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Rachel King is a trailblazer in biotech, a venture capitalist turned co-founder and CEO, now turned industry leader. As CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), King has focused in recent months on stabilizing the leadership and direction of the 1,000-plus member industry group, where the long tenure of Jim Greenwood was followed by the relatively short tenure of Michelle McMurry Heath, MD—about two years, ending last October.
  King is also leading BIO’s ramp-up toward its 2023 BIO International Convention, to be held June 5-8 at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, and overseeing the organization’s response to a series of challenges to the industry. These challenges range from articulating industry’s perspective on pricing prescription drugs following enactment of the “Inflation Reduction Act” last year, to preserving access to the most widely used abortion pill, mifepristone in the face of a court challenge by opponents of abortion rights. King is a former chair of BIO, and previously served as CEO of GlycoMimetics, a late clinical-stage biotechnology company she co-founded. GlycoMimetics focuses on discovering and developing glycobiology-based therapies for cancers and inflammatory diseases. Before GlycoMimetics, King was a one-time Entrepreneur in Residence at venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates (NEA). Speaking with GEN senior business editor Alex Philippidis, Rachel recounts her multi-faceted career in biotech, and assesses the industry’s progress and continuing challenges in ensuring federal funding for basic research, advancing newer technologies such as synthetic biology and cell and gene therapy; and diversifying the industry’s workforce.

BIO CEO Rachel King Outlines Industry’s Challenges on “Close to the Edge”

Activist investor Carl C. Icahn has made a lot of news over the past nearly two months by launching a proxy campaign to change Illumina’s board and management, and through that, the company’s direction. For more than a month, Icahn has offered persistent criticism of Illumina’s current board led by chairman John W. Thompson, and the company’s management led by CEO Francis deSouza.

[ Click the lower right icon to view fullscreen with transcript ^ ]

Icahn’s arguments include:
  • Illumina’s effort to acquire cancer blood test developer Grail despite opposition from U.S. and European regulators, which he says has drained the company of resources.
  • Also, Illumina’s shrinking stock price—The company has lost some $50 billion in market capitalization—that’s the share price times the number of outstanding shares of a public company.
  • He has also cited the board’s near doubling of CEO Francis deSouza’s total compensation last year, to nearly 27 million dollars, much of that increase based on stock options.
Andrew J. Teno, a portfolio manager at Icahn Capital since October 2020, and one of Carl C. Icahn’s three nominees for Illumina’s board.
Icahn elaborates on these and other arguments at length, and discusses how he plans to move Illumina forward with GEN senior business Editor Alex Philippidis on a special episode of GEN’s “Close to the Edge.” Joining Icahn on the episode is one of his three nominees to Illumina’s board, Andrew J. Teno, a portfolio manager at Icahn Capital since October 2020. Along with Teno, Icahn has also nominated to Illumina’s board Jesse A. Lynn, general counsel of Icahn Enterprises; and Vincent J. Intrieri, founder and CEO of VDA Capital Management, a private investment fund, and a former Icahn employee from 1998–2016. Illumina has rejected the three as lacking the qualifications and experience it seeks in board members, and has defended its pursuit of Grail under deSouza. Icahn is the CEO of Icahn Capital, LP, a wholly owned subsidiary of Icahn Enterprises LP, through which he manages various private investment funds. Icahn Enterprises is a Nasdaq-listed holding company engaged in businesses that include investment, energy, automotive, food packaging, real estate and home fashion.

Carl Icahn States His Case for Change at Illumina on “Close to the Edge”

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May 2023 issue cover

It’s time to grease the wheels of industry—so declares anyone who wants cell and gene therapies produced in greater volume. To date, these therapies have been artisanal products, much to the frustration of developers, manufacturers, clinicians, and (most of all) patients. Fortunately, cell and gene therapy assembly lines are being assembled thanks to innovations in low-volume analytics, vector optimization, bioreactor control, and workflow automation. All of these developments are discussed in the May issue of GEN, which also considers how the image of fast-turning wheels is especially apt for synbio-powered biomanufacturing. There, the whole idea is to set up iterative design–build–test–learn cycles. To keep these wheels spinning, synbio startups are using AI-powered software to drive automated laboratory evolution. Finally, the May issue of GEN reports on the pharma industry’s RSV vaccines, the antibody industry’s bispecific constructs, gene editing’s clinical progress, and mass spec’s proteomics-friendly turn.