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Shehnaaz Suliman, MD, MBA, MPhil, overcame South Africa’s apartheid policy to build careers in medicine, investment banking, and drug development that have brought her to the helm of ReCode Therapeutics, a developer of targeted therapies for life-limiting respiratory diseases.
On Episode 13 of “Close to the Edge,” Suliman shares how she came to lead ReCode following a career that began as a physician in her native South Africa, where she received her MD from the University of Cape Town Medical School.
Suliman pivoted to investment banking about two decades ago, earning an MBA at Oxford University, then holding positions at Lehman Brothers and later Petkevich & Partners. A few years later, she embarked on a successful career as a biotech business development executive. At Gilead, Suliman held management roles of increasing responsibility between 2005 and 2010 and played a significant role in expanding the company into new therapeutic areas, notably HIV, through M&A.
After Gilead, Suliman held positions at Genentech and its parent company Roche, as well as at Theravance, where she put together a $1 billion profit-sharing partnership with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Biotech for its lead JAK inhibitor program before moving to Alector Therapeutics as president and COO.
Suliman was appointed CEO of ReCode in January, succeeding David Lockhart, PhD, who has transitioned to chief scientific officer and remains the company’s president.
Suliman shares her perspectives on drug development, especially in respiratory diseases and the hot area of RNA-based therapeutics, as well as how ReCode has sought to address both through its selective organ targeting (SORT) platform—a platform of non-viral lipid nanoparticles (LNPs), designed to deliver treatments with precision, as well as safely and effectively. ReCode is also focused on developing therapies that apply gene editing/correction in target cells, including stem cells.
ReCode says its delivery platforms can be customized to treat different respiratory diseases and targeted organs. The company’s pipeline is anchored by preclinical inhaled and IV lead programs for cystic fibrosis (CF) caused by nonsense mutations, as well as an inhaled treatment for primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD). The CF treatment focuses specifically on the 10–13% of patients who have nonsense mutations that cannot fully benefit from current small molecule therapies.
Suliman concludes the wide-ranging conversation by discussing her status as one of a relatively small number of women CEOs in biotech, as well as assessing ReCode’s major goals and hopes, and hers over the next three to five years.