company, to deploy its system that detects and grades cancer in breast biopsies at Maccabi’s pathology institute, the largest pathology lab in Israel.
She first established the Medical Informatics Department at Maccabi in 2000, which she then led for 12 years, and was responsible for developing its computerized systems encompassing data from two million members and 9,000 care providers. She’s also behind the development of multiple disease registries to support chronic disease management.
Professor Shalev is an associate professor at Tel Aviv University’s School of Public Health, where she teaches big data and medical informatics. She is the author and co-author of over 200 publications. Her research background is in epidemiology, medical informatics and predictive analytics in community healthcare.
Dr. Roni Mamluk
Dr. Roni Mamluk is the CEO of Ayala Pharmaceuticals, an Israeli clinical-stage precision oncology company that filed for a $50 million IPO on the Nasdaq this week. Ayala Pharmaceuticals develops and commercializes potential small molecule therapeutics for patients suffering from rare and aggressive cancers. The company’s lead product, AL101, was granted orphan drug designation by the FDA in 2019, and has completed preclinical and phase I studies.
Dr. Mamluk was previously the director of preclinical development at Chiasma, an Israeli late-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on rare and debilitating diseases, and led the firm as CEO from 2013-2015 followed by a stint as chief development officer. Chiasma raised over $200 million before going public in 2015. Dr. Mamluk is now a board member of the company.
Prior to Chiasma, Dr. Mamluk was a principal scientist at American company Adnexus Therapeutics, acquired in 2007 by Bristol-Myers Squibb, and headed preclinical development of the company’s oncology.
Dr. Nuha Higazi
Dr. Nuha Higazi, a neurology doctor, is the CTO and co-founder of PamBio, a biotechnology company developing drug therapy for hemorrhagic stroke (intracranial bleeding and ICH) and other acute bleeding conditions.
The company, co-founded with her husband Professor Abd Higazi with the support of Hadassah Medical Center’s technology transfer company Hadasit, was conceived as part of the Nazareth-based incubator (NGT)3 and has received $7 million in a Series A round and $3 million from both (NGT)3 and the Israel Innovation Authority since it was founded in 2014.
Dr. Higazi is also the CTO and co-founder of medical device company Plas-free, which has developed ClearPlasma, a medical device that helps coagulation and complex treatments for massive bleeding. The company was founded in 2017.
Professor Mouna Maroun
Professor Mouna Maroun researches PTSD on animal models while focusing on developmental differences at the Univerity of Haifa’s Sagol Department of Neurobiology. She heads the University’s Laboratory for Neurobiology of Emotions.
In 2018, Professor Maroun was named by the business publication TheMarker as one of the top 20 women changing the face of the Israeli medical scene today.
“As an Arab woman, my belief is that the revolution towards gender and ethnic equality starts top-down at academic institutions,” she told the University of Haifa magazine in 2018. “Recruiting outstanding women as faculty members– Jewish, Arab, Ethiopian and Haredi – especially in sciences and STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] subjects is one of the first steps to ensure the representation of women in higher education and to convey a clear message to the younger generation that there is no glass ceiling for girls.”
Dr. Anat Cohen Dayag
Since joining cancer immunotherapy and diagnostic discovery company Compugen in 2002, Dr. Anat Cohen-Dayag has held numerous positions including vice president of R&D as she climbed up the ladder. In 2010, Dr. Cohen-Dayag was named Compugen’s president and CEO and has been on the company’s board of directors since 2014.
Last month, Compugen announced the expansion of its cooperation agreement with international firm Bristol-Myers Squibb to conduct cancer treatment trials. This week, the company reported promising data from on ongoing Phase 1 trial of its lead product candidate, COM701, a first-in-class anti-PVRIG antibody, for the treatment of solid tumors.
Compugen is traded both on the Nasdaq and the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE.) Anat Cohen-Dayan is one of two women CEOs of a Tel Aviv 125 company, the largest companies traded on the TASE
Dr. Cohen-Dayag is also the director of the Israel Advanced Technology Industry (IATI), Israel’s umbrella organization of high-tech and life science industries, heading up more than 700 members from every level and aspect of the ecosystem including venture capital funds, R&D centers, and startup incubators.
Professor Ester Segal
Professor Ester Segal is currently leading a research group focusing on the broad interface between materials science and biotechnology in the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. She is also head of the Esther Segal lab at the Technion, which implements a multidisciplinary approach that couples materials science with engineering, and chemistry with biotechnology to address problems in biotechnology, food engineering, and medicine.
Professor Segal is a recipient of the 2019 Advances in Measurement Science Lectureship Award for her work on photonic crystal sensing.
Last year, she was named among the top 50 most influential women in Israel in 2019 by Lady Globes magazine.
Dr. Kinneret Livnat-Savitzky
Dr. Kinneret Livnat-Savitzky the CEO of Israeli biotechnology accelerator FutuRx Ltd established in 2014. She joined Compugen’s board of directors in 2018.
She previously completed a seven-year stint as CEO of clinical-stage, publicly-traded biopharma company BioLineRX, which focuses on oncology, as well as seven years as VP of biology at Compugen.
Nora Nseir is the co-founder and CTO of Nurami Medical, a medical device company with a breakthrough nanofiber and sealant technology for the soft tissue repair market. Nseir, a biomedical engineer co-founded the startup in 2014 with Dr. Amir Bahar, a multidisciplinary entrepreneur and neuroscientist. Nseir previously held R&D positions in the medical devices industry focusing on the development of bone grafts and hemostatic devices.
In 2015, she co-founded the Arab Women in Science forum, which encourages Arab women and girls in sciences and entrepreneurship.
In 2017 and 2018, Nseir was also included in the Lady Globes “Women of Influence” list.
UPDATE: This article was updated on March 10, 2020 to include Professor Varda Shalev, Anat Naschitz, and Dr. Roni Mamluk.