On Juneteenth, Recognizing 18 Black Biopharma Industry Leaders

Ken Frazier, Tony Coles, Rob Perez and Ted Love are among the biggest names in the biopharma industry. They also happen to be Black.

But there are many other Black people making significant contributions, and who aren’t so widely known.

Let’s recognize some of these folks today on the Juneteenth holiday. On June 19, 1865 — long after the Emancipation Proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863 — the last remaining slaves in Texas were informed they were free.

This is a moment to celebrate freedom, progress and human potential. We can celebrate how far we’ve come, while also understanding how far we have to go with racial justice and equal opportunity.

More than 40 people were nominated. Today, consider the contributions of these 18 Black biotech leaders in alphabetical order.

Stephen Abreu — Partner at Sidley Austin in San Francisco; executive director for Biopharma Leaders of Color (BLOC). Abreu structures and negotiates complex intellectual property and commercial transactions for life sciences companies.

Stephen Abreu

“Stephen is a mover and shaker. He leverages his position at his firm to great benefit,” said Ted Love, the chairman of the BIO board of directors.

Rob Perez, founder of Life Science Cares and an operating partner at General Atlantic, added: “Stephen is one of the rising stars among the biopharma law community. He is well-known for his legal prowess, but also for the work he is doing to advance people of color in the industry.”


Freddie Bowie, CFO, Eikon Therapeutics

Freddie Bowie — CFO of Eikon Therapeutics. The Hayward, Calif.-based company is using super-microscopy and AI to advance its pipeline of novel therapies. Bowie has a wide range of responsibilities at Eikon that include finance, corporate strategy, investor relations, corporate communications, procurement, clinical supply, and real estate. The company has raised $775 million since its founding in 2019. (TR coverage, May 2021).

“Great guy, super smart. He will be a CEO one day,” Love said.

Rod Cotton — board member for Eisai, Castle Biosciences and Moleculera Biosciences. “Rod has been an inspiration to many, after a long career as an extremely successful executive at Baxter and Roche,” Perez said.

Rod Cotton

“He has now turned his attention to helping other companies as a highly sought after board member and is also giving back by working with and advising young people on their careers, as well as supporting other people of color through BLOC and other organizations.”

Love added: “Fantastic person. Lots of gravitas but remains so humble.”


Yusri Elsayed

Yusri Elsayed — SVP and global oncology therapeutic area head, Johnson & Johnson Innovative Medicine.

“Yusri has been instrumental in the development of a series of very successful hematology and oncology drugs that are having a profound impact on the lives of thousands of patients,” said Karen Akinsanya, the president of R&D at Schrodinger. “Yusri’s patience and dedication to people and the challenging process of drug development are the key to his success as a leader and innovator in product development,” she wrote.

Ian Estepan

Ian Estepan — EVP and chief financial officer, Sarepta Therapeutics and board member of Cellarity. Estepan has been with Sarepta for almost 10 years, closely involved in its growth into a company with a market value of $11 billion.

“Ian deserves as much credit as anyone for the long-term growth and success of Sarepta. After a successful financial career outside of the industry, he has applied his astute business knowledge and financial acumen to help guide Sarepta through many ups and downs to provide a meaningful benefit to patients with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy,” Perez wrote.


Erik Harris

Erik Harris — EVP and chief commercial officer of Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical and board member of Denali Therapeutics. Harris has experience in both molecular diagnostics and therapeutics.

“Erik is one of the leading commercial minds in the rare disease space. He is also a co-founder of a terrific organization called The Just Society, consisting of some the most successful African American men in the industry,” Perez said.


Mel Hayes

Mel Hayes — COO of Fulcrum Therapeutics. Fulcrum is developing oral small molecules for facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) and sickle cell disease. Fulcrum agreed to a partnership with Sanofi in May to co-develop and market the FSHD drug candidate. Hayes joined the company as chief commercial officer in September 2021 and stepped up to be chief operating officer nine months later.

“Great guy, huge focus on the patient,” Love said.


Derek Hicks

Derek Hicks — EVP and chief business officer of Intellia Therapeutics. “Derek has had a long and very successful career in Corp/Bus Development and is one of the best in the business in this space,” Perez wrote. “After climbing the ladder at Pfizer he worked to help lead the BD effort at Spark, which had a highly successful exit to Roche, and now he is the business leader at Intellia, another extremely exciting company.”

Anthony Johnson

Anthony Johnson — CEO of Kodikaz Therapeutic Solutions and board member for NY BIO. “I have been impressed with him during the short time I’ve known him. As a successful entrepreneur, Anthony is one of the leading voices in the New York biopharma community,” Perez wrote.


BJ Jones – chief commercial officer, New Amsterdam Pharma. He was previously chief commercial officer for Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, a company acquired by Pfizer for $11.6 billion in 2022.

BJ Jones

“BJ may be the most innovative and successful commercial leader in the industry today,” Perez wrote. “He was the architect of the highly improbable success of Biohaven, as its migraine drug Nurtec took off and soundly beat a much more well-resourced competitor in a market that was previously thought to be scale-driven. BJ’s success has made many smaller biotechs re-think their ability to launch on their own in markets where they are facing larger competitors,” Perez wrote.


Charlotte Jones-Burton

Charlotte Jones-Burton — partner at 2Flo Ventures, board member at bluebird bio, and Founder of Women of Color in Pharma (WOCIP). She was previously a senior vice president of product development and strategy at Chinook Therapeutics, a kidney drug developer acquired by Novartis for $3.5 billion in 2023.

“Another mover and shaker. Has been an outstanding leader for advancing women of color in our industry,” Love said.

Cynthia Mazareas — senior partner, corporate law, WilmerHale. She has more than 30 years of experience at the firm.

Cynthia Mazareas

“Cynthia is a senior legal counsel for MANY biopharma companies, who rave about the support they receive from her. Her understated style provides few opportunities to highlight her impact on the industry, but that impact is highly significant. She was one of the founding Board members of Life Science Cares, and currently serves as its Governance chair for the National Management Committee. She and Wilmer Hale have been invaluable to the growth of the organization,” Perez wrote.


Karen Nelson

Karen Nelson — chief scientific officer, Thermo Fisher Scientific. She has been in this position with Thermo Fisher for three years, and previously was president of the J. Craig Venter Institute.

 “Karen is a highly experienced scientific leader with major accomplishments in the study of the microbiome and genomics,” Karen Akinsanya wrote. “In addition to her impressive scientific credentials, Karen is highly energetic and collaborative which I believe are two features that have led to her success in both academia and industry.  I think everyone will agree that she is simply great to work with!”


Jeff Raphael — founding partner, OmniScope Partners. Raphael has a long track record on the investment side of the business, most recently at Evercore, before founding OmniScope.

Jeff Raphael

“After a successful stint as a Managing Director at Evercore, Jeff is utilizing his unique combination of talent and experience in a new venture, as founder of OmniScope Partners, helping emerging companies in the industry to navigate the financing and value inflection path towards success,” Perez said.



Deborah Telman

Deborah Telman — EVP, corporate affairs and general counsel of Gilead Sciences. She joined the company in 2022 and oversees government affairs and policy, public affairs, legal and compliance functions.

“Deborah is the real deal. Well-suited to be in the major leagues at Gilead,” Love said.


Tamar Thompson — head of global corporate affairs and policy at Alexion Pharmaceuticals, board member for Catalyst Pharmaceuticals and Avidity Biosciences and Chairwoman of the Board of MassBio.

Tamar Thompson

“Tamar has been one of the industry’s leading corporate affairs executives for years, helping to share legislation and policy that helps the industry to benefit patients. She is now taking on an even larger role, as Chair of the Board of MassBio, one of (if not THE) leading regional trade association in the country,” Perez wrote.




Chidozie Ugwumba

Chidozie Ugwumba — managing partner, SymBiosis Capital Management, based in Bentonville, Arkansas. The firm’s investments include eGenesis, Vedanta Biosciences, Tenaya Therapeutics, Recursion, Ensoma, Fog Pharma, and Endeavor Biomedicines. Prior to SymBiosis, Chidozie led the Direct and Impact Investment Group of WIT, LLC and worked on the Private Credit and Infrastructure teams at Partners Group, a global private investment manager.



Alethia Young

Alethia Young — CFO of Bicycle Therapeutics and board member for Pacira Biosciences and PTC Therapeutics. She was previously a Wall Street analyst before moving over to corporate leadership.

“Super smart woman. No limit on her career,” Love said.



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