Nancy Stagliano, iPierian

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Nancy Stagliano
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Company: iPierian
Title: CEO

Millennium Pharmaceuticals became a virtual school of biotechnology while Mark Levin was running the show. And one of its top alumni is Nancy Stagliano, who soaked up a variety of experiences during an 8-year stint at the biotech--following postdoc work at Harvard Medical School--that would give her the knowledge needed to launch CytomX and then step into the role of turnaround CEO at iPierian.

The organization and management's strong preference to leverage talent was an invaluable learning experience, says Stagliano, who had a chance to consult with some startup biotechs in the Boston area before she took a position with Millennium in California. That led her to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she was exposed to the work being done there on next-gen antibody development. And that in turn led to the spinout of CytomX, which Stagliano helped launch--in addition to Cynvenio Biosystems.

Stagliano counts her stint as startup CEO at CytomX as key to her growth as a CEO.

"I always say that few people wake up as a child and say they want to be a CEO one day," she says, which is why good mentors can be so crucial to someone's development in this business.

Stagliano says several mentors have helped her along the way, but she gives top billing to Fred Gluck, the former McKinsey CEO who would serve as chairman at CytomX. 

"Fred recruited me" to run CytomX, she says. And he continued to advise her on running the company, a skill he had fine-tuned advising the heads of Fortune 500 companies during his years at McKinsey.

"I think you can't succeed as a woman or a man without having good mentors and recognizing the return on investment in mentoring," she says. "It's one of my favorite parts, engaging with smart people."

Another bit of advice for would-be biotech entrepreneurs: Be open to new experiences and different career paths. You never can tell where they will lead.

"I really am a believer in not trying to predefine your career path," says Stagliano. "You need to be open to the opportunities that present themselves. If you think at some point you may want to be a CEO, invest time in other areas. And you shouldn't assume that's the wrong path. Women need to be open to what's presented to them and then be flexible."

Stagliano is still trying different things herself. After taking over the floundering South San Francisco-based iPierian two years ago, she steered the one-time stem cell player in a new direction. Just weeks ago she finished piecing together a $30 million round--no small feat--and pointed the company to the clinic with an antibody for Alzheimer's. And she spun out a separate company, True North, to take a rare-disease approach.

"What drives me every day is my love of science and medicine," she adds. "No matter which company you're running, being rooted in that allows you to look at a series of challenges," whether exploring therapeutic areas or building and mentoring your own team.

"I don't know what the future will bring," says Stagliano, "but so far I've been able to capitalize on the opportunities that were presented to me."

For more:
Special Report: 2013 Fierce 15 - CytomX
Pursuing Alzheimer's, iPierian grabs $30M and spins off orphan drug biotech
iPierian salvages new game plan after stem cell tech loses its sizzle

-- John Carroll (email | Twitter)