World IP Day 2023: Celebrating women leaders in innovation

PhRMA spoke with several women leaders in IP and innovation at biopharmaceutical companies to let them share in their own words why protecting IP rights is so important.

Megan Van Etten
Megan Van EttenApril 26, 2023

World IP Day 2023: Celebrating women leaders in innovation.

Today PhRMA joins with innovators around the globe to recognize World IP Day and celebrate biopharmaceutical innovators who dedicate their lives to bringing new treatments and cures to patients. It’s also a day to reflect on the role Intellectual Property (IP) protections, such as patents, play in supporting the development of cutting-edge technologies.  

This year’s theme is “Women and IP: Accelerating innovation and creativity,” which is a celebration of the drive and perseverance of women inventors, creators and entrepreneurs around the world. The life sciences industry — which includes biopharmaceutical companies, medical device companies and diagnostics firms — is now nearly 50% female (up from just 34% in 1990) and home to the greatest proportion of woman innovators named on U.S. patents.  

PhRMA spoke with several women leaders in IP and innovation at biopharmaceutical companies to let them share in their own words why protecting IP rights is so important and what gives them hope for the next generation of female innovators.  

Untitled design (14)Xiaorong He is senior vice president, site head of Development U.S., and head of Global Development Sciences at Boehringer-Ingelheim, and she is named on multiple patents. Xiaorong shared with us, “as a Chinese woman working in the pharmaceutical industry in the 1990s, I felt like a unicorn, but I also felt like being both a woman and a minority was an advantage because I had such a unique perspective. Over the last 20 years, I have seen more and more women and minorities come to our field because of efforts around diversity, equity and inclusion. As more diverse creators get a seat at the table, we must ensure that we have a strong IP system in place so those innovators can apply science to make an impact for patients.”  

Untitled design (15)Andrina Zink, executive director of Alkermes’ Intellectual Property practice and the author of seven scientific publications, also spoke with us from her perspective as a mother and female leader. Andrina shared, “being a patent attorney and a mother is a balance but also gives me hope for the future. My 16-year-old daughter asked me the other day, if she became president, what women’s rights issue should she focus on? After a bit of research, we decided the issue was clearly education. Even though we have made great strides, women are still underrepresented in STEM, which is what leads to innovation. As we continue to focus on getting more women involved in STEM and reducing barriers to entry, we must also ensure that there are strong IP protections in place that support and protect their ideas.”  

Untitled design (16)Michelle Garnsey, senior principal scientist at Pfizer, led a group of over 30 scientists in the discovery and synthesis of a first-in-class small molecule, which is in clinical testing for malnutrition of aging where no approved therapies are currently available. She shared with us that early in her career there were times where she hesitated to speak up in meetings with colleagues. “So, when I think about my career path and my hope for the next generation of women, I hope that we get to a place where we are enabling young women in our field to have the confidence to speak up, show passion, and be their authentic selves at work. When I think about the role of patents and IP in this discussion, it starts with making sure that the next generation of female inventors get the same opportunities to protect their inventions,  because without patent protection, sustainable innovation just isn’t viable.”  

As all three women pointed out, despite the progress for women that we have seen over the past several decades, our work is not finished. The biopharmaceutical industry will continue our sustained commitment to supporting STEM education, closing the gender gap in innovation, strengthening and diversifying our workforce, and preserving our IP system to ensure protections are there for the next generation of female inventors and leaders.  

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