Recognizing 11 Asian-American Executives Shaping the Future of Biopharmaceuticals

Dr. Jingyi Liu, clinical fellow in medicine, Brigham & Women’s Hospital

As we celebrate the end of AAPI Heritage Month, we acknowledge the vital role that Asian American and Pacific Islander professionals have made in the biopharmaceutical industry.

We are honored to present an update to our 2021 feature on 11 AAPI professionals shaping the future of biopharma, again selected for their commitment to solving health problems, integrity in leadership, and dedication to patients and future innovators.

Eric Dai, investor, Dimension

Recent data from the MassBio 2023 DEI Report highlights progress since our last feature, with the percentage of Asian-identifying board directors rising from 13% in 2021 to 16% in 2023. However, biopharma professionals identifying as Asian remain significantly under-represented when it comes to positions of leadership, representing 23% of the biopharma workforce, but only 15% of executive leadership. 

This year, we asked honorees to share a personal note to the question “why is AAPI representation in biopharma important to you?”, a few of their responses can be found below. Join us in honoring these exceptional individuals, recognizing their commitment to equitable healthcare for all and advocacy for a more inclusive biopharmaceutical sector.

Rod Wong, managing partner and chief investment officer, RTW Investments

Rod Wong, managing partner, chief investment officer, RTW Investments

Rod manages the firm’s investments focused on innovative drug development. Investments include Rocket Pharmaceuticals, Immunocore Holdings, and Mirati Therapeutics (acquired by Bristol Myers Squibb for $5.8 billion in January). 

Why is AAPI representation in biopharma important to you?

When I was young, I saw many Asian Americans in science, but extraordinarily few in leadership positions. I’m inspired and grateful to those who have helped reduce barriers, and also see it as a reminder of our responsibility to ensure progress continues to be made for those who follow.”

Arthur Kuan, CEO, CG Oncology

Arthur Kuan, CEO, CG Oncology

Arthur serves as Chairman & CEO of Irvine, Calif.-based CG Oncology. Arthur lost his father to cancer, a loss which inspired him to take bold steps in advancing oncolytic immunotherapies. The company’s lead program is for non-muscle invasive bladder cancer. 

At Moffitt Cancer Center, Arthur serves on the IP Commercialization Strategy Committee. Arthur is a Founding Member of Ally Bridge Group, a global healthcare-focused investment platform, and played an active role in managing the fund’s portfolio companies.

He led CG Oncology through a $437 million IPO in January.

Gaurav Shah, CEO, Rocket Pharmaceuticals

Gaurav Shah is the co-founder and CEO of Cranbury, NJ-based Rocket Pharma, a developer of gene therapies. He previously worked as a Global Program Head in the Cell & Gene Therapies Unit at Novartis, where he had strategic oversight of 12 functions and helped spearhead pivotal trials with CART-19 for patients with leukemia and lymphoma.

Rocket’s marnetegragene autotemcel (Kresladi) for Leukocyte Adhesion Deficiency-1 (LAD-1) is under review by the FDA with a PDUFA date of June 30, 2024. Another program for Fanconi Anemia is under review by European regulators.

Najat Khan, Chief R&D and Chief Commercial Officer, Recursion Pharma

Najat Khan is chief R&D officer and chief commercial officer at Salt Lake City-based Recursion, a leader in applying machine learning and other technologies to drug discovery. She leads Recursion’s research and development, oversees its emerging commercial capabilities, and serves on Recursion’s Board of Directors.

Najat Khan, chief R&D officer, chief commercial officer, Recursion

She previously was the chief data science officer and global head of strategy and portfolio organization for innovative medicine R&D at Johnson & Johnson.

Why is AAPI representation in biopharma important to you?

Representation matters in building trust and engaging diverse patient populations. Having AAPI professionals in leadership and research roles ensures that the health needs of the AAPI community are addressed. For example, this ensures diversity in clinical trials, so our medicines are developed in representative populations, leading to more effective and safer therapies for everyone. Moreover, representation shifts traditional mindsets, fostering sustained change and evolving society toward a more inclusive culture.”

Ying Huang, CEO, Legend Biotech

Ying Huang, CEO, Legend Biotech

Ying Huang is the CEO of Somerset, NJ-based Legend Biotech, the developer of cilta-cel (Carvykti), the BCMA-directed T-cell therapy for multiple myeloma.

Why is AAPI representation in biopharma important to you?

I have encountered numerous Asian American colleagues working in the biopharma industry. Their roles range from R&D, clinical development, manufacturing, regulatory affairs, sales & marketing, and management. However, I can tell from firsthand experience that there are far fewer AAPI folks in leadership roles than in R&D. We call it the “bamboo ceiling”.

Part of that may be rooted in the Asian culture in which we were encouraged to pursue a professional career such as science, engineering, or medicine by our parents. Part of that was from the stereotypic perception that AAPI are not outgoing and good at just following instructions. I feel strongly about AAPI representation in the industry as I see many outstanding AAPI leaders who have demonstrated capability of leading companies big and small. They may come with strong science and technical background, but they can also lead a franchise or a company with business acumen and people skills. We must encourage the next generation AAPI biopharma leaders to be the spokespersons and role models.” 

Jingrong Jean Cui, scientific founder, president and CEO, BlossomHill Therapeutics

Jean Cui, founder and CEO, BlossomHill Therapeutics

Jean Cui is the scientific founder and CEO of San Diego-based BlossomHill Therapeutics, the developer of small molecules for cancer and autoimmune disease that raised $100 million Series B financing in February. She is the lead inventor of three FDA approved medicines — crizotinib (Xalkori), lorlatinib (Lobrena) and repotrectinib (Augtyro).

Prior to BlossomHill, she was the scientific founder of San Diego-based Turning Point Therapeutics. That company was acquired by Bristol Myers Squibb in June 2022 for $4.1 billion

Alice Zhang, co-founder and CEO, Verge Genomics

Alice Zhang, co-founder and CEO, Verge Genomics

Alice Zhang is the co-founder and CEO of South San Francisco-based Verge Genomics. Verge uses artificial intelligence to develop drugs diseases like ALS, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. She discussed the company’s platform and strategy on The Long Run podcast in April 2018 and co-wrote a guest editorial on TR in Feb. 2023 about how drug discovery needs to first generate more and better data before it can fully take advantage of the latest advancements in artificial intelligence.

Why is AAPI representation in biopharma important to you?

AAPI representation is important to highlight the critical contributions that immigrants and children of immigrants have made to creating the thriving innovation economy we have today.”

Mathai Mammen, president, CEO and chairman, FogPharma

Mathai Mammen, chairman, president and CEO, FogPharma

Mathai Mammen is CEO, President and Chairman at FogPharma, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company based in Cambridge, Mass., that is dedicated to creating medicines that deliver potentially life-changing impact for people and patients. Before joining Fog Pharma in June 2023, Mathai was a member of the executive committee at Johnson & Johnson, where he served as executive vice president of pharmaceuticals, R&D. Under Mathai’s leadership, Janssen R&D executed 40+ acquisitions and licenses and 350+ strategic partnerships and collaborations. A key component of his strategy was data science, which he sought to apply to every aspect of discovering and developing medicines. Mathai led his team to global approvals of eight new medicines, including Tremfya, Darzalex Faspro, Balversa, Carvykti, Rybrevant, Ponvory, Spravato and Tecvayli.

Why is AAPI representation in biopharma important to you?

I fundamentally believe that the success of a group or team rests on our differences as individuals. Its impacts also reach far beyond the walls of any one company: Inclusive representation in drug development is essential if we are to develop medicines that can address the diverse healthcare needs of our global community.”

Seemay Chou, Founder and CEO, Arcadia Science

Seemay Chou is the co-founder and CEO of Arcadia Science, a science company and start-up incubator focused on leveraging a more diverse set of research organisms for scientific innovations.

Prior to founding Arcadia Science, Seemay served as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UCSF and Faculty Investigator at Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, where she made contributions to understanding of microbial interactions and host-pathogen dynamics.

Brinda Balakrishnan, EVP, chief corporate strategy and business development officer, Biomarin

Brinda Balakrishnan, EVP, chief corporate strategy and business development officer, Biomarin

Brinda Balakrishnan is the chief corporate strategy and business development Officer at Biomarin, with responsibility for the company’s corporate strategy, competitive intelligence, business development, alliance management organizations. She joined the company in early 2016.

Aradhana Sarin, group CFO and executive director, AstraZeneca

Aradhana Sarin is currently executive director and chief financial officer at AstraZeneca. She previously served as chief financial officer at Alexion, and prior to that served as chief business and strategy officer.

You may also like

Fulfilling the Promise of Sickle Cell Gene Therapy
The Last Mile of Hepatitis C Treatment
When Life-Saving Medicines Are Ammunition in a Trade War
Prescribing Cancer Drugs Off-Label is Tricky. Transparency and Standards Are Needed