Annually, PharmaBoardroom conducts hundreds of interviews with global CEO’s, country managers and industry leaders in the pharma industry. While we have crossed paths with many inspiring females in these positions, out of the top 50 pharma companies, only 3 are headed by women. That is a mere 6% — this is not enough.

On International Women’s Day 2019, we share with you our list of some of the most inspirational female leaders we have met in recent years, who are driving change and innovation to improve the lives of patients.


Kiran Mazumdar Shaw

Founder, Biocon

I really believe that entrepreneurship is about being able to face failure, manage failure and succeed after failing

It wouldn’t be a list of top pharma females without Kiran Mazumdar Shaw. Now one of the richest women in India and the founder of biotech giant, Biocon, Kiran came from humble beginnings.

After attempting to follow in her father’s footsteps as a brewmaster and struggling to be taken seriously in the boys club that is the brewing industry, Kiran refused to be thwarted and set out to start her own venture.

A chance meeting led to her falling into the business of developing and manufacturing enzymes. From brewing to biotech, Kiran gradually moved into developing pharmaceuticals.

She continued to struggle as banks were fearful of lending to a young woman setting up a business in a relatively new area of innovation. They saw her as ‘high-risk’ but through perseverance and sheer determination, she raised the funds to get the business started.

Kiran is also passionate about improving the situation of the people of India and plays an active role in public health and is a crusader for affordable healthcare.

Read our recent interview with Kiran here.


Jane Griffiths

Global Head, Actelion

It goes without saying that development opportunities should be agnostic of gender. That said, programmes designed with women in mind can create a safe space for women to articulate the challenges they face and help develop strategies to address them

Jane Griffiths started her career at Janssen (Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical division) as a sales rep after completing her biotechnology degree in 1982. The straight-talking Brit worked her way up to become the first female chairman of Janssen Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA). Then, in 2017 Janssen acquired Actelion and Jane transitioned over to become Actelion’s first female global head.

When Jane first stepped into Actelion she noticed that her leadership team was entirely male. She, therefore, implemented J&J’s Women’s Leadership Initiative which aims to ensure that there are more women rising up from the junior ranks and receiving the development that they need to grow into the next generation of leaders.

“During the course of my own career, I have experienced many of the dilemmas and decisions that young, career-driven mothers find themselves having to navigate, so I am keen to be a mentor,” Jane told us in a recent interview. “My door is always open to candidly talk about these issues and share ideas,” she continued.

Read the full interview with Jane Griffiths here.


Emmanuelle Quilès

CEO, Janssen France

Get responsible for having a “ready-now” woman in your own succession plan and make sure you get presented 50% women in the pool of candidates for any position

After receiving her degree as a biotechnology engineer Emmanuelle Quilès started out her career as a clinical research associate. She held research positions at Rhône-Poulenc, Pierre Fabre, the Genetics Institute and finally Wyeth France. She worked her way up in Wyeth holding increasingly senior positions spanning the haemophilia, anti-infectives, oncology, neurology units until being appointed as the CEO. In 2009 Wyeth was acquired by the pharma giant Pfizer and Emmanuelle subsequently became the President of the world leader’s French division.

In December 2012, she left the company (and big pharma) to embark on an entrepreneurial adventure and founded Harmonium, a diabetology start-up.

A few years later (January 2015) Emmanuelle returned to big pharma armed with new skills and experiences to become the President and CEO of Janssen France.

A fierce advocate for gender equality, Emmanuelle works hard to improve life for women working at Janssen. For example, under her rule, Janssen recently partnered with Dr Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard professor and social psychologist, to roll out unconscious bias training for 100% of leaders that manage employees. The company is also partnering with universities and organisations to source diverse talent and updating job descriptions to remove outdated terminology that works to stave off diversity.

In 2016, Emmanuelle co-founded Forum Femmes et Santé (the Women and Health Forum) in collaboration with 9 female leaders from the world of health.

Read our recent interview with Emmanuelle here.


Nathalie Moll  

Director General, EFPIA

I believe that, like most sectors, we should learn to value diversity more, understand that dynamics change in a positive way as the gender balance improves

Nathalie Moll, director general of EFPIA is well loved in the industry for her kind nature and incredibly effective leadership and in 2017 was named one of the 15 leading women in biotech in Europe.

The EFPIA is the representative voice of pharmaceutical companies operating in Europe and as their leader, Nathalie is a true advocate for the people developing life-saving medicines and for the patients who need them. In December 2018 the EFPIA partnered with ITN Productions to launch #WeWontRest, a news and current affairs-style programme reporting on the ground-breaking research taking place across the pharmaceutical industry.

Prior to her role at EFPIA Nathalie worked as the Secretary-General of EuropaBio from 2010 to 2017 after holding increasingly senior positions. In 2013, under her leadership, EuropaBio ranked as the most effective European Trade Association in Brussels and that same year Nathalie won the Technovisionaries Women Innovation Award.

Nathalie has also held the position of Vice Chair of the International Council of Biotech Associations (ICBA) since its inception in 2014 to 2016 and was elected Chair of the ICBA in June 2016 for a 2-year term.

Read Nathalie’s latest contribution for PharmaBoardroom.


Clarissa Desjardins

Founder, Clementia

My advice would be that it is possible to fulfil your goals; you are so fortunate to be born in Canada where everything is possible. I am a testament to that: without any independent wealth, starting off as a young woman with only my education and a business plan, I was able to raise millions of dollars for the fulfilment of my dream and the dreams of patients in need. This is something to be grateful for and to take advantage of, so if you have the capacity and a great idea, really go for it!

Dr Clarissa Desjardins is a neurologist, award-winning serial entrepreneur, and founder and CEO of Clementia Pharmaceuticals.

Previously, Clarissa was CEO at the Center of Excellence in Personalized Medicine, a federally and privately-funded non-for-profit created to promote personalized medicine through education, policy and public-private research partnerships.

Clarissa has founded three successful biotech companies, leading all aspects of company creation including conception and financing. She founded Advanced Bioconcept, a research reagent and diagnostics company sold to NEN Life Sciences (Perkin Elmer) in 1998. She also co-founded Caprion Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company focused on proteomic biomarker discovery and drug development, where she was executive vice-president of Corporate Development. And most recently Clementia (in 2011) which is dedicated to developing treatments for ultra-rare bone disorders.

Clarissa received the BRIO award for outstanding contributions to the biotechnology industry from the Quebec Biotechnology Association, was nominated to Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and was one of Canada’s top young Canadians likely to influence the future by the Globe and Mail.

It has recently been announced that Ipsen will acquire Clementia to help boost their rare disease portfolio with Clementia’s star candidate, palovarotene. The late-stage drug candidate has rare pediatric disease and breakthrough therapy designations for the treatment of an ultra-rare bone disorder and a path to approval in 2020.

Read our recent interview with Clarissa here.


Marieta Jiménez

President & General Manager, Merck Spain

If we can demonstrate that there is a gap in the different sectors and can prove the contribution of woman can create positive economic growth, this will be the best way to help equality in the workplace. To close the gap between men and woman so society can benefit as a whole

Marieta Jiménez is president and general manager of Merck, Spain. Marieta started out her career as a pharmacist and researcher but was soon sucked in by the commercial sector which saw her working accross various roles, from market and sales to business development and intelligence.

She joined Merck in 2014 and a year later became the General Manager of Merck Sweden. Now as the general manager of the companies Spanish division and back on home soil, one of Marieta’s top priorities is “to bring equality to Spain.”

Marieta is president of the initiative ‘ClosinGap,’ a cluster of 8 leading companies– Merck, BMW Group, Repsol, Vodafone, MAPFRE, Mahou San Miguel Solán de Cabras, Meliá Hotels International and L’Oréal – all working to transform the situation for women in Spain and “to help eliminate gender barriers so that women have the same opportunities as men “. Under this initiative, Merck has released  the study ‘Cost of opportunity of the gender gap in health

Read our recent interview with Marieta here.


Renata Campos

President, Takeda Brazil

I am truly proud of my accomplishments and have never believed that gender difference could impact my professional development. My advice is quite simple: do what you like, be passionate about it, work hard and inspire your team. The recognition and opportunities will consequently appear

After a long career at Takeda, Brazilian born Renata Campos became the president of Takeda Brazil and global head of the LATAM cluster at just 39 years old and was recently been named one of the most 20 powerful women in Brazil by Forbes.

Renata started her career at Takeda as a product manager. In the 10 years between her first role at the company and the presidency, Renata was area head in Latin America, general manager in Turkey and head of the Cluster of South America/General manager in Argentina.

“I embraced development opportunities and I have a passion for my work. I’ve always trusted my team a lot and tried to put myself in the other’s place, empathy. But more than achieving results, I want my legacy to be sustainable, that the leaders I grow and what we have built together really make a difference in the lives of our patients.”


Cristina Garmendia

Former Minister of Science & Innovation, Spain

For administrations to be, in addition to promoters of innovation, innovative subjects in themselves, we must know and apply tools that provide a more agile, secure and effective regulatory response to present and future challenges

Dr Cristina Garmendia is a Spanish biologist and businesswoman. A force of nature, Cristina was appointed as Minister of Science and Innovation in April 2008 by the President of the Government of Spain with no previous political career under her belt.

Since her appointment, she has massively accelerated innovation and science in the country by replacing outdated laws that stunted these areas with new regulation — the Law of Science, Technology and Innovation. This new law; lobbies for collaboration and communication between the public and the private sectors, highlights the importance of developing tools to increase the impact of investment in R&D on GDP, promoted the creation of an independent agency to manage the budgets in a more efficient manner, substituted the short-term contracts of scientists with actual employment contracts, increased the importance of innovation to put it on a level with science and has put an emphasis on the promotion of scientific excellence.

During her tenure at the ministry, Garmendia promoted large-scale projects such as the Severo Ochoa program of excellence (which subsidized the best research centres in Spain) and the State Strategy for Innovation.

Before her role in the ministry, Cristina has held positions as president of the Spanish Association of Biocompanies and the Inbiomed Foundation.

In 2000 she then founded the biotechnology company, Genetrix which has since been sold. Then, 8 years later she founded a venture capital society on health and biotechnology: YSIOS. At the same time, she was also part of the Board of Directors of the Spanish Confederation of Business Organizations CEOE.

She is continuously active on numerous advisory boards both public and private.

Since 2015, Cristina has been president of the COTEC Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes innovation as the main source of economic and social development.


Read our recent interview with Cristina here.


Hong Chow

General Manager, Roche China

More women should have the ambition to reach the top, it is not about gaining power over others, more women sitting at the table enables companies to make better decisions in addressing patients’ needs as well as achieving sustainable business growth

Hong Chow became Roche China’s general manager in March 2015. The four years between then and now has seen a period of dynamic changes and reforms to China’s healthcare system.

She is a seasoned executive with over 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Before joining Roche, Hong also took key positions in other international pharmaceutical companies in China, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Hong’s international leadership experience together with her expertise in marketing and sales, business development, investor relations and financial management, enable her to set a compelling strategic vision with clear operational guidance.

When she first joined the company, in her first board meeting she announced her “China Dream” to make Roche’s innovative medicines accessible and affordable to every eligible Chinese patient.

That dream became a reality for cancer patients in 2017 when their innovative oncology drugs received national reimbursement through listing on the National Reimbursement Drug List (NRDL).

It was the first time for the Chinese government to use negotiation as a mechanism to include high-value drugs on the NRDL. 45 drugs were selected, out of which four were from Roche.

She took a gamble by agreeing with the government to reduce the prices of their drugs in order to get them reimbursed. “It was a unique opportunity to support the government’s efforts in expanding access for innovative medicines, which eventually will help the entire industry in the long run,” she explained.

The team led by Chow has been engaged in corporate social responsibility activities, especially in public awareness of various diseases, and has helped develop local pharmaceutical industry talent and promoted children’s welfare.

Notably, On June 16, 2017, Chow was honoured as the first foreigner to get the permanent residence permit in Shanghai Free Trade Zone.

Read our recent interview with Hong Chow here.


Dr Kyung Sook Kim


Various education systems are required to actively advance women into society, and institutional support should be established to ensure rational and fair evaluation and opportunity of women’s capacities

Ever since stem cell therapy first blew up the biomedical scene in 1998 it has seen rapid rises and falls in public opinion and has come up against a barrage of questions of ethics and safety. Amidst the controversy and conversation, doctor, professor and researcher, Kyung Sook Kim has persisted with unflinching focus. In 2003 she formed CORESTEM, at a time when many other stem-cell companies were starting to pop up in Korea. Ten years later, CORESTEM launched its first product—Neuronata R, a stem-cell therapy for Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Many Korean stem-cell companies that launched around the same time as CORESTEM are still yet to complete the development stage of their products.

As they were the first company to get approval for a stem cell therapy in Korea, CORESTEM became responsible for paving the way for regulation in this area in the country. “As our company was the first mover in the stem cell therapy sector, the path we took was adopted by the KFDA as regulatory guidelines,” Kim explained in a recent interview.

In 2016, Kyung Sook Kim successfully transferred technology for candidate substance ‘CS20AT04’, which is being developed as a stem-cell therapy for lupus.

Kyung Sook continues to advocate for a better balance between regulation and innovation to ensure smoother integration of stem cell therapies into health systems in the future.

Read our recent interview with Kyung Sook Kim here.


Yelda Ulu Colin

General Manager, GE Healthcare Turkey

I would like to see more C-level women in pharma supporting the other talented women. Sometimes women are too shy or reserved to make a step forward and share their ideas, or even they are too shy to ask for help. Mentoring between women and sisterhood are important supportive tools that I would like to see used more often

As the general manager of the MedTech outfit, GE Healthcare in Turkey, Yelda Ulu Colin is a big player in the Turkish governments ‘Vision 2023’ which aims to renovate the health system and underlying technologies.

Part of this Vision 2023 is being achieved via PPP (private-public partnership) to build so-called ‘city hospitals’ which are aiming to provide high-quality healthcare services at a very large scale. A project that GE has been directly involved in from the start.

Yelda has had a long and exciting career in the space of healthcare technology and worked in numerous and increasingly senior roles at Siemens Healthcare over a 19 year period.

An exciting product launched by GE and led by Yelda in the space of women’s health is new technology that allows women to take the scary and daunting experience of mammograms into their own hands.

The next-generation computational system was designed by a team of women from GE and is based on feedback from patients, technology experts and radiologists.

The system offers patients the option to use the industry’s first patient-controlled and remote-controlled compression technology.

In addition to her GE responsibilities, Yelda supports projects related to social responsibility and the presence of women in business. She also serves as President of the Turkish Medical Imaging Association since 2016.

Read our recent interview with Yelda here.


Cathy Engelbert

CEO, Deloitte LLP

As you think about the workforce of the future, women and minorities are such an important part of that future

In 2015 Cathy Engelbert was elected to CEO of Deloitte LLP, becoming the first female CEO of a major audit and consulting firm in the US.

She started out at the company after being recruited at her university campus and spent 32 years climbing the ranks working across multiple roles, from finance to pharmaceuticals.

In 2018 she was named one of Fortune’s most powerful women ranking at 18. Under her rule, Deloitte has made big bets on technologies like blockchain, robotics, and cloud, including a 2018 partnership with Google and SAP.

Since Cathy took the reigns revenue at Deloitte has been continually on the rise – up 23 percent from when she started in 2015, proving her enormous value and talent.

Cathy has a distinguished record working with several of Deloitte’s largest and most complex global clients and has served as the lead partner at several large global life sciences companies.

As the first female CEO’s ever to be appointed by one of the ‘Big Four’ it is unsurprising that she is dedicated to accelerating the careers of women with initiatives such as Deloitte University — a leadership development centre offering opportunities for feedback and sponsorship.

At the company, she has also been developing what she calls a “culture of courage” which aims to foster an environment where employees — 43% of whom are women at Deloitte — would feel empowered to speak out about anything. From this came the 16-week paid family leave program for employees who may have just welcomed a new child or are needing to care for a sick parent. Despite notable pushback from her peers, Cathy persevered and introduced the program saying, “this is the right thing to do for our people.”